Gaius Publius: Obama Follows Clinton, Boards the Millionaire Speech Train to Wall Street

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

Democratic Party loyalists didn’t decide the last election, and they won’t decide the next.

“I never had any money until I got out of the White House, you know, but I’ve done reasonably well since then.”

Bill Clinton

Like Bill Clinton before him, ex-President Barack Obama has gotten on the Wall Street-financed train to millionaire riches. Clinton:

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. [emphasis mine]

Times change, prices go up, but the song remains the same. Obama:

Last month, just before [Hillary Clinton’s] book “What Happened” was published, Barack Obama spoke in New York to clients of Northern Trust Corp. for about $400,000, a person familiar with his appearance said. Last week, he reminisced about the White House for Carlyle Group LP, one of the world’s biggest private equity firms, according to two people who were there. Next week, he’ll give a keynote speech at investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald LP’s health-care conference.

Obama is coming to Wall Street less than a year after leaving the White House, following a path that’s well trod and well paid. [emphasis mine]

If the first figure is his fee, as it reportedly is for the Cantor Fitzgerald speech as well, he’ll pocket $1.2 million from three Wall Street speeches in about a month’s time.

The issue is not just the cashing in on career-long, eager service to mega-wealthy Wall Street bankers — including especially his failure to prosecute not one of them for massive and systemic fraud, let’s remember. That’s the smallest of the problems with this story. A larger issue is its effect on the desperate attempt of the Democratic Party to distance its current self-presentation, “The Party That Speaks For The People,” from its most recent self, “The Party Of The Top Ten Percent.” Or at least, its attempt to appear to create that distance.

This move by Obama won’t help those attempts at a new-minted reversal appearance. As the article points out, “While he can’t run for president, he continues to be an influential voice in a party torn between celebrating and vilifying corporate power. His new work with banks might suggest which side of the debate he’ll be on”. No one in the bottom 90% — most of us, in other words, is “torn between celebrating and vilifying corporate power.”

It’s a come-to-Jesus moment for the Democratic Party, and Obama brought Eve’s apple to the discussion.

A Pre-Revolutionary Nation

The nation is at a crossroads, in a pre-revolutionary condition, and so is the Democratic Party. The revolution in the nation is proceeding. Ever since Obama’s betrayal of his mandate in 2009, discontent with Establishment rule, by supporters of both parties, has grown almost geometrically, starting with the Democratic Party disaster in 2010. In 2016 that revolt kept Republicans in charge, despite a Senate winnable by the Democrats, and it helped put Trump and Pence in the White House for the next four years.

Revolt against Establishment rule would have put Sanders in the White House instead, if Democratic leadership had allowed it. Consider:


The argument against Sanders by Democratic leaders is that people who filled football stadiums to support Sanders weren’t Democrats. Neither are most voters, however, as the chart above shows. Think that through.

A Price for Democratic Party Dithering

And now the debt for Democratic Party misdeeds, for sticking with the Establishment playbook, comes due. In 2018 and 2020 the nation will get its last real chance, before our twin tsunamis hit, at putting leaders in place to actually deal with them. Those twin tsunamis — bankruptcy, death and anger-fueled revolt against rule by the rich; and fossil-fueled destruction of a climate that can sustain seven billion living breathing humans. Both crises are reaching social and political tipping points. Neither will wait while Democrats continue to dither and the Party’s still-in-place leaders try to stretch their corrupt profit-taking practices into an indefinite future.

Will Party leadership convince enough voters that they hold a better answer than the next faux-populist demon from the right, our nation’s own monster from the id? Or will apathy to Democratic Party corruption suppress turnout enough to keep Republicans in power in 2018 and elevate their next monster from the id to the White House in 2020?

It’s not like Obama is an outlier among Democrats. The Party is shot through with this kind of corruption. It’s put up or shut up for the nation, and put up or shut up for Democratic leaders as well.

Needless to say, Obama’s new Wall Street wealth, and Democratic Party defense of it, isn’t likelyl to help either us or them.

Quid Pro Quo for Carlyle Group?

One final point. In the case of his paid speech to mega-wealthy equity firm Carlyle Group, there do seem to be quids and quos. From the International Business Times (emphasis mine):

Several years after private equity firm Carlyle Group LP successfully pushed the White House to relax Environmental Protection Agency rules to the benefit of two Carlyle-owned oil refineries in Pennsylvania, former President Barack Obama, as part of a series of paid speeches, made a stop at its conference last week.

Bloomberg first reported the former president’s recent paid speech rounds Monday, citing “two people who were there” at a Carlyle event in Washington, D.C., last week, where he “discussed his life and the decisions he made in the White House.” It’s unclear whether and how much he was paid by Carlyle, which declined to comment to International Business Times, but Bloomberg reported that he received $400,000 for a Northern Trust Corp. engagement in August, and earlier this year won the same amount from the investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald, for which he was slated to speak again next week.

After listing Carlyle Group executives who also held positions with the Obama administration, IBT writes this:

Back in 2013, Carlyle — working in tandem with Delta Air Lines, which also owned a refinery — met with Obama’s economic adviser Ronald Minsk and an EPA official, and signed a letter to the EPA with Delta and a refinery union leader as part of an effort to lobby the agency to relax its steadily rising requirements for mixing biofuels in petroleum-based fuels as part of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program, Reuters reported in 2014.

While a boon for makers of corn-based ethanol, the requirement that U.S. petroleum output include 13.8 billion gallons of “conventional biofuel” each year would prove expensive for oil producers, as they’d have to either purchase the alternative fuel or buy a limited supply of compliance credits rapidly escalating in price. The following year would bring with it a 14.4-billion-gallon mandate. Following another letter to the EPA from then Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and his Delaware counterpart Jack Markell, the EPA announced in November 2013 that it would lower the next year’s requirement to 13 billion gallons instead of 14.4 billion, causing politicians from big corn-industry states, such as Rep. Steve King (R-Ia.), a denier of climate change, to balk. The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), citing the Reuters investigation, sued the EPA “for failing to provide documents regarding oil industry efforts to influence the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard,” according to a CREW press release.

“It certainly seems as if the administration has backtracked on its commitment to renewable fuels. The question is why. Was there a back room deal orchestrated by big oil and high ranking officials in the Obama administration?” Melanie Sloan, then the group’s executive director, said in the 2014 release. “Even though it is nearly 2015, the renewable fuel standards for 2014 still haven’t been released. Is this to avoid potential political fallout in the mid-terms for siding with the oil industry over the biofuel industry?”

In 2015, Delta and Carlyle, along with oil giant Valero Energy Corp. and Minsk, by then no longer Obama’s economic adviser, renewed their efforts to change the EPA RFS rules, this time by pushing the agency to relegate the burden of compliance with required biofuel levels to fuel blenders, rather than refiners.

Before the campaign to influence the EPA’s fuel-composition requirements began, Obama’s administration played a helpful role in Carlyle’s acquisition of the refinery as well.

There’s more in the IBT piece. This isn’t a smoking gun, of course. But there is a corpse (the biofuel standard) and a clear beneficiary, or several. One of those beneficiaries, the Carlyle Group, seems to have just said thanks.

Obama’s future is quite secure and getting more secure by the day. I’m not sure the same can be said for the Democratic Party’s; quite the opposite in fact. And I strongly suspect, if true, the two outcomes will prove connected.

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  1. Tyronius

    Mr Sanders was extremely popular with Americans from all corners of the country- and from both sides of the political divide.

    It is a clear example of America’s current state as utterly beholden to corporate interests that the two existing political parties closed ranks to keep his insurgent campaign from succeeding. Oligopoly, anyone?

    I wonder what shenanigans will be deployed to keep Mr Sanders or someone like him to break through in the upcoming election cycles? I have no doubt they will, the ideals of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ be hanged.

    1. Mike

      A note of reality, please… Senator Sanders is popular, true – but popularity does not translate into effective change, as we saw with Obama and Clinton. We are also seeing it with the ‘insurgent” Trump. All of them are surrounded by establishment cronies who work tirelessly to aid and steer (or force, if you wish to be generous) any candidate toward the acceptable and systemically possible “solutions”, and I believe Sanders is not immune to such cajoling. His foreign policy wonk-points got a boost in his latest speech, but we still have Israeli policy to contend with, and practical suggestions regarding what to do about Saudi Arabia are not forthcoming from him.

      So, even if Sanders were elected, he would need a House and Senate that would mirror his aspirations (see FDR and his struggles with a “sympathetic” Congress), or at least be willing to listen. If you follow election watchdogs closely, you will see that gerrymandering almost prevents Dems, especially more-than-liberal ones, from winning in the majority of districts. This was achieved with Democrats looking on, and saying nothing. The Clinton Party has won that battle, and have copied the voting machine fraud tactics of the Repubs quite well, as the last primary shows (no proof, as evidence always disappears or is covered by the judicial process, but manure stinks for a reason, to me).

      Further, the process above is only part of the decision-making universe that is corporate USA. Sanders political revolution will only fail unless accompanied by a real one, cleaning out and removing all the corrupting influences, and starting fresh with a REAL Constitution – for us, not them.

      1. Darius

        This is the situation engineered, wittingly or not, by Democrats themselves. When they had decisive majorities they still tried to blame Republicans for their own inaction.

        After throwing 2010 and 2014, they had a ready-made excuse.

      2. cm

        A President (Sanders *or* Trump) could force change despite a hostile Congress through the use of Dept of Justice. Existing law could be used to shut down the finance & insurance companies. Trust-busting 2.0.

        1. WheresOurTeddy

          +1000. The laws exist. Those with spines and teeth to enforce them do not.

          FDR would have called everyone since Jimmy Carter an “economic royalist.”

          And he’d be right.

      3. Michael Fiorillo

        You say that as if Clinton and Obama ever had any good faith intentions of bringing about change, which is quite a stretch.

        It should have been clear from the very beginning that Obama was a creature of urban real estate interests and finance. His tutelage and advancement under Valerie Jarrett, the Pritzkers and the Joyce Foundation while in Chicago show that behind the curtain of his purple prose rhetoric was a stone cold neoliberal, ready and eager to stick a knife between the ribs of those who voted for him.

        His vote for TARP while he was running for President in 2008 is further proof, and his appointment of Geithner should have also strangled any delusions about him in their crib.

        Finance/Wall Street overwhelmingly funded him in 2008, and rightly so from their perspective. They knew he’d “stand between them and the pitchforks” – in fact, it appears that’s exactly what he was born to do – and they were right.

        Obama’s getting his payback now; when do we get ours?

        1. WheresOurTeddy

          anyone who held out hope for Change ™ should have understood when the announced cabinet was a Goldman Sachs alumni list.

          Kind of like the one before it, and the one after it…

    2. Tiresias

      Tyronius, I agree. I also think one of the main underlying purposes of Hillary Clinton’s recent book is to shore up the corporate wing of the party by blaming the progressive wing. If enough people buy in to her blame game, then her wing will prove victorious within the party, but it will fail in the elections because too many people are now “awake” to the corruption and undemocratic nature of the party. It won’t be the first time Clintons’ sold out victory for self interest, or sold out the interest of the people to the moneyed interests.

  2. David Carl Grimes

    Obama doesn’t care how this looks. He obviously didn’t care about the decline of the Democratic Party in the polls from 2010 onwards. He doesn’t care how he looks to the general public. While in office, he kept on pushing for the TPP even though it was so unpopular that even HRC was forced to say she wasn’t for it. He was obviously looking to line his pockets post presidency and didn’t want to upset any of his benefactors.

    Jimmy Dore had two video good segments on this yesterday:

    Obama Shamelessly Takes In Wall Street Cash Again

    Obama enriches self with backroom oil deal

    “Not everyone is going to be a Jimmy Carter who does purely good work when he gets out”

    1. DJG

      David Carl Grimes: A quibble. Obama is intensely concerned with how things look. But Obama has always avoided any consequences of his actions. He likes to talk it all away. As Yves Smith notes, Just add more another dose of propaganda.

      Obama has carefully managed his appearance in public. You’ll note that he is extremely careful about how he is photographed. There are no pictures that are the equivalent of Trump with his comb-over flying. “Candid” shots from his White House years are all posed–very little spontaneity. During his first presidential campaign, his staff somehow suppressed the picture in the bathing suit (1) so that he wouldn’t be treated as a sex symbol and (2) because a black man and his flesh and sexuality ignite panic among the racially insecure.

      Yet Obama has also carefully balanced the potential consequences of his actions and has been wanting. There is no constituency for the prisoners at Guantanamo. No action. There is no constituency for the tortured. Hence no action on the Senate’s report on torture. There are no real consequences of ignoring the needs of black Americans. As the article points out, he can change EPA rules because few Americans understand the process. No consequences. Hence his spotty record.

      And how he managed to avoid severe criticism for the slaughterhouse in Syrian is a sign of highly curated (as they say these days) Teflon-ism.

      So he cares very much how this looks: You’ll note that the press hasn’t picked up in a big way on his gold-digging. They haven’t made him the new Hillary Clinton and her many fees for visits with bankers. The problem with the Clintons has always been their loud public protestations that they never do anything wrong.

      1. David Carl Grimes

        If George W. Bush image can be rehabilitated by the Dems through the passage of time, maybe Obama’s will tarnish with the passage of time.

        People overlooked Clinton’s actions while President (NAFTA, Crime Bill, Glass Steagal Repeal, etc) but over time those very same actions came to bite back Hillary. Bill doesn’t smell so good now.

        Maybe 20 years from now, Obama will be an old man with hundreds of millions of dollars (or even billions) in his bank account, but historians might not look so kindly at his actual legacy.

  3. Arizona Slim

    Permit me to share a quote from Obama’s first inaugural address: “What the cynics don’t realize is that the ground has shifted under their feet.”

    Et tu, Barack?

    1. Darius

      Obama has smooth and stirring delivery, at least until you realize he’s BSing you and you can’t watch him and keep your lunch down.

      But I can’t remember a single phrase associated with him. No day of infamy. No ask not. Unless it’s I’m all that’s standing between Wall Street and the pitchforks.

      1. John Wright

        I remember this statement: “We tortured some folks” as it both weakly acknowledged and minimized US torture.

        But as you point out, the “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks,” may be the line that captures the essence of Obama and his administration..

  4. RWood

    The solons here understand, comprehend the spiral occlusions obstructing most voters’ grasp of id-like capitalism’s wickedness. For provincials like me, this article is a reflection of that cognitive dissonance:

    Pretensions to American exceptionalism, she notes, depend on an “empire [that had] long ago developed ways of preventing its own citizens from knowing the contours of its existence.” Against this, Hansen sets out to dismantle her ingrained prejudices and to reset the very foundations of her knowledge — which, again, is a lot more than can be said for New York Times writers who opt to opine that Iraq should “suck on this.”

    And as the realization of himself, Morbius, occurs, the planet dies.

    1. RWood

      (Kicks virtual soapbox into place in mental dust, steps on foily hat)
      Spike @ RS (Robert Scribbler)
      Quotes RS:
      “It’s a tough fact that we need to reiterate time and time again under the present cloud of politically-motivated climate change denial — the weather is getting worse and human-based fossil fuel burning is causing it. The peak potential intensity of the most extreme storms has been increased by a warming world. More atmospheric water vapor increases the highest potential record rainfall amounts even as all that added heat and moisture push the weather toward greater drought and downpour extremes. We can see this in the increasingly prevalent heavy rainfall events, wildfires and droughts across the globe. We see it in the larger, heavier and longer-lasting storms”
      then Spike provides this:
      “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”
      George Orwell

      leads to this
      “There is no use in multiplying examples. The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”

      The precedents to the ‘storms of my grandchildren’ are here, now.

  5. Sluggeaux

    The caption on the graph claims that, “Democratic Party loyalists didn’t decide the last election, and they won’t decide the next.”

    I disagree. In December CNN reported that Clinton polled 26.8% of eligible voters (non-felon citizens 18 and over) and that Trump polled 26.3% of eligible voters. If 29% of eligible voters identify as “Democrat” and 26% as Republican, that means that the 10 million 2008 Obama voters who didn’t show up for Clinton are in that 2.2% of Democratic Party loyalists whose failure to vote for Clinton decided the last election!

    It is precisely the corruption described by Gaius Publius that is turning-off voters. Clinton’s acceptance of huge “speaking fees” from Wall Street, while refusing to release transcripts of those speeches and maintaining illegal private email servers to hide her “You’ve got to have a public position and a private position” line from the voters is precisely what decided the election against her. Even “Democratic Party loyalists” are disgusted with their party’s abject corruption by the financiers and the breakdown of the Rule of Law.

  6. Sid Finster

    Regarding the pre-revolutionary condition of the United States – the mood reminds of the mood in Ukraine when I left in 2012.

    Economic stagnation, politicians bickering, the populace growing madder with every day, but at the same time not yet sure whom to take out their anger on.

    No, I am no fan of the Nazi puppet government in office in Ukraine today.

  7. RWood

    Since this is the fag-end:

    The true scandal is the insidious assumption of power by sinister war-making vested interests for which no American voted.  The rapid ascendancy of the Pentagon and the surveillance agencies under Obama represented an historic shift of power in Washington. Daniel Ellsberg rightly called it a coup. The three generals running Trump are its witness.
    All of this fails to penetrate those “liberal brains pickled in the formaldehyde of identity politics”, as Luciana Bohne noted memorably. Commodified and market-tested, “diversity” is the new liberal brand, not the class people serve regardless of their gender and skin colour: not the responsibility of all to stop a barbaric war to end all wars.
    John Pilger

  8. Sandy Jacoby

    It was Obama who told the bankers, “my administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.”

  9. Left in Wisconsin

    And now the debt for Democratic Party misdeeds, for sticking with the Establishment playbook, comes due. In 2018 and 2020 the nation will get its last real chance, before our twin tsunamis hit, at putting leaders in place to actually deal with them. Those twin tsunamis — bankruptcy, death and anger-fueled revolt against rule by the rich; and fossil-fueled destruction of a climate that can sustain seven billion living breathing humans. Both crises are reaching social and political tipping points. Neither will wait while Democrats continue to dither and the Party’s still-in-place leaders try to stretch their corrupt profit-taking practices into an indefinite future.

    I think this paragraph is basically completely wrong.
    1. There is no evidence that the DP has any interest in providing “leaders … to actually deal with” climate change and inequality or that it isn’t completely OK with not winning elections so long as they can ensure that no anti-corporate alternative succeeds. That would be a real problem for them – hard to keep the spigot flowing in that case.
    2.The notion that there will some citizen-led revolt for acting on climate change seems completely delusional to me. Indeed, climate change opponents will no doubt use the threat of even lower living standards as an excuse to NOT act, and I have a hard time seeing any political party threading the needle on addressing both inequality and climate change.
    3. I guess it depends on what kind of tipping point we are talking about. The election of Trump clearly represents some kind of tipping point, but I see no reason why voters can’t tip back to a more conventional candidate (Joe Biden, anyone?) in 2020.
    4. I would suggest looking at some of the protests involving the unemployed and WW1 veterans in 1930-32 to something closer to a “pre-revolutionary” condition than anything we see today. I’m not sure I would even call that “pre-revolutionary” and we are far, far from that.
    5. To the extent there is social evidence of a rupture in the next decade, IMO it is much more likely to be more and bigger Ferguson-style protests (with corresponding police and military over-response, further dividing rather than uniting the working class) than any society-wide “revolutionary” activity. We still lack even a vocabulary to describe the kind of changes we would like to see in the U.S., much less the political program, politicians, and supporters to act on it.

    1. John k

      Certainly in 1930 the Midwest was near armed insurrection. Opioids are dulling that response now.
      Odd to me we don’t see wannabe pols copying Bernie’s every word and gesture… is everybwannabe keeping their eye on future rewards for good behavior?
      Because Bernie’s method is working even with little press and all the neolib wonks attacking 24-7. And he’s a smart pol, if pres he could shift doj plus appoint new deep state leaders… being smart, he doesn’t pre announce oppo to endless war, which might be literally suicide.

  10. Wat

    Bernie could have had the WH if it were not for the establishment? He could have had it if he had accepted Jill Stein’s offer to let him take the top slot on the Green Ticket.

    Add to that the letter Sanders wrote to me as his constituent in the summer of ’15 reciting all the mainstream lies about Russian aggression, and his recent vote for the heinous and gratuitous ratcheting up of sanctions on Russia and Iran…

    These, plus the eerie smoothness with which he melted into the stream of Clinton campaign propagation after the Dem Convention have prompted me to think that the folks at the Black Agenda Report are correct that Bernie is a sheepdog.

    1. John k

      I’m more optimistic. He has enough enemies without adding deep state.
      Besides, who do you like better? If he remains healthy he will likely be next pres.
      If he’d been indie last election I doubt he could have won a majority of EC, and that means either trump wins outright or the house would have picked trump.

      Next election is different, electorate sees both parties more clearly than ever before, he could win as indie, assuming he takes over incompetent greens. He’ll hold the young that filled stadiums last cycle plus those 14+ then… So far he sees greater oppo as dem, consider this gives him something in congress… in fact, though dems in trouble in senate in 18, much better oppo in 20… as a dem his coat tails might bring majorities in both houses. Hope and change you can believe in…
      If he remains healthy…

    2. Dan

      Wat, I agree wholeheartedly. While much of Bernie’s domestic agenda is certainly a welcome reprieve from the usual nonsense, his foreign policy is atrocious. We’re supposed to be impressed that he voted against the Iraq war? Just goes to show how far gone this country is, including most on the “left.” He has never seriously questioned the enormous sums spent on U.S. military imperialism. This should be the first response when people (rightly) ask how we’re going to pay for a universal health care plan, universal education, and all the necessary social programs that have been neglected for so long in this country. How? We’ll drastically cut the Pentagon budget and stop the horrid “spreading of democracy” around the globe. But Bernie has never said that. He’s also given props sometimes for his supposed support of the Palestinians, but when pressed on the true history and ongoing nature of the conflict, his Brooklyn Jewish roots come to the fore (see the YouTube video of a Vermont town meeting where people attempted to start an honest discussion of Palestine: Bernie went into a rage and shut down the discussion before it even began….a real man of the people)

      1. Lambert Strether

        > This should be the first response when people (rightly) ask how we’re going to pay for…

        The whole “pay for” frame is wrong, since Federal spending is not financed by Federal taxes. I grant that Sanders won’t commit to MMT either, which is a big, big problem. Perhaps that will, ultimately, change, since after #MintTheCoin made it as far as the Obama White House, meaning that MMT is, however marginally, part of the political class hive mind.

        1. Basil Pesto

          I am something of an economic illiterate (or neophyte to put it more charitably), but I’ve been starting to read about MMT, having first heard about it in the comments here. It is, needless to say, very interesting. Unfortunately my aforementioned illiteracy makes it a bit hard for me to parse the finer details of MMT (as well as criticism of it that is made in good-faith). But I have read what you’re stating here, that MMTists understand taxes not as funds raised for gov’t spending, but as a mechanism for controlling inflation and, iirc, private expenditure. My question though is, what happens to the money raised from taxation? Does it go towards servicing the national debt?

          (In earnestly throwing the question out there, I apologise if it seems like I’m asking you to do my homework for me).

  11. Jason

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the use of corn-based ethanol in cars worse for climate change than using gasoline, once the carbon footprint is fully accounted for?

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