By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. GP article archive here. Originally published at DownWithTyranny
This is a story I didn’t want to produce, but fully expected to. For years I’ve been writing about Barack Obama and his legacy, the one he wants to have and the one he actually has. In 2013 I listed the four economic items Obama wanted to achieve to complete what he considered his legacy list before his presidency ended:
Privatized “Medicare expansion” (the ACA). Benefits cuts for SS and Medicare. Keystone [pipeline built]. TPP [passed]. If Obama gets these four, he’s a happy man, and in his mind he goes out in glory.
He succeeded on the first; tried and tried and tried on the second; bailed on the third only when forced to by popular opposition; and pulled out all the stops, every last one of them, to pass the fourth in the last months of his last year, even as his chosen Democratic successor, Hillary Clinton, under pressure in the primary, finally came out as opposed. (Obama’s chosen DNC chair, Tom Perez, was never opposed, nor was anyone else close to his administration, though Perez doesn’t talk about that much these days.)
If it weren’t for Tea Party and Freedom Caucus Republicans, he’d have been three for four — Social Security “reform” and TPP would have passed. Obama didn’t lose for lack of trying.
Obama’s real legacy also includes zero bankers jailed for fraud despite the rampant criminal behavior of Wall Street in the run-up to the 2008 economic devastation. As he told a group of Wall Street CEOs in 2009, “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.” He was right, and proved an effective shield.
For all of those efforts, those that succeeded (passing ACA, protecting Wall Street CEOs) and those that failed (cuts to SS and Medicare, TPP, Keystone), he fully expected to be granted a “Bill Clinton future” — the big money, the big foundation, the international love and acclaim.
You can read about his fundraising for the foundation here. It’s quite a story in its own right. You can hear the international acclaim grow stronger by the day, thanks to the serendipitous contrast with his successor, Donald Trump. And now the money is starting to flow.
“Bill Clinton Money”
Fresh from his vacation on privately-owned Necker Island with billionaire Richard Branson, Obama has just inked his first lucrative speaking deal. The fee: $400,000. The venue: Wall Street.
Mark Hensch at The Hill:
Obama to net $400K for Wall Street speech: report
Former President Obama has agreed to speak at a Wall Street conference for $400,000, according to a new report.
Obama will appear at Cantor Fitzgerald LP’s healthcare conference in September, Fox Business Network first reported Monday.
Fox Business said it confirmed Obama’s appearance with senior members at Cantor, a financial services firm.
Obama will serve as the keynote speaker for one day at the company’s event, sources there told Fox Business.
The following is from the underlying Fox Business report by Charlie Gasparino and Brian Schwartz, who broke the story. Note the criticism that looks to us like praise (my emphasis):
When he was president he called them “fat cats,” but now he’s likely thanking them for a huge payday.
Former President Barack Obama, less than 100 days out of office, has agreed to speak at a Wall Street conference run by Cantor Fitzgerald LP, senior people at the firm confirm to FOX Business. His speaking fee will be $400,000, which is nearly twice as much as Hillary Clinton, his secretary of state, and the 2016 Democratic Party candidate, charged private businesses for such events. […]
News of Obama’s speaking deal with Cantor, which had yet to be reported, comes as the former president made on Monday his first public comments since leaving office after an extended vacation. In those comments to college students at the University of Chicago, the president spoke broadly about the need for public service and studiously avoided any mention of the current president, Republican Donald Trump, or how he intends to make a living now that he’s a private citizen.
It’s also likely to be a source of criticism against the former president given Obama’s record of attacks against Wall Street bankers for making huge salaries while average Americans were suffering from the ravages of the 2008 financial crisis. Obama, a progressive Democrat, spoke frequently about Wall Street greed during his eight years as president, and now he’s accepting a speaking fee from the industry he singled out as the main culprit of the banking collapse.
I’ll return to the Fox piece in a moment. First, about the timing, compare Obama’s first post-presidential days to Bill Clinton’s immediate post-presidential trajectory (my emphasis):
On December 21, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed a bill called the Commodities Futures Modernization Act. This law ensured that derivatives could not be regulated, setting the stage for the financial crisis.
Just two months later, on February 5, 2001, Clinton received $125,000 from Morgan Stanley, in the form of a payment for a speech Clinton gave for the company in New York City. A few weeks later, Credit Suisse also hired Clinton for a speech, at a $125,000 speaking fee, also in New York. It turns out, Bill Clinton could make a lot of money, for not very much work.
Notice that just like Clinton was fresh off his late December win for Wall Street deregulation, Obama is fresh off his highly focused effort to pass TPP in the final days of his own presidency. Unlike Clinton, who won, Obama ultimately failed, but Obama’s win would have been much more monumental than Clinton’s. Commodities futures deregulation enriched just one industry, though it did help wreck the whole economy. TPP was truly “NAFTA on steroids,” a multi-industry monopoly protection scheme, and nearly everyone in America with real money would have benefited, not just the bankers.
By the way, if you compare Obama’s speaking fee with Clinton’s early fees, you may notice the price has gone up. (Clinton’s later fees grew in line with those prices. His 2015 fee was $500,000 per speech.) A good example of asset inflation — and that’s not sarcasm. Everything the rich are buying these days is rocketing up in price. See “Art and real estate are the new gold, says Blackrock CEO.”
Word and Deeds
I quoted Gasparino and Schwartz’s piece for a reason. In it you can see the double benefit Obama gets — Wall Street reward money, plus undeserved credit for opposing Wall Street while in office.
Fox, in hitting him for hypocrisy — “given Obama’s record of attacks against Wall Street bankers for making huge salaries while average Americans were suffering from the ravages of the 2008 financial crisis” — actually praises him as an kind of “anti-Wall Street warrior” during his presidency, something (a) he certainly was not, but (b) something he desperately wants to be thought to have been.
After all, you can’t retire as a “champion of the people” if you don’t at least appear to champion the people. And you can’t be internationally loved in your “retirement” years if the world sees you as a quid-pro-quo greed head. Managing how the world sees him will be crucial to Obama’s success going forward.
And typical of Obama, the issue is words versus deeds. That “record of attacks” was entirely verbal. Obama’s deeds were the opposite of attacks; they were entirely supportive. Which is entirely to be expected given the level of funding Wall Street poured into making and keeping him president in the first place:
Wall Street Responsible For One-Third Of Obama’s Campaign Funds
One-third of the Obama re-election campaign’s record-breaking second-quarter fundraising came from sources associated with the financial sector, the Washington Post reports.
That percentage is up from the 20% of donations that came from Wall Street donors in 2008, and contradicts reports that a growing Wall Street animosity towards the Obama administration may jeopardize his re-election bid.
And please don’t forget that Obama’s real legacy, the one involving actual deeds, includes what David Dayen called “the greatest disintegration of black wealth in recent memory.” Of that I wrote this:
Occasionally, when there’s justice in the world, one is not just branded by the manicured and curated image one tries to project. One is branded instead by what one actually does in the sight of others.
Will Obama see more justice than the millions whose homelessness he caused? I guess that part of the story is still being written.
One can hope. It will be interesting to watch this unfold.
You Get What You Pay For
Bottom line — Wall Street invested millions in Barack Obama’s career in 2008 and 2012. That investment paid off over the eight years of his presidency to the tune of billions upon billions in profit and millions upon millions per year in executive compensation and bonuses.
It would not be at all surprising if Wall Street bankers were now saying “thank you” by giving him money he can keep. In fact, it would be entirely surprising if they weren’t.
UPDATE: I discussed this issue and post on “The Attitude with Arnie Arnesen,” WNHN-FM, progressive radio on New Hampshire. You can listen here; start at 30:00 (or earlier to listen to Garth Brooks sing “It Pays Big Money”).