Yglesias on Obama

by Henry on April 26, 2017

Matthew Yglesias’s piece sharply criticizing Obama for taking a $400,000 speaker fee to talk at a conference organized by Cantor Fitzgerald is getting a lot of pushback. I find this a little startling – while I disagree with MY’s defense of centrism, the underlying argument – that there is something sleazy about former officials going on the speaker’s circuit for astronomical fees – seems so obviously right as to scarcely merit further discussion, let alone vigorous disagreement.

I’ve seen three counter-arguments being made. First – that Yglesias and others making this case are being implicitly racist by holding Obama to a higher standard than other politicians. Personally, I’ll happily stipulate to holding Obama to a higher standard than other politicians, but it isn’t because he is black. Instead, it’s because Obama seemed to plausibly be better than most other politicians on personal ethics. That’s not to say that I agreed with his foreign policy, or attitude to the financial sector, or many other things he did, but I wouldn’t have expected him to look to cash in, especially as he doesn’t seem to be hurting for money. Obviously, I was wrong.

Second – that there isn’t any real difference between Obama’s giving speeches for a lot of money, and Obama getting a fat book contract, since both are responses to the market. This, again, is not convincing. Tony Blair is catering to a market too – a rather smaller market of murderous kleptocrats who want their reputations burnished through association with a prominent Western politician. The key question is not whether it is a market transaction, but what is being sold, and whom it is being sold to. In my eyes, there is a sharp difference between selling the flattery of your company to the rich and powerful, and selling a book manuscript that is plausibly of real interest to a lot of ordinary people. The former requires you to shape your public persona in very different ways than the latter.

Third – that everyone does it so why shouldn’t the Obamas. Yglesias deals with this pretty well out of the box:

Indeed, to not take the money might be a problem for someone in Obama’s position. It would set a precedent.

Obama would be suggesting that for an economically comfortable high-ranking former government official to be out there doing paid speaking gigs would be corrupt, sleazy, or both. He’d be looking down his nose at the other corrupt, sleazy former high-ranking government officials and making enemies.

Which is exactly why he should have turned down the gig.

Just so. The claim that ‘everyone does it’ is not an excuse or defense. It’s a statement of the problem.

I do think that MY’s piece can be criticized (more precisely, with a very slight change in rhetorical emphasis, it points in the opposite direction than the one Yglesias wants it to point in). MY states the objections that progressive centrism (or, as we’ve talked about it here in the past, left neo-liberalism) is subject to:

The political right is supposed to be pro-business as a matter of ideological commitment. The progressive center is supposed to be empirically minded, challenging business interests where appropriate but granting them free rein at other times.

This approach has a lot of political and substantive merits. But it is invariably subject to the objection: really?

Did you really avoid breaking up the big banks because you thought it would undermine financial stability, or were you on the take? Did you really think a fracking ban would be bad for the environment, or were you on the take? One man’s sophisticated and pragmatic approach to public policy can be the other man’s grab bag of corrupt opportunism.

He then goes on to say why this means that Obama needs to adopt a higher standard of behavior:

Leaders who sincerely care about the fate of the progressive center as a nationally and globally viable political movement need to push back against this perception by behaving with a higher degree of personal integrity than their rivals — not by accepting the logic that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

and

Obama should take seriously the message it sends to those young people if he decides to make a career out of buckraking. He knows that Hillary Clinton isn’t popular with the youth cohort the way he is. And he knows that populists on both the left and the right want to make a sweeping ideological critique of all center-left politics, not just a narrow personal one of Clinton. Does Obama want them to win that battle and carry the day with the message that mainstream politics is just a moneymaking hustle?

Of course, it’s just one speech. Nothing is irrevocable about one speech. But money doesn’t get any easier to turn down with time, any more than rebuking friends and colleagues gets easier. To make his post-presidency a success, Obama should give this money to some good cause and then swear off these gigs entirely.

But what does Obama’s willingness to take the money in the first place say about progressive centrism, if we stipulate (as I think MY would likely agree) that Obama is probably as good as progressive centrists are likely to get? The left neoliberal hit against standard liberal-to-left politics in the 1980s was that it fostered sleazy interest groups and tacit or not-so-tacit mutual backscratching between these interest groups and politicians. If the very best alternative that left neoliberalism has to offer is another, and arguably worse version of this (Wall Street firms, unlike unions, don’t even have the need to pretend to have the interests of ordinary people at heart), then its raison d’etre is pretty well exploded.

More succinctly – MY wants Obama to behave better, because otherwise political centrism will start to look like a hustle. But if someone like Obama is not behaving better, doesn’t that imply that the hustle theory has legs?

{ 102 comments }

1

In the sky 04.26.17 at 3:08 pm

Respectfully, you’re quite close to being on a mighty high horse there, Henry.

There are plenty of people in the 1% who support left neo-liberal objectives, e.g. greater redistribution. Obama will go and give a speech about battling a stubbornly conservative Congress or whatever; he will not be preaching to free market fundamentalists. Maybe make a push for more charitable donations, or supporting Democratic candidates. He’ll take their money and get a standing ovation. What’s wrong with that?

Essentially you’re assuming that these gatherings are per se a bad thing. I agree they are dangerous, in terms of promoting regulatory capture/crony capitalism/what not. But I fully expect the man to go and give an entirely reasonable message.

2

Chet Murthy 04.26.17 at 3:26 pm

I wholeheartedly support MY’s position; indeed, I think doesn’t go far enough. Anyone who earns >150% of the median income should be drummed out of the progressive movement. Anyone whose assets are >200% of their yearly income should be drummed out of the progressive movement. I am not a crank.

More seriously, I have two issues with MY’s argument:

(1) either one thinks that BHO’s record is an acceptable record, or not. If one doesn’t think his record was acceptable, and one is concerned about his speech and fee, I think it’s because one feels that somehow, he’s getting paid now for being corrupt back then? But back then, we let him have a pass on that, right? Where was that giant march for bankster accountability? We just assumed that he would run government in our interests, without our lifting a finger other than electing him? No armies of angry constituents storming the offices of congresscritters? On the left we somehow believe that our job is done when we elect our president/rep/sen. We don’t want to accept that we need to engage in public advocacy to get the outcomes we desire. And we don’t want to accept that our tribunes receive pressure from all sorts of sources, not just the people who voted for them.

Shorter: “don’t ask him to be pure as driven snow, when you’re too lazy to get off your couch and advocate for the policies you want, day-to-day”

(2) Seriously, there are lots of people whose interests will someday in some utopia come into conflict with the progressive movement. But TODAY they’re aligned. Do we want to tell them all to go pound sand? I remember when Warren Buffett argued that his taxes were too low, some Repub wag responded with “hypocrite — he could always donate to the Treasury”. Krugman had a proper response: “Buffett plays the game by the rules as-is; that he thinks the rules are broken, and wants to change them for the better, isn’t hypocritical — it’s public-spirited”. Think that’s unrealistic? Then live up to your convictions: drive every rich person, and esp. every scion of inherited wealth, out of the progressive movement. B/c none of them can be trusted, right?

(3) I guess there’s a third: the standard here seems to be “not merely the -fact- of no-corruption, but also the -appearance-“. That’s asking a lot. And I’d argue that it’s unrealistic. YOU WILL NEVER get the enemy (Rethugs) to do this. This is unilateral disarmament, and will only convince some people who might have made common cause with you, to be less cooperative. If you don’t like the RULES, then change ’em. But don’t expect smart, capable, driven people to just decide to leave money on the table when the rules say they can take it. B/c their competitors in many positional games will take that money.

Shorter: if you demand all progressives wear the hair shirt, get ready to be lonely and powerless.

My belief is, this is a way for people to bellyache that BHO could have been so much better, but He. Didn’t. Even. Try. Last time around, b/c he was naive, and now, b/c maybe (!) he was corrupt.

3

Pretendous 04.26.17 at 3:32 pm

I’m not really sure why I should be more concerned about from whom he receives the money rather than how he spends it and what he said in exchange for it.

4

Chris Mealy 04.26.17 at 3:41 pm

I agree with Henry’s conclusion, but the worst thing is that Obama is validating all the mean things Doug Henwood said about him.

5

Raven Onthill 04.26.17 at 3:46 pm

Obama is not a progressive. He never was a progressive.

Must we argue over this? Yes, it looks very bad and I wish he hadn’t. But this is as far left as any President is allowed to be these days.

6

JimV 04.26.17 at 3:54 pm

Giving most of the money (after taxes and expenses, if any) to charity would be a good move; publishing the text of the speech would also help, although this would require the agreement of the conference, I think.

The act itself of talking to each other (in a reasonable way) is good. As bad as some of you other people are, there but for the grace of quantum indeterminacy go I. (Or as bad as I am, there –“– go you.)

7

RJB 04.26.17 at 4:02 pm

Obama’s critics on this one make me think that conservatives have been successful in convincing even liberals of two points. The first is that a celebrity giving a speech at a celebrity rate is behaving corruptly. There are certainly details that could color the speech this way. For example, the rates could be so high that they are clearly payment for something more than a celebrity speech. The speech content could be held secret. I don’t see evidence that either of these will be the case for Obama’s speeches. But after years of complaining about Hillary’s speeches, it seems like everyone is buying into the line that these speeches are terribly corrupt. Score a win for the right, especially given the second point.

The second conservative talking point liberals seem to be adopting is a version of “If you think taxes should be higher, just write checks larger than what you owe.” Liberals should be detailing what they think should be appropriate policies for such speeches (e.g., payment should not exceed the going rate for a comparable celebrity, which means ridiculously huge but no huger, and transcripts should be made available.) But how is society better off when liberals voluntarily and unilaterally live up to a set of norms that go beyond not only the law, but wise policy. (“No past or possibly future politician can ever be paid a lot for a speech” is not wise policy.)

8

bob mcmanus 04.26.17 at 4:10 pm

Obama spent a lot of his Presidential freetime hanging and golfing with oligarchs (Jamie Dimon a favorite), not so much with carpenters or academics. He just spent months on Branson’s private island in the Caribbean, and David Geffen’s yacht around Tahiti.

These are the people he likes, and the life he enjoys. He wants to be a billionaire. I give him ten years.

9

Hondo 04.26.17 at 4:13 pm

I never could figure Obama out. Whistleblower convictions, deportations, bank bailout wild profitable success, homeowner assistance abject failure. Now this. I agree that he should either stop doing these speeches, or if he does, donate the money to charity, and stipulate that the remarks will be published later. If the group doesn’t agree to the remarks being published, then no speech.
Off-topic, but related to trying to figure out the Obama’s, WTF is it with the buddy buddy between Michelle and GW Bush, the known war criminal? She must know what he did. Did he come sobbing to them one evening, “Dick made me do it! Sob. Sob. And Rumsfeld promised me no one would get hurt. Sob. Sob. I’m so sorry, Michelle! What have I done? Sob. Sob.”
If that’s what happened, I can halfway understand, like most liberals, her empathy would have a strong influence, while as we all know, Republicans, having no empathy, would not have this problem. If that’s not what happened, I can only conclude that she is playing some cynical political optics game. This also supports the notion that neither of the Obama’s are any better than the standard republican.
And, we all know, as Tom Perez made clear, Republicans don’t give a shit about people. This is a truth that cannot be overstated.

10

Jerry Vinokurov 04.26.17 at 4:53 pm

There are certainly places where I would have expected to read that large sums of money changing hands between corporate interests and politicians are just fine, but I didn’t think the CT comments would be one of those places. Yet another illusion shattered, I guess.

11

PGD 04.26.17 at 4:53 pm

Many of the comments above seem to be doing a lot of weird gyrations in order to avoid the obvious. The enormous fees for these speeches are designed to influence the speaker, plain and simple. Showing up at the event gives the chance for further influence because you have purchased time alone with them to make your various cases. The people paying the money are the biggest beneficiaries of the current set of power arrangements. If you want people to take you seriously as an advocate and trustworthy intermediary in changing/regulating the current power arrangements, you need to not be asking those kind of people for giant personal checks to deposit into your personal bank account. This is exactly the same logic that leads us to want to regulate campaign finance and ban bribery.

The argument above seems to be that $400K/hour is simply the going rate for basking in the numinous glow of Obama’s celebrity. Hence $400K is the fair and natural recompense for his hour of work giving a speech and you’re a puritanical killjoy if you say otherwise. This kind of reification of market prices is problematic in lots of ways, but particularly so when you have someone whose celebrity was obtained through holding public office.

But how is society better off when liberals voluntarily and unilaterally live up to a set of norms that go beyond not only the law, but wise policy. (“No past or possibly future politician can ever be paid a lot for a speech” is not wise policy.)

I am not going to vote for or trust people who take giant personal checks from people actively opposed to my interests is a wise and understandable policy for voters.

Trump of course was personally a guy who was at the top of current power arrangements, but his bid for anti-corruption credibility was that he didn’t actually make his living by asking for naked payoffs from wealthy interests (e.g. a six figure check for an hour of work), which then put him under their influence. Instead he was doing visible work like building hotels and getting money for that. Voting Trump was obviously not wise (and only barely understandable). But his argument that he wasn’t actually taking direct payoffs seems to have had some legs with voters, which shows how toxic it is to take direct payoffs in exchange for celebrity/influence gained through politics.

Shorter: if you demand all progressives wear the hair shirt, get ready to be lonely and powerless.

the notion that turning down $400K for an hour of work when you already have millions of dollars banked and access to any kind of job you want constitutes “wearing the hair shirt” is part of the problem.

The “hair shirt” argument does work when you get corporate lobbyists making a million+ a year screaming that union leaders are hypocrites because they take home $250K a year.

12

BenK 04.26.17 at 4:59 pm

Let’s also avoid another fig leaf – if Obama were to take the money and hand it over to a charity in the same motion – it’s still open to the same critique. The Clinton ‘charity’ was no charity, it was money laundering and influence peddling. If Obama makes himself a cash fountain for those whom he favors, that’s the same whether he keeps the cash in hand or avoids paying taxes and shells it out somewhat more quickly (or gives it to his own private tax exempt piggy bank).

13

Zamfir 04.26.17 at 5:04 pm

No past or possibly future politician can ever be paid a lot for a speech” is not wise policy.)
I can’t think of a downside to this. If not as enforceable policy, then at least as guide for voting. What do we, ordinary people, gain if our politicians have lucrative relations with rich people? There a million ways how it can go bad, without any upside.

I guess it’s a cultural thing, but I am constantly amazed at the things that Americans accept in this respect, and how rich their politicians can get without voter backlash.

14

Cranky Observer 04.26.17 at 5:04 pm

The career “opportunities”/income of Robert Rubin and Timothy Geither (and to a lesser extent Summers) after leaving high office don’t exactly provide much support to either of the theories that Democratic politicians are incorruptible or that it impossible to pre-bribe.

15

Doug Weinfield 04.26.17 at 5:08 pm

Thought experiment-what if It had been the ACLU paying the $400K? Same problem? I think so, but….

16

Suzanne 04.26.17 at 5:13 pm

@7: There are many liberals and leftists who believe this “talking point,” and that such speechmaking is a racket.

Obama is not corrupt and he ran a clean Administration by any standard. He is by temperament and conviction in sync with men like his Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, for better and for worse. The bankers don’t have to buy what they can have for free or for very little. Obama never identified with the pitchforks – he was the Reasonable Center. Again, for better and for worse. I think as a national politician he is close to the best that the current American system can produce, which speaks for itself.

You would think that with a $60 million dollar book advance the Obamas would be feeling pretty comfy, financially speaking, but there are very few people who are going to say, “We’re rich enough.” Also, if he’s going to keep company with splashy billionaires, he’s got to maintain a certain style of living, no?

17

Jerry Vinokurov 04.26.17 at 5:29 pm

the notion that turning down $400K for an hour of work when you already have millions of dollars banked and access to any kind of job you want constitutes “wearing the hair shirt” is part of the problem.

This thread is hardly into the double digits and already full of people refusing to grapple with the basic ethical principles that such an exchange runs counter to. Apparently so long as one doesn’t get handed a novelty sack with a giant $ on it, everything is fine. No thought is given to the corrosive influence that post hoc payments to politicians has on public trust; instead the wise liberal sternly lectures the people that there’s nothing to see here.

A sports analogy: in the NBA (and other sports) there’s a salary cap. You cannot pay your players more than a certain amount (subject to some exceptions, but nevermind that). That makes it hard to have a team of, say, the five best players in the game, because you’d have to pay them all max contracts, and that’s not allowed. Now, what you could do is hint to e.g. LeBron James, “Hey, take a pay cut for us now, and after you’re done playing we’ll give you a sinecure with the team that pays you $100 million.” Or you could try paying LeBron under the table. Both of these would be obvious attempts to evade the salary cap, and therefore punishable under league rules. It would hold no water with the league office for someone to say that “well, technically, LeBron is a private citizen now so we can pay him whatever we want,” because it would be understood that his post-playing salary was in some sense a quid pro quo for his taking a pay cut earlier to help out the team.

This analogy is imperfect because no one has actually told Obama that they’ll pay him off later for benefits rendered while he was in office. But of course public corruption does not work in the simple ways that people think it does; the influence of money on political decisionmaking is usually implicit rather than explicit. We cannot know whether Obama’s speeches are a reward for something he did as president, but I’m guessing that if the Obama administration had taken over the failing banks at the start of the crisis, he wouldn’t be getting these invitations now. Regardless, taking money for speeches in this way is another example of the revolving door that former politicians make use of to enrich themselves; it’s just that if you’re relatively smaller-fry (e.g. a Congressperson), you might go into lobbying, while a former President can more easily go on the speech circuit. It was gross when Bill Clinton did it, it was gross when George W. Bush did it, and it’s gross now that Obama is doing it. If liberals are substantively as committed to good government as they claim to be, they should be making sure that politicians can’t enrich themselves this way after their service is up, and if it’s not feasible to do by statute, then at least there should be a unified norm against it. Instead lots of people are clamoring to excuse this kind of behavior on the grounds that hey, Obama had a rough time in office.

18

Jerry Vinokurov 04.26.17 at 5:33 pm

Thought experiment-what if It had been the ACLU paying the $400K? Same problem? I think so, but….

Why would the ACLU do this? Have they ever done something like this? If they did, I’d say it’s a terrible use of their money, but then I think that Obama should give speeches to the ACLU for free if asked.

Obama is not corrupt and he ran a clean Administration by any standard. He is by temperament and conviction in sync with men like his Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, for better and for worse. The bankers don’t have to buy what they can have for free or for very little. Obama never identified with the pitchforks – he was the Reasonable Center. Again, for better and for worse. I think as a national politician he is close to the best that the current American system can produce, which speaks for itself.

This I think is a much more serious problem than straight-up money for influence exchanges. The problem isn’t that Obama was on the take; the problem was precisely that he was already in sync with Geithner et al so he didn’t even need to go on the take to do what Wall St. considered expedient.

19

bruce wilder 04.26.17 at 5:43 pm

Henry says, correctly, that the most curious thing about MY’s argument is the push-back, and then selects pushback to criticize for the logic of its arguments and not its motivations. There are some side-long glances at the tenor of MY’s argument, but not much explication.

What is going on here? I think MY and his interlocutors are engaged in hyper-normalization (title of an Adam Curtis “documentary” but not to be scorned as a term merely on that account). MY’s hand-wringing about precedents and ethical appearances is itself an attempt at normalization and a familiar exercise in a a familiar species of Obama apologia, meant to subtly (well, maybe not that subtle) reinforce belief in Obama’s essential if sometimes hapless nobility.

To take MY’s account seriously in 2017 you have to have the memory of a mayfly. It is a little late to be worried about precedents, or whether progressive centrism is beginning (!!!) to look like a scam.

Obama is collecting for a job well-done. Any other interpretation is an exercise is wilful self-deception. He’s the crooked casino croupier, pocketing tips from grateful “winners” as he goes on an extended break. They’ve won billions; he will collect the odd hundred million, a few hundred thousand at a time. As any mention of Blair or the Clintons must indicate, he’s hardly the first in this line and as the imminent election of Macron indicates, is probably not quite yet the last.

[And, no speeches are not different from book deals — another open form of bribery. (Governor Cuomo collected nearly $800,000 for a book he didn’t write and no one will read. Wonder what Obama will get for a book he does write and a fair number of people will read? Speculation on that misses the implications of the world neoliberalism has created where books are published primarily by giant Media conglomerates with an oligarchy’s control of everything. If investment banks owned book publishers they would happily pay the book advance and skip two hours listening to “an entirely reasonable message” and eating rubber chicken. But, it is worse than that. Would MY have a career if he said, “boo!” against either the Media conglomerates or the networks of pilot fish like Politico and the billionaire’s hobbyshops that pass for havens of elite opinion journalism? Can anyone honestly think he does not know that?]

The question not being asked is what makes this, “hyper-normalization”: can the system survive this level of corruption? Making this open delivery of cash dollars “normal” is a pretense that the political-economic system can survive this level of corruption. Not an argument for its survival, mind — not an argument that there is a lot of ruin in a nation or something like that, nor an argument that I am exaggerating, a gloom and doomer who loves collapse scenarios as drama; the system may not survive an open acknowledgement that the system is on the verge of some massive and irretrievable failure or breakdown. So, you cannot really legitimate those arguments by pushing back from that direction. We are in pretend and extend mode. “hyper-normalization” is the pretense, which MY and those pushing back are cooperatively engaged in — a kind of dance — that this is all about the appearance of ethical impropriety and possibility of a precedent (those horses left the barn some years ago), not about whether the legitimacy and basic function of the economic and political system has already been jeopardized and we are just waiting for a decisive break. (Like Trump is not a serious systemic breakdown in himself, or the collapse of traditional left-of-center political parties across the West is not serious)

20

Cian 04.26.17 at 5:48 pm

The way corruption works in the Pentagon is that every general/admiral knows that when you retire there are lucrative private sector opportunities available, so long as you don’t rock the boat. There are better opportunities available if you aid the military industrial complex.

Knowing that if you piss off certain powerful interests then you destroy a comfortable retirement is a powerful incentive. I don’t see that it’s any different for politicians.

As for Obama. He can’t keep his reputation as an ethical politician and take paid speeches. He has to pick one. Chet’s argument could be used to justify just about any form of corruption you care to name. Though I did like his implication that it’s our fault for not storming the White House. We, the American population, made Obama do this speech. He’s just a puppet without any agency apparently… It’s an argument of sorts I guess.

21

JimV 04.26.17 at 6:39 pm

“The Clinton ‘charity’ was no charity, it was money laundering and influence peddling.”

The last I knew it was rated higher than the Red Cross, and despite intense journalistic investigation, no wrong-doing by it has been discovered. Guilty until proven innocent is not a standard any of us could live up to.

22

Mario 04.26.17 at 7:02 pm

I guess the only alternative would have been for Obama not to accept the invitation at all. Because, what are the alternatives? Talking for 400$ or 4000$ in front of all that monstrously rich people seems to me unreasonable, too (asking 500K from the ACLU would be a very different thing indeed).

23

JimV 04.26.17 at 7:08 pm

I think (as a guess) that one of the motivations Obama had as president was to convince people that having a black president was okay; that he wasn’t going to do anything radical or even much outside of conventional wisdom or precedent; that he would listen to all sides; that he wouldn’t focus narrowly on black issues and interests. I’m not saying it worked, but I think he wanted some acceptance. If so, ironically he probably lost as much or more on the left as he gained on the center-right.

FDR could say of the rich and powerful, “I welcome their hatred.” That was easier for him to say as president than for BHO, for reasons which I think are understandable.

24

Marc 04.26.17 at 7:12 pm

A lot of liberals have bought into tribal thinking: Obama is on our team, and any attack on anything that he does is an attack on us.

It’s also rather depressing, if predictable, that being uncomfortable with Hillary Clinton cashing in was labeled as sexism; the same with Obama is labeled racism. The idea that some of us despise the whole rotten business regardless of who does it doesn’t seem to register.

25

Trader Joe 04.26.17 at 7:14 pm

“Thought experiment-what if It had been the ACLU paying the $400K? Same problem? I think so, but….”

See, that’s the whole point, that never happens – never. Its like asking would it still be morning if the sun rose in the West instead of the East. Its not a good question, its only an amusing counterfactual.

Its why you know that the $400k isn’t for his clever rhetoric and cheerful anecdotes. He could stand at the podium and recite the alphabet for an hour and still get his dough….

Paid – in – full.

If you don’t see that, all the defenses, rebuttals and moralizing are either moot or talking past the point.

26

Memory 04.26.17 at 7:41 pm

The argument that it is perfectly fine to accept twice the President’s former yearly salary from interest groups that he to every reasonable appearance worked to shield from prosecution for fraud or meaningful regulatory oversight while in office seems strange to me. Even if we assume that Obama sincerely believed that financial stability and the survival of the American economy in 2009 absolutely required federal policy that shielded investment banks and shadow banks from any accountability for criminal activities (protip: it didn’t), this looks exactly like a payoff – play it back to back with his speech about protecting these people from the public and you have the overwhelming appearance of hire and salary for a job well done. Accepting this money will obviously and predictably fuel the cynicism about politics and contempt for politicians that Obama has frequently identified as a key problem in American politics, so his own claims about what is good for democracy seem to condemn this choice.

The title is funny, though: “Obama’s $400,000 Wall Street speaking fee will undermine everything he believes in”

Matt Yglesias does not know what Obama believes in. Neither do I, but I would give my inferences based on what he did as President better odds than his based on needy psychological projection and motivated reading of speeches.

27

bob mcmanus 04.26.17 at 7:52 pm

Wilder: Wonder what Obama will get for a book he does write and a fair number of people will read?

You must have missed it, $60 million for a book each from the First Couple, from the publishing who got approval for a merger during O’s term. I think it is a record.

I think it may be about time we accept that democracy is over and we are ruled by oligarchs and a courtier class, with a very large class getting bread and circuses, and the wage class/organized proletariat going the way of the dodo. I have been thinking fairly hard on it since the intro to the book forum was posted yesterday, and I sensed an resignation to neofeudalism. Maybe I am wrong to want the streets to flood with blood before I kowtow to that. But that belongs over there rather than here maybe.

28

Lord 04.26.17 at 7:56 pm

The critique I have with this argument is do we just want only the right to talk to business? Isn’t talk better than not talking? It borders on self righteousness.

29

oldster 04.26.17 at 8:10 pm

“MY wants Obama to behave better, because otherwise political centrism will start to look like a hustle. But if someone like Obama is not behaving better, doesn’t that imply that the hustle theory has legs?”

No, it does not. Not when you examine the reasons why “political centrism will start to look like a hustle”.

What will make it look like a hustle are the concerted efforts of right-wing smear-machines, which are not reliable truth-tracking devices.

Look, I agree with Yglesias on this one. The Democrats have a *much* better record of helping the non-elites in America than the Republicans do. Whether it is income inequality or health-care or pensions or voting rights, the Democrats have proven over the decades that they are the party of ordinary Americans vs. the rich.

But those facts are not widely known among the electorate, because symbols loom larger in their mind. A Clinton who genuinely helps working-class people was pilloried for elitism, while a Trump who is a non-stop exploitation machine was lionized for his “populism.”

So the symbols that Yglesias is worried about are not symbols that actually indicate that centrism is a hustle. Instead, they are symbols that the real hustlers, the right-wing elitists, will manipulate in the furtherance of their own hustle.

I like other parts of your post, though.

30

Jerry Vinokurov 04.26.17 at 8:13 pm

I guess the only alternative would have been for Obama not to accept the invitation at all.

Actually that would have been good.

31

nastywoman 04.26.17 at 8:33 pm

Come on guys!! –
Obama voluntarily took the worst job on earth for 8 -(in words:’eight’) consecutive years – and all in ‘good humor’ – while he got insulted, abused and harassed by the American people to such a degree – that the $2.9million in damages Stella Liebeck got from McDonalds Coffee Burns are the minimum for all of his extensive ‘pain’ –

AND that’s what’s so unfair about my homeland – if slightly ‘less brilliant’… let’s call them: ‘First Class Entertainer’ -(‘Oprah or LBron James or what’s about Jennifer Lawrence or ‘the Bieb’?) – get much more – per performance – only because they are NOT ‘politicians – there is something seriously wrong with America!

Obamas ‘timing’ is impeccable – It always was -(as not only the 2011 Correspondence Dinner has proven) – and this Matthew Who? – might be just a sourpuss??!

and just his performance at the 2011 Correspondence Dinner was worth about double -(if compared to what other US entertainer receive) –

Sorry – I just think he doesn’t get enough in comparison to somebody like Colbert -(or what

32

Chet Murthy 04.26.17 at 8:58 pm

As for Obama. He can’t keep his reputation as an ethical politician and take paid speeches. He has to pick one. Chet’s argument could be used to justify just about any form of corruption you care to name. [I STOP HERE] Though I did like his implication that it’s our fault for not storming the White House. We, the American population, made Obama do this speech. He’s just a puppet without any agency apparently… It’s an argument of sorts I guess.

I agree with Cian, up to the indicated point. Indeed, the argument I made can be used to support many sorts of corrupt pols. Just …. not all corrupt pols — some corruption is illegal, and some is unacceptable to voters. The more-subtle forms aren’t confined to the US — it was remarked that if Tsipras continued to be “unhelpful to the Troika”, he might not get the “EU welfare” jobs (commissioners, ambassadors, special rapporteurs) that go to “cooperative” ex-heads-of-state. And certainly all the subtle forms of corruption mentioned above are still possible under this model (e.g. generals mentioned above).

BUT. I never said it was about storming the WH. There’s a story about FDR: a bunch of progressive activists meet with him, angry about a number of issues. They list their grievances, and afterwards, FDR says something like “I agree with you 100% — now make me do it”. My point is: to expect that our pols will do what “we” want, when “we” is many people, is foolish. And even worse, the evidence is clear, that wealthier constituents get much, much, much more attention and action than the median-wealth constituent. So: what are we doing right now, in the era of the Tangerine Usurper? Why weren’t we doing that back in the immediate aftermath of the crisis, demanding that our pols hold the banksters accountable? And again: no, I don’t like this. But it was always this way, and we just don’t want to accept that. Look at what happened with LGBT rights. Do we really think that gay people gave Obama and Hillz the cooties? Really? I doubt it — they had their accepting position, but couldn’t come out for it until we forced the issue, and made it -safe- for them to come out for it. Look at the way that Warren forced the issue of the CFPB. It requires that the public stand up and hold -our- pols (and not just Lord Dampnut’s drooling hordes) accountable.

Which brings me back to the hair shirt. I look forward to the utopia (from the US POV, France seems like one) where we all pay high taxes and in exchange, nobody saves for college, people save little for retirement, and our health care is a government concern. And on that lovely day, I’ll ask more of our pols than I ask today. But TODAY for me to decide that somebody Obama is unacceptable, b/c he clearly is a centrist, will never act to truly smite the wealthy, etc, is …. self-defeating. Keep that up, and all we’ll have is inept fools and con-men who are good at convincing you they’re straight.

I’m NOT saying that corruption is acceptable. I AM saying that the range of “prima facie corrupt behaviour” which we tolerate from pols, is a function of the current state of play. That in the current state of play, Obama is pretty damn good, and that INCLUDES his post-presidential career of giving bogus speeches for giant payouts. And to pretend otherwise is foolish.

Do we really want to set up an entrance exam that literally one of the most gifted pols of our era can’t pass?

33

Asteele 04.26.17 at 8:58 pm

I think its weird to be upset about the left not trusting politicians who are taking huge pay-offs from the lefts political enemies. Yes Obama was never left, although this now acknowledged, only because he’s no longer a product that has to be sold to them.

34

Chet Murthy 04.26.17 at 9:06 pm

FDR could say of the rich and powerful, “I welcome their hatred.” That was easier for him to say as president than for BHO, for reasons which I think are understandable.

I suspect JimV has hit on this precisely. I *have* to believe that some elder of the african-american community took him aside at some point and explained to him that, more than any other goal, he should keep in mind that after him, (white) Americans should be able to think of black presidents as trustworthy. No, it’s not right. But it’s realistic. Because there are a lotta racists, and the next black presidential candidate will “fit the description”. He’ll be judged based on the last black president, whether they’re alike at all or not.

35

Sebastian H 04.26.17 at 9:11 pm

““The Clinton ‘charity’ was no charity, it was money laundering and influence peddling.”

A good proxy for the corruption ratio would be to observe how the donations hold up once there is no chance of Clinton regaining power. Unfortunately it appears that donations are down dramatically.

36

Chris Bertram 04.26.17 at 10:00 pm

Has Yglesias ever expressed himself on Ezra Klein’s speaker fees?

37

Jerry Vinokurov 04.26.17 at 10:17 pm

The critique I have with this argument is do we just want only the right to talk to business? Isn’t talk better than not talking? It borders on self righteousness.

Obama can talk all he wants. It’s not as if, being an ex-president, he lacks for a platform. He could go on TV tomorrow and talk as much as he liked, or he could talk to anyone at all in private. The objection is not to talking, it’s to the grotesque remuneration for an hour of platitudes. What do you think he’s going to tell them for $400k other than how handsome and accomplished they all are?

Obama voluntarily took the worst job on earth for 8 -(in words:’eight’) consecutive years – and all in ‘good humor’ – while he got insulted, abused and harassed by the American people to such a degree – that the $2.9million in damages Stella Liebeck got from McDonalds Coffee Burns are the minimum for all of his extensive ‘pain’ –

Ah yes, he didn’t want the job but a bunch of mean people dragooned him into it, apparently. What this has to do with McDonald’s coffee escapes me, but at any rate, he’s not leaving his position in order to renounce his worldly possession and enter a monastery, nor is anyone saying he should do that. But profiting from your public service is actually bad; that’s the principle at stake here that’s worth defending. Even Josh Barro understands this.

38

Suzanne 04.26.17 at 10:23 pm

@28: They can’t talk without a quid pro quo being involved?

On second thought, you may be right. If dough weren’t involved, neither side would be likely to bother.

@23: I agree that Obama was incapable of saying such a thing, but the reasons have nothing to do with his skin color.

39

Nick Caldwell 04.26.17 at 11:00 pm

“Obama voluntarily took the worst job on earth for 8 -(in words:’eight’) consecutive years – “

Pretty sure there are coal miners who might disagree about this.

40

Faustusnotes 04.26.17 at 11:04 pm

So American to excuse it all if he gives the money to charity!

Does anyone know if Obama is also giving speeches for free (e.g. To the ACLU?) I suspect he is not.

What every democracy needs is strict bans on ex officials working for any corporate interests after retirement, and post-retirement benefits to make it worthwhile.

My guess is obama will give them some pablum about inequality and their responsibility. If we’re lucky he’ll give them a stirring rant about giving up on republicans. But whatever he says won’t be worth 4k, let alone 400k. And I won’t be buying his book either!

41

John Quiggin 04.26.17 at 11:17 pm

Like Henry in the OP and some others, I’m bemused that anyone could find this other than very troubling.

42

Dave 04.26.17 at 11:21 pm

Instead of giving $400K to Obama, Cantor Fitzgerald should have its assets seized and redistributed. Duh.

43

Dave 04.26.17 at 11:25 pm

In the grand scheme of things, the ideological function of Barack Obama was to convince the US electorate that left neoliberalism is humane and viable after the 2008 financial crisis. He was meant largely to maintain the status quo. And he did, pretty handily, even while ameliorating many of its harmful effects.

But it’s really looking like it wasn’t enough.

44

john c. halasz 04.26.17 at 11:59 pm

In Dante, this is called simony and the sinners’ shades are cast head down into a mock baptismal fount even as their flailing feet are on fire, (perhaps because they’re lubricated by the oil of last rites). Admittedly, the sin involves the sale of ecclesiastical offices, but I think we might be permitted a modern secularized update.

45

derrida derider 04.27.17 at 12:00 am

Best way for Obama to deal with this- “

46

J-D 04.27.17 at 12:34 am

It wasn’t always the case that ex-Presidents of the US went on a hugely well-paid speaking circuit. Does anybody know when this pattern started?

47

JimV 04.27.17 at 12:53 am

“So American to excuse it all if he gives the money to charity!”

I wish that were generally true; I don’t see why it shouldn’t be (morally). I got about 20 requests for more money today, by email and paper mail: Sudan famine, Syrian refugees, Mercy Corps, Médecins Sans Frontières, Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU, Common Cause, Carter Foundation, SPCA, Mercy Flights, St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Alzheimers research, American Indian Education Fund, two universities, and various Democrats including Elizabeth Warren. There are a lot of places among which $400K could be split to do a lot of good.

48

Faustusnotes 04.27.17 at 1:53 am

Indeed jimv but if the plutocrats paid their taxes you wouldn’t be getting those emails in the first place. And if thebmoney is ill-gotten it doesn’t become okay just because it went to a good cause. Being charitable doesn’t make you a good person.

49

marcel proust 04.27.17 at 1:57 am

“If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women, take their money and then vote against them you’ve got no business being up here.”

So the question is whether BHO did the equivalent of “voting against them”.
At all? On balance? Always?

My intuition is that middle answer is most nearly correct.

Anyway, we would be much better off if we did not idolize, did not make heroes, of our political leaders. It may be human, but it is not politically useful. Obama was clearly superior to alternatives presented to us in either 2008 (John Edwards? really???) or 2012; further, supporting him rather than any of the Congressional leaders he had to work with as President was more sensible than not. That was reason enough to support him, despite any character or ideological flaws.

Many people’s lives are better now than they would otherwise have been, given the choices available to us at the time. Well into middle-age, with reasonably clear memories of Reagan, Bush 1 & Bush 2 (and teen-age memory of Nixon), I find that good enough. Carter has been a holy man as ex-President. As President, he was pretty much useless. I’ll choose an effective sinner who manages to leave the world a better place than it would have been — & BHO certainly did* — over an ineffectual saint 8 days a week.

Now it is time to move on from him. If he can and wants to be helpful in achieving the goals of a progressive/left political movement in the US, let him work with us. Otherwise, let us not worry too much about his raking it in. We have better things to be wringing our hands about, and better things to do than to wring our hands.

*ACA, anyone? Counter-arguments relating to his military policy will be batted away as bog-standard for an American President – no choice available to US voters in 2008 or 2012 would have done anything better and to the extent that they would have done anything differently, it almost certainly would have been even worse. To the ACA, add climate policy, the accord with Iran, the DoL under Tom Perez, Sonia Sotomayor. Much of this is unlikely to survive Trump. I doubt that this was Obama’s intent although we may be able to fault him for decisions last fall that led to this outcome.

50

Jerry Vinokurov 04.27.17 at 2:08 am

Instead of giving $400K to Obama, Cantor Fitzgerald should have its assets seized and redistributed. Duh.

You’re not wrong.

51

Glen Tomkins 04.27.17 at 3:03 am

I don’t blame anyone for cashing in. Especially with the US political system crashing, Obama doesn’t really know what kind of assets he will be able to keep his hands on to live who knows where he’s going to have to escape to.

52

Phil Perspective 04.27.17 at 3:31 am

oldster @ 29:
When have the Clinton crew ever helped the working class? Sending them to war? Welfare Reform? The mid 90’s Crime Bill? NAFTA?

53

Phil Perspective 04.27.17 at 3:34 am

J-D @ 46:
Ray-gun? Did Tricky Dick do any? Carter has helped build homes for Habitat for Humanity and still flies commercial if he’s going anywhere.

54

Phil Perspective 04.27.17 at 3:39 am

JimV @ 21:
You mean the same one that didn’t even rate the Clinton Foundation and then after a lot of whining gave it a passing grade? Do you remember why they didn’t even grade it? It didn’t get a higher grade than the Red Cross.

55

nastywoman 04.27.17 at 5:12 am

@37
‘But profiting from your public service is actually bad; that’s the principle at stake here that’s worth defending. Even Josh Barro understands this.’

But as Berra also said so famously:
‘When you come to a fork in the road, take it.’ – and about McDonalds and hot Coffee – nothing beats the Pain to be US President – and especially in Obamas Case – the abuse he had to take is much MUCH more worth than what O’Reilly get’s from FOX!
and about

@39
‘Pretty sure there are coal miners who might disagree about this’.
Do you know a Coal Miner who ever was President?

56

Chet Murthy 04.27.17 at 5:14 am

Pretty sure there are coal miners who might disagree about this.

The commentariat here is *probably* singularly unqualified to judge
what the “worst job on Earth” is. As with all clever folks in Western
nations, I’m betting most commenters here have never worked (e.g.) a
fast-food job for 2.5yr with no prospect of anything better. So
…. it’s a little rich to be criticizing Obama on that point. For
someone of his evident gifts, indeed it -was- one of the worst jobs
you could have taken.

He could have gone to work on Wall Street and made a fricken’ mint.

Oh, and “coal miner”? Really? since 20yr ago, a coal miner is a
self-absorbed asshole who thinks “fuck you I want mine!” “teacher”
or “nurse” or even “home health care worker” … yes. “coal miner”?
Really?

57

Marc 04.27.17 at 7:40 am

I’m still trying to understand why accumulating tens of millions of dollars after leaving elected office is some deep principle that liberals are supposed to defend.

We can make a moral case that this is unacceptable: this can be a powerful argument
against this sort of insidious reward system. Or we can defend the right of people on our team to cash in. We can’t do both.

And calling people upset about this on moral grounds racists because the latest person to benefit from a corrupt practice is black…well, it’s an argument, but not one worth a printable response.

58

nastywoman 04.27.17 at 9:57 am

– but seriously – shouldn’t we ask – if the American People owe Mr. Obama a lot more than just some measly 400 000 – the American people don’t even have to pay – as the bill gets picked up by some ‘Fitzgerald Something’?

I mean – did the American people ever deserve Mr. Obama? – and can they ever pay him back for his sanity – and him trying for so many years to teach them… ‘somethings’ – so many never would have liked to be taught – as they decided to prefer a crazy Clown instead?

I mean – how much (alone) is the insult worth to erect a… Good Lord I can’t even write the most simplistic insults anymore – AFTER such a ‘sane’ American had been President?

Give Obama ALL the tax cuts the Clownstick is trying to get for himself in order to do even more damage to our homeland!

PLEASE!!

59

casmilus 04.27.17 at 10:19 am

How much better it would be if these men acquired great wealth *before* they have their time in office.

60

Z 04.27.17 at 11:18 am

More succinctly – MY wants Obama to behave better, because otherwise political centrism will start to look like a hustle. But if someone like Obama is not behaving better, doesn’t that imply that the hustle theory has legs?

To me, this observation is the perfect reaction to the event being discussed, as well as a quite definitive answer to the Macron leads! post.

61

kidneystones 04.27.17 at 11:21 am

” if someone like Obama is not behaving better, doesn’t that imply that the hustle theory has legs”

I don’t recall Obama ever behaving better. He just had Jesse Jackson Jr. others hurl the bigotry. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2007/10/barack-obama-donnie-mcclurkin-and-the-limits-of-tolerance/50782/

A lot of the oppo research on Obama ended up on the Daily Kos threads and it didn’t portray a man of the people, but rather a cynical hustler willing use everyone from Ayers to the now forgotten Rev. Wright to sideline opponents. Borrowing cash from Tony Rezko whilst Rezko was turning off the heat for the poor speaks of nothing but pure cynicism and opportunism.

I don’t begrudge O a nickel of his money and I’ve little sympathy for those who are unhappy to learn that George Washington did in fact tell a number of lies. He’s a grifter like the rest and suggesting he be held to a higher standard than Chelsea Clinton is just plain silly. And it’s not like the Republicans are going to turn down a free lunch.

Let O take his rightful place at the trough. He’s ‘earned’ it.

62

PGD 04.27.17 at 11:45 am

For someone of his evident gifts, indeed it -was- one of the worst jobs
you could have taken. He could have gone to work on Wall Street and made a fricken’ mint.

this thread just keeps getting sillier and weirder. Now we have arrived at the point where people are claiming, apparently seriously, that President of the United States is not a desirable job to have. Geez, a lot of people sure seem to want it. For a career politician it seems like a pretty good gig.

As for Obama’s alternatives, had he left the Senate (where he was apparently bored stiff), he would have had the same career options as Carol Moseley Braun, Alan Dixon, Peter Fitzgerald, or Paul Simon, other one or two term Illinois Senators who didn’t have leadership positions. Lobbyist, professor, college president, nonprofit or foundation administrator, that kind of thing. At $400K/year + a $200K a year pension for life President of the United States actually pays as well or better than those jobs, plus offering worldwide fame/celebrity, power, and a shot at a $65 million book contract afterwards. No one makes you the CEO of Goldman Sachs for having been a one term Senator who was briefly being the liberal flavor of the month.

63

LFC 04.27.17 at 12:40 pm

j.c. halasz @44

In Dante, this is called simony and the sinners’ shades are cast head down into a mock baptismal fount even as their flailing feet are on fire…. Admittedly, the sin involves the sale of ecclesiastical offices, but I think we might be permitted a modern secularized update.

I confess that I know about simony not from Dante but from Walzer’s Spheres of Justice (where it’s referred to more than once), e.g.:
here

64

reason 04.27.17 at 1:24 pm

Personally,
I think Obama should take the money and donate it to some worthy cause. Milking the rents from Wall Street is one form of redistribution.

65

LFC 04.27.17 at 1:40 pm

@kidneystones

He’s a grifter like the rest

Obama was president of the Harvard Law Review. He could have gone the route of prestigious judicial clerkship followed by lucrative partnership at a corporate law firm. Instead he became a law prof. and then entered politics, starting iirc in the Illinois state senate.

Doesn’t sound like a grifter’s trajectory. I think now Obama shd stop spending time on billionaires’ yachts and turn down any more Cantor Fitzgerald-style speaking fees. He has an extremely nice house in a very wealthy section of D.C., presumably a nice downtown office, and a zillion-dollar book contract. I think that’s probably enough.

66

casmilus 04.27.17 at 1:59 pm

Simony also gets a mention in the first story of Joyce’s “Dubliners”.

67

kidneystones 04.27.17 at 2:10 pm

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Th bms r mrcn rylty nd prfctly t hm mng thr mny wlthy dmrrs. Lv thm t thr rwrds – t sk thrws s chrlsh.

68

rea 04.27.17 at 2:24 pm

It wasn’t always the case that ex-Presidents of the US went on a hugely well-paid speaking circuit. Does anybody know when this pattern started?

Grant.

69

faustusnotes 04.27.17 at 3:29 pm

Finally Kidneystones has been disemvowelled. But given we’re running reactive moderation, why bother? Just kick him.

70

Dougl Alder 04.27.17 at 3:50 pm

It amazes me that so many liberals/progressives are surprised and angry over this. It’s completely in character for a neoliberal to do this. Obama was a progressive president only in comparison to those who came before him. He was not a lefty or even really a true centrist. The right has moved so far to the right with the Neville Chamberlainesque Democrats trying appeasement that the center is a fair ways to the right of where it used to be, say in DDEs time.

I’d have to echo what others here have said – it’s not that he takes speaking engagements, or even who he is speaking to, it’s what he says that is important. Criticizing Obama for not being a saint and for looking out for his and his family’s economic future is ridiculous and frankly doing the right wing’s job for them. He has every moral , ethical, and legal right to choose to take, or not take, advantage of his good fortune. Isn’t that the so called American dream – to lift oneself up by one’s bootstraps and become wealthy?

Chet Murphy was bang on in his assessment.

71

Marc 04.27.17 at 4:28 pm

@68: No, it really did start with Ford, at least in the modern era, and accelerated dramatically with Bush the first and Clinton. Truman is a pretty dramatic counter-example, and I’d argue Carter as well.

The fact that people who hate Obama seem happy at this turn of events should be a massive clue to Democrats that, perhaps, there are costs to the party of confirming the most cynical assumptions about its leaders.

I’ll take avoiding that problem over any free market apologetic about losing the “best” leaders because they can’t become incredibly rich from public service. Or however the argument is supposed to go.

72

Suzanne 04.27.17 at 5:02 pm

Re: 68. Grant felt that an ungrateful nation had failed to reward him sufficiently for pounding the South into submission, aside from electing him to a presidency he could have done without. Mrs. Grant and he went to visit Blenheim and Julia mused about the goodies that might have come her husband’s way from a grateful monarch.

@62: He doesn’t want to be the CEO of Goldman Sachs. He’s considering instead the hardscrabble world of venture capital.

https://www.pehub.com/2016/06/obama-the-vc/#

@70: The Obamas weren’t exactly hurting for money when they entered the White House and as pointed out earlier, the happy couple has just netted a $60 million book advance. His family’s economic future seems secure, even if his wife does not choose to go back to a paying job.

@59: That doesn’t stop them. Cf. Bush II.

@9: Bush has said that she enjoys his sense of humor, which I can certainly understand (“You called him Turd Blossom? Oh, that’s so cute! And George, will you do your Karla Faye Tucker impression again? I never get tired of that!”) and together they escape from “serious political matters” like his plunging the nation into disaster. Also, they have common interests like veterans’ issues, which is appropriate considering all the veterans Bush and her hubby have created.

73

Heliopause 04.27.17 at 5:08 pm

Yes, some things are so obvious that even Matt Yglesias gets them.

1. Draw a clear distinction between yourself and your opponent: Politics 101.
2. The “don’t care if he’s a rich grifter” demographic is already sewn up by the GOP.
3. The U.S. is near bottom in voter participation in the “developed” world.
4. When polled non-voters frequently talk about how there is little difference between the major parties, politicians are all in it for themselves, and so on.
5. If non-voters voted they would almost certainly tilt toward the liberal/left.
6. Therefore it would certainly help the Dem cause to at least appear to not be rich grifters.

All of this assumes, of course, that Dems really believe the stuff they purportedly believe in and want to see those policies succeed, rather than being themselves grifters who spout socially liberal platitudes to the voting base.

74

JimV 04.27.17 at 5:09 pm

Re: Phil Perspective 04.27.17 at 3:39 am

“You mean the same one that didn’t even rate the Clinton Foundation and then after a lot of whining gave it a passing grade? Do you remember why they didn’t even grade it? It didn’t get a higher grade than the Red Cross.”

No, I mean that is what a Google Search produced then. This is what it produces today:

Charity Navigator:
https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=16680

Clinton Foundation **** 94.74
Red Cross *** 83.33

Charity Watch:

https://www.charitywatch.org/ratings-and-metrics/clinton-foundation/478

Clinton Foundation A
Red Cross A-

There appears to be some mis-information circulating about the Clintons. Why not check it with a quick Internet search before repeating it?

75

JimV 04.27.17 at 5:14 pm

“that is what a Google Search produced then” referred to my previous comment, not PP’s assertion.

76

qzt359 04.27.17 at 7:23 pm

“Personally, I’ll happily stipulate to holding Obama to a higher standard than other politicians, but it isn’t because he is black. Instead, it’s because Obama seemed to plausibly be better than most other politicians on personal ethics. “

This. . . is a minority position, it seems to me. The Greenwald?Sanders left’s position is that Obama is exactly like every other neoliberal war criminal president there has ever been, and this merely confirms what they already knew.

77

bob mcmanus 04.27.17 at 7:26 pm

Isn’t that the so called American dream – to lift oneself up by one’s bootstraps and become wealthy?

No, and that is part of what disturbs me here. The AD where and when I grew up involved a good lifetime job, house , car every 5 years, helping kids through college, a vacation cottage or RV, a decent retirement. Little League, High School sports, a pro game once a year. Respect from and involvement in the community where you were born and buried.

The ambitious and independent might make 2-3 times the average, but had talent, expenses and risks and gave back. Doctors, lawyers, storeowners.

We thought we understood that becoming rich and famous had nearly prohibitive costs, sacrifices, and ethical dilemmas and we did not approve.

There appears to a normalization of ambition and greed within society or a part of society, some kind of comprehension and acceptance and even aspiration to the lifestyles of the rich and famous that I find almost terrifying. Liz Taylor loved crazy jewelry. We didn’t hate her, but we thought it weird, silly, clownish. Part of what is going on is the urban-rural sorting, where 50k a year for an apartment is just a necessity.

And that’s part of what I find abhorrent in Obama. Nobody needs 50 million dollars. It is inexcusable.

78

john c. halasz 04.27.17 at 7:43 pm

Grant was dying and trying to stave off bankruptcy when he wrote his memoirs, published by Mark Twain, to provide for his widow. His memoirs are considered the one masterpiece in an otherwise pretty mediocre genre.

79

Daragh 04.27.17 at 8:05 pm

On the debate about POTUS being a good or bad job – it is obviously a highly desirable job, for a whole host of reasons both the laudable (satisfaction derived from ability to make positive social change and improve people’s lives, great medical benefits) and the less laudable (egotism, ability to launch cruise missiles at will). It also has very substantial downsides (on-call 24/7, enormously stressful, microscopic personal and professional scrutiny that begins 5 minutes after you start, continues for hundreds of years after you die, and most of which garners attention at an inverse rate to the actual knowledge of the critic and their unwillingness to indulge in personalised vitriol). And the pay, while definitely not peanuts by the standard of us mere mortals, is generally vastly smaller than what a person with the skills desirable in a president can make in the private sector.

That’s why, while I find the six-figure after dinner speaking circuit problematic and skeezy, it really isn’t something I can get myself too exercised about. Maybe that’s because over on this side of the pond the post-governmental careers of numerous major political figures have involved making oodles of money in much less reputable ways (incredibly, the OP’s reference to Blair’s shilling for Nursultan Nazarbayev isn’t even the most odious one I could name, and that’s without even doing any extensive research on the topic). Maybe my standards are imperfectly calibrated, but a politician getting vastly overpaid for mouthing platitudes at plutocrats and tickling their egos a bit doesn’t really hit my outrage buttons. A fool and his money and all that. And the exorbitant nature of the fees strikes me less as evidence of a quid pro quo, as a further example of the ludicrously wealthy engaging in a demonstrative display of ostentatious consumption to show how ludicrously wealthy they are. Financial peacocking if you will.

That’s not to say its a good thing. As has already been pointed out there’s a danger that public officials will treat their tenure in office as an extended audition for the oligarchic after-dinner circuit. And even if they don’t, the appearance of corruption in a democracy is in certain ways as corrosive as the fact of it.

I’m also sceptical of claims that Obama is basically cashing in for services rendered. Obama implemented policies that the financial industry was happy with in office that’s true. He also implemented policies they fought tooth and nail. That’s not surprising, given how US politics works. The POTUS isn’t a dictator and the argument ‘Barack Obama – tool of finance’ is about as well founded as ‘Obama – tool of the insurance industry who could have got single payer but He. Didn’t. Even. Try.’

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bob mcmanus 04.27.17 at 8:17 pm

So what happened?

I don’t really blame Bill Gates, or Lebron James, or Springsteen, or even Obama. They followed a path where talent, opportunity and good fortune lead them, did what they loved, and money fell on them. And Obama has sacrificed, always to be accompanied by men in suits, getting to a life of corner basketball and shopping at Walmart will be very hard.

So it’;s probably the money. Where does the money come from, and why do so many people want it. Of course inequality and the 1%, but too many others want and achieve a piece for the top to be the problem.

The problem is a wider distribution and competition for and bidding up of positional goods by the top 10-20%, and the acceptance, favoring, servicing, and protecting the very rich in order to gain their favor. The courtier class in both parties.

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Helen 04.27.17 at 11:42 pm

“If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women, take their money and then vote against them you’ve got no business being up here.”

Disclaimer needed if you’re quoting this approvingly. Or do people here really still think that “women” are an owned commodity (“their women”) of the default human (“their”) which are to be consumed / taken like free booze?

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BarryR 04.28.17 at 2:52 am

In turn, I am bemused by the worries many here seem to have about this. I see it thus: I never had any illusion that Obama was a “progressive.” I was more than disappointed about his views and actions in foreign policy, from becoming needlessly embroiled in the Afghan civil war to his support for extra-legal actions against various actors in other conflicts in which we had no business being involved.
But in the end, I have proud of his dignified representation of America. As president, Barack Obama was, in any sense that makes a difference to me, uncorrupted and incorruptible. I don’t ask anything further. What he does now is on his own dime and God bless him. He is no longer my employee and I feel no right to call on his virtues.

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J-D 04.28.17 at 5:35 am

It wasn’t always the case that ex-Presidents of the US went on a hugely well-paid speaking circuit. Does anybody know when this pattern started?

Ray-gun? Did Tricky Dick do any? Carter has helped build homes for Habitat for Humanity and still flies commercial if he’s going anywhere.

Grant.

No, it really did start with Ford, at least in the modern era, and accelerated dramatically with Bush the first and Clinton. Truman is a pretty dramatic counter-example, and I’d argue Carter as well.

Grant was dying and trying to stave off bankruptcy when he wrote his memoirs, published by Mark Twain, to provide for his widow. His memoirs are considered the one masterpiece in an otherwise pretty mediocre genre.

I expect there are gaps in the information available from Wikipedia on this question, but it is at least a place to start, so I’ve investigated there the ex-Presidents mentioned here.

There’s no direct indication that Grant made large sums of money on any speaking circuit, and (without going into details) the other information available makes it extremely unlikely; the same goes for Truman.

Wikipedia reports that Nixon made a lot of speeches, without reference to how much, or whether, he was paid for them; it does mention the large sum he was paid to be interviewed by David Frost, which is not the same as being on the speaking circuit but does bear some relationship to it.

On ex-Presidents after Nixon, Wikipedia is less informative,with the striking exception of Clinton, apparently because his wife included information about his income from public speaking in her ethics reports as a Senator. He’s the only ex-President for whom, so far, I”ve found definite information about making large sums on the speaking circuit, which of course doesn’t mean that he’s the only ex-President who’s done it. No doubt there’s much more information available outside Wikipedia if I’m prepared to do the extra work to find it.

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UserGoogol 04.28.17 at 7:58 am

Obama was a progressive president only in comparison to those who came before him.

Being better than what came before you is kind of the definition of progress. The past was very bad, the present is better, and if we keep arcing towards justice the future could be quite good.

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MFB 04.28.17 at 8:56 am

It seems to me that outrage is the appropriate emotion for a politician cashing in on his career. He was, after all, paid quite handsomely and given a very pleasant lifestyle indeed during his career in public office. If he needs more money, he can get a few directorships somewhere with no trouble at all.

Of course, one may say that everybody does it so there is no point in being outraged. One may also say that everybody exhales carbon dioxide so there is no point in getting upset about global warming. This, it seems to me, is simply an attempt to get away from the point, which is that Obama is participating in a process of the corruption of the American political system.

As to claiming that it’s fair to take the money from rich people and redistribute it to yourself, the same, obviously, would be true of expensive prostitutes; the problem is that the whores are not going to change the practices of the rich people — they are simply affirming them. Obama, by his action, is saying that he is willing to serve the powerful. You may, if you wish, say that he always has done that — I believe that myself. But at the same time, to do it openly is rather distasteful.

Also, if you really believe that the entire political system is as corrupt as that — and the original post seems to conclude with that — then there is really little point in pretending that the political system can generate any positive consequences.

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Suzanne 04.28.17 at 7:04 pm

49: “Carter has been a holy man as ex-President. As President, he was pretty much useless.”

I really do wish people who are defending the existence of this racket and the pols who partake in it would cease and desist exaggerating the failures in Carter’s record. As others have already posted here, Carter as president has many accomplishments to his name that other presidents would be proud to have.

83: Grant died broke, but not for want of trying. Whether he was gullible and loyal to a fault or corrupt is one of those questions. Many have taken the charitable view that he was the former. I’m not so sure.

His memoir is a wonderful book, written under most difficult circumstances and while he was in great pain, and he did succeed in providing handsomely for his Julia.

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J-D 04.29.17 at 10:16 am

Suzanne

Grant died broke, but not for want of trying. Whether he was gullible and loyal to a fault or corrupt is one of those questions. Many have taken the charitable view that he was the former. I’m not so sure.

His memoir is a wonderful book, written under most difficult circumstances and while he was in great pain, and he did succeed in providing handsomely for his Julia.

You’ve posted this as a response to me (apparently), but I don’t understand how it’s supposed to be a response to me. It has nothing to do with the question ‘When did ex-Presidents of the US start making huge sums of money on a speaking circuit?’, which is the question I specifically stipulated I was discussing, and which is not (do I really need to explain this?) synonymous with ‘When and how did ex-Presidents of the US start trying to make money?’ I know Grant tried to make money after he left the Presidency, but (I am confident) he didn’t do it by going on the speaking circuit.

I know that Clinton did make huge sums of money on the speaking circuit. I am inclined to suspect this ex-Presidential practice didn’t start with him, although I can’t be sure. I’m confident, though, that it started well after Grant.

Here is one comment on Nixon (with link):
He never personally profited from his office. After he left office, he never took a speaking fee. If someone sent him a fee, he would donate it to charity.

The larger claim seems hard to reconcile with what Wikipedia reports about how much he was paid for the interviews with David Frost; on the other hand, the narrower claim about speaking fees in a more restricted sense could still be true.

This report suggests that the practice may have begun with Reagan (and been continued by subsequent Presidents).

88

J-D 04.29.17 at 10:57 pm

More data: this report suggests that the practice began with Ford and was continued by subsequent Presidents, including Carter, although Carter is described as taking smaller fees, less often, and usually donating them to charity.

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Suzanne 04.29.17 at 11:14 pm

J-D, upon reviewing the thread, I see I was commenting on #78 and not your post at #87. I didn’t see #78 immediately and at a glance it looked as if that comment was yours. Sorry for the confusion.

“The POTUS isn’t a dictator and the argument ‘Barack Obama – tool of finance’ is about as well founded as ‘Obama – tool of the insurance industry who could have got single payer but He. Didn’t. Even. Try.’”

Nobody ever said that Obama wielded dictatorial powers, apart from some nutjobs on the right. The fact remains that the financiers were frightened to death when Obama took office and ready to do just about whatever he told them to do. Once it became clear he was going to bail them out (and leave underwater homeowners largely to their own devices), they got cocky again and a few years later they were giving money to Romney.

@79: The argument as I understand it is not that Obama could have gotten single payer but that he dismissed it from consideration at the outset. Not good bargaining and also the single-payer people had every right to have their arguments heard by the President and Congress regardless of the outcome.

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hix 04.30.17 at 1:24 pm

” If he needs more money, he can get a few directorships somewhere with no trouble at all.”
How is that any different?

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Keith 04.30.17 at 7:53 pm

The key pain for MY is that all “mainstream ” reformists are being sunk by the idea they are corrupt to the benefit of the extreme right. If you accept the idea that the only viable alternative to a moderate pro business liberal is the Front National or other natzi groups then Obama taking the money is extremely irresponsible. It means people who are consciously evil will keep being elected to the harm of millions of people. It is the fact it handicaps the moderate forces that is the problem. And obama and his defenders must know that which is why MY is spitting blood.

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Daragh 04.30.17 at 9:23 pm

Suzanne @89

“The fact remains that the financiers were frightened to death when Obama took office and ready to do just about whatever he told them to do.”

[Citation needed].

While I’d concede the ‘dictatorial powers’ remark on my part was hyperbole – it was meant as such – I’m intrigued by your argument that Obama does not have these powers but that financiers would behave as if he did. The White House can do a lot of things via regulation. It can’t create a Consumer Protection Bureau. It can’t create new regulatory powers outside of whole cloth, or exceed the limits of regulatory powers defined by statute. That requires Congress, and that introduces a whole new set of actors to the table, all of whom are liable to be influenced by lobbyists.

The US system is far from perfect, and generally constrains progressive political actors more than reactionary ones, in that it makes it extremely difficult to do things and much easier to undo them. Obama worked within that system and made significant strides in improving the lot of the poorest Americans, in many ways (including through a bailout program and stimulus which, while unsatisfactory in many ways for progressives, helped prevent the Great Recession from becoming the Second Depression. These are things I believe progressives should celebrate, instead of grousing about the missing half of the loaf.

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A in Ca 05.01.17 at 7:14 am

Jerry Vinokurov at 17 has the relevant observation: “….his post-playing salary was in some sense a quid pro quo for his taking a pay cut earlier to help out the team.”
This is a cancer on democracy.
All politicians now in office know that they can have a good career after retiring from politics, if they do the bidding of potential future employers, or at least make no waves. That is one big reason that ‘we cannot have nice things’ , that politicians will oppose things which are obviously popular and would help with their re-election. The future career prospects are more important than re-election (and even direct campaign contributions). Speaking fees, board directorships, cozy jobs as ‘VP Government Relations,’ lobbying jobs for former pols all appear to be equally corrupting. And the example now given by Obama will encourage the pols we have not to mess too much with the financial industry.
And I suspect Bernie Sander won’t get such nice gigs once he retires. Nor will Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
For Republicans, self-enrichment is their base ideology, so they have no qualms taking all they can. With part of the Democratic party going the same way, it seems there is little hope. No wonder voters become cynical (and stop voting, or vote for a ‘protest candidate’)

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Daragh 05.01.17 at 10:16 am

FWIW Dan Davies has a good piece on this in the FT that does a good job explaining why this isn’t the pay-for-play scenario many here seem to think it is.

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Don't Eat at Taco Bell 05.01.17 at 10:54 am

“The last I knew it was rated higher than the Red Cross, and despite intense journalistic investigation, no wrong-doing by it has been discovered. Guilty until proven innocent is not a standard any of us could live up to.”

This was by Charity Navigator. The Foundation had been on its watchlist and then clarified some things prior to the election.

They aren’t doing anything illegal. Still, questions can be asked. They could be the same issues we might consider about every huge international development foundation, though. The CF financial statements are incredibly vague. They got huge donations from people (e.g., Frank Guistra) whom they also financially benefitted through access to foreign governments. Officers of the foundation (e.g., the Clinton Family) get comped plane rides, hotels, etc. (if not riding on private jets by donors like Guistra) when doing foundation work. The foundation received donations from foreign governments doing business with the US government. They also did not disclose all their donors. (This was one reason they were put on the watchlist). They face much criticism in countries like Haiti where they operate. Again, all this is likely true of all huge foundations, given their enormous leverage and influence in desperately poor places. The CF seems to go a bit beyond this though–there are development projects on their own website that are, in fact, corporate profit-making enterprises. One can learn a lot from a careful read of their own financial statements, and their own website.

The Clinton Foundation also partnered with many excellent NGOs, and put a huge amount of money to a bunch of essential projects.

It’s hard to discuss these things because it all has echoes of (hypocritical) right wing drumbeats. A reason to think about it now is that foundations could be another legal activity like paid speechmaking that undermines our confidence in the motives of government officials when in office. We seem to simply expect high-level elected officials to wield money, power, and influence as a conduit between the corporate sector and foreign governments once they leave office. You can consider Kissinger and Albright as examples of this as well.

Some main differences between the way US government officials profit from holding office and the corrupt officials in ‘developing nation’ profit is that in the USA it is all done in a way that is (a) legal (b) much more transparent (c) usually way less lucrative. Those things make it defensible for some, but it’s possible that the wider effects won’t be similar to illegal corruption on the motives of office-holders, and on the public trust. It’s impossible to see what can be done about this in the political culture of 2017. The expectations a successful politician holds for his or her life after office are the expectations most celebrated influential people have–which is that their fame, talent, connections, and experience should also bring them a lot of money. It appears that all of this works as it is designed to work.

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PGD 05.01.17 at 12:28 pm

Daragh@92 — were you around in 2008-2009, or were you not yet following politics or something? The major banks were mostly insolvent and totally dependent on Federal Reserve liquidity, the refusal / failure of the Justice Department to pursue legal action against them (any significant fine at that time would have tipped them into bankruptcy), and the TARP program which was completely controlled by the executive branch. These executive powers alone gave Obama enormous power had he chosen to exercise it. If Congressional action was needed the Democrats had huge majorities in the Senate and the House, if anything the Obama admin worked to hold back potentially stronger / more populist action there.

Not sure if you actually don’t know this stuff or are playing naive.

97

Layman 05.01.17 at 12:39 pm

Suzanne: “The argument as I understand it is not that Obama could have gotten single payer but that he dismissed it from consideration at the outset. Not good bargaining and also the single-payer people had every right to have their arguments heard by the President and Congress regardless of the outcome.”

I find this criticism quite hard to grasp. The first part, that he dismissed single payer on the outset, hinges on what you mean by ‘outset’. When was that, exactly? There were few if any votes in Congress for single payer, and no proposal based on single payer was going anywhere. A serious single payer proposal would have died without support and probably reduced the chance that anything could be done at all. The time to take something off the table is when that something has no chance of happening and in fact can only harm your chances of anything. But to be clear, explain at what point in time, exactly, it would have been appropriate to take single payer off the table, and how that would have resulted in a different outcome.

Similarly, I don’t know what it means to say that single payer people had ‘every right to have their arguments heard’. Do you think it possible that the President and Members of Congress had never heard any arguments for single payer? That the idea was a mystery to them? I doubt that, so clearly the argument was ‘heard’, and your objection is about when it was heard, or about who made the argument; or perhaps you mean something other than ‘heard’, for example, you mean ‘forcefully argued for’. And this question about rights, does every person have a right to have their argument heard, where heard apparently means ‘listened to and then advocated forcefully for by the POTUS’?

Put another way: If I think the ACA should have provided ponies for everyone, would it have been OK for Obama to decide at the outset not to fight for ponies if he thought it could not possibly pass and he thought arguing for it would be a distraction from what he thought could pass? Must he actually meet with me and every other person who argues for the ponies, because of our rights? Must he then make speeches advocating for the ponies, and put ponies on his list of requirements for the bill, and find a Member of Congress to propose the pony version of the bill, and then only remove the ponies when that version of the bill is defeated, or dies without ever being considered, in order to meet this standard?

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Daragh 05.01.17 at 7:15 pm

PGD@96
“were you around in 2008-2009, or were you not yet following politics or something?”

I was, and while I did my doctorate on Russian foreign policy, I was as interested as the next post-grad poli-sci student in Obama and his administration (that is, very).

“The major banks were mostly insolvent and totally dependent on Federal Reserve liquidity, the refusal / failure of the Justice Department to pursue legal action against them (any significant fine at that time would have tipped them into bankruptcy)”

Yes, because tipping most of America’s systemically important banks into bankruptcy is an act that would only, and exclusively, impacted the banks and their senior staff. Even if the wider economy had been affected, this would have been solely confined to the very wealthy, and would not have had any devastating impacts for the working and middle class. If history has taught us anything, its that the very wealthy are unable to protect themselves and their assets from adverse political and economic circumstances.

“If Congressional action was needed the Democrats had huge majorities in the Senate and the House, if anything the Obama admin worked to hold back potentially stronger / more populist action there.”

And a Republican minority that was determined to filibuster everything that moved from the Obama administration. Of course, perhaps I’m underestimating the ferocious commitment and tenacity of Joe Lieberman and Max Baucus in pursuing progressive goals in financial policy.

“Not sure if you actually don’t know this stuff or are playing naive.”

C’mon man. You could’ve come up with a better rejoinder than that but you Didn’t. Even. Try.

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Suzanne 05.01.17 at 7:24 pm

@97: I don’t know why you regard it as some sort of loony left position to say that when hearings on national health care are being held, single payer advocates should be heard at such hearings and given a chance to make their case, regardless of whether or not what they want will actually get passed. Obama was routinely asked about the possibility at town halls.

However, given your general tone of derision, it is plain you think little of my opinion, so here’s notorious socialist dreamer Max Baucus:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/us/politics/24baucus.html?_r=1&hp=&pagewanted=all

‘In the interview, Mr. Baucus said he has tried to keep everyone at the table — a tactic he honed discussing tax issues in Montana. “If you don’t like something, suspend judgment for 15 minutes and let’s find a way to get to yes,” Mr. Baucus said.

He conceded that it was a mistake to rule out a fully government-run health system, or a “single-payer plan,” not because he supports it but because doing so alienated a large, vocal constituency and left Mr. Obama’s proposal of a public health plan to compete with private insurers as the most liberal position.’

It seems to me that it is good and right to “keep everyone at the table.” I do not think it was good policy, let alone a good negotiating strategy, to leave the public option dangling like a piñata.

(And enough with the pony nonsense already.)

Not ignoring or evading you, Daragh, BTW. I’ll reply when I can.

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Daragh 05.01.17 at 11:05 pm

Suzanne @99

No worries! I don’t take the lack of an answer as evasion or being ignored. We’ve all got busy lives and there’s only so much time to be spent correcting someone who is wrong on the internet (by which I mean, I’m sure I appear as wrong in this particular argument as you do to me, and I don’t take any of this personally).

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Sebastian H 05.01.17 at 11:31 pm

The Daniel Davies piece is only good in the sense that it confirms what I thought, not in the sense that it excuses anything.

It says things like “The fundamental insight here is that the reason that we can be sure that these payments are not purely transactional is that nothing in investment banking is purely transactional.

Are there people who thought that it was PURELY transactional? I don’t really think so.


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“So payments to former politicians for speeches and access shouldn’t be seen as straightforward purchases of services; they are one of the ways in which bankers invest in an overall ecosystem that they think benefits them. This is a fairly uniquely bankerish way to do business, and there is certainly a legitimate question of whether it benefits society as a whole. But it’s not a quid pro quo. You don’t pay $400,000 a speech because you want to hire President Obama — you pay it because you want to be the kind of guy who can hire President Obama.”

Ugh, just so much ugh.

The argument isn’t that the speeches are a direct payment for individual political decisions. The argument is that the promise of future ridiculous payments is a corrupting influence on all the little decisions you make along the way because you know that if you piss them off enough you won’t get them.

Regarding the Clinton Foundation– we don’t have to resolve it now, but we should pre-register a way of judging it.

If the donations to the Foundation go down significantly now that Clinton will never be President, there is a strong indication that there was some corrupt money flows going on there. If the donations do not go down significantly, it can be judged as just a Foundation linked to celebrity.

I would put “significantly” at about 15%. If the donations go down by that amount or more, it seems to me pretty clear that the donations were intended as influencing, rather than charitable. Does that seem fair?

Does anyone here think that when we look at the disclosure from 2017 we will find a smaller than 15% drop in donations?

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hix 05.02.17 at 12:39 am

This kind of barely hidden (legal) corruption would work far less well if private sector upper level saleries were not so deatched from reality. One might even be able to make some corruption charges stick if politicans were still paid moon prices (hardly matters if its for directorships or speaches).

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