This past week, it was revealed that former President Barack Obama signed a contract to speak at the Cantor Fitzgerald LP’s planned health care summit. According to the terms of the contract, Obama could back out if there are any scheduling conflicts or any other concerns. If Obama does give a speech, he will receive $400,000.
That announcement was soon met with some grumbling on the left, notably from two highly regarded U.S. senators.
On Thursday, April 27, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) stopped by the SiriusXM Radio show Alter Family Politics. When asked about Barack Obama’s Wall Street speaking fee, Warren didn’t elaborate on the matter directly. But she said she was “troubled” about the announcement and concerned about larger issue of money in politics.
The influence of dollars on this place is what scares me. I think it ultimately threatens democracy.
On Friday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), spoke with CNN’s Suzanne Malveax. During the interview, he was asked about the speech and he said this:
I just think it does not look good. I just think it is distasteful — not a good idea that he did that.
Look, Barack Obama is a friend of mine, and I think he and his family represented us for eight years with dignity and intelligence. But I think at a time when we have so much income and wealth inequality … I think it just does not look good.
It’s not a good idea, and I’m sorry President Obama made that choice.
The criticism of Obama, especially from Sanders, was met with ire from the left.
What I Have Heard
There is a contingent of Democrats — and Democratic sympathizers, even from other countries — who see nothing wrong with Obama making a Wall Street speech. Most argue he is now a private citizen and can thus make speeches anywhere he wants. To them, he deserves it and how dare anyone question him.
He was a good president! Can’t he and his wife catch a break!!??? Oh my God!! YOU GUYS ARE HATERS!!!
There is a racial component at play here. I have seen some people, including The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah, ask, “Why should the first black president be the first president not to take that money?”
Noah also said, “F*ck that and f*ck you.” Yes, he did.
Why can’t you people just let the black dude get his money?!! He earned it after all the crap he took for 8 friggin’ years! Oh my God! OH MY GOD! YOU GUYS ARE HATERS!!!
Um, BTW, you don’t have to worry about the Obamas starving any time soon. Barack and Michelle Obama signed book deals with Penguin Random House worth as much as $65 million around late February/early March. They will donate much of the proceeds to charity, but they gon’ be alright, y’all.
What I Think About Obama’s Planned Fall Speech
I’ll give it to you straight.
I voted for Obama and I think he did some good things while he was in office. Here are a few things to mention:
- For one thing, I support the Lily Ledbetter Act.
- While the Affordable Care Act isn’t the best bill, it is certainly better than the system we had before.
- I’m glad he came around to supporting gay marriage, although then-Vice President Biden forced his hand a bit.
- I was so glad to see him support net neutrality.
- I wholeheartedly supported his decision to pardon or commute the sentences of non-violent drug offenders.
- And I liked Obama’s decision to utilize the Justice Department to investigate police departments. It was a start to the systemic problems with American law enforcement. It’s a shame Jeff Sessions is now there mucking things up.
There are many other good things Obama did, particularly in terms of regulations, but …
Having said all that, I can still criticize a number of Obama’s decisions. I do not like the fact that he is giving this speech, so I feel criticism of Obama’s decision is fair.
Why I Think the Criticism Is Fair
I want to look at this from a practical standpoint, while trying to be as objective as possible.
For starters, Senators Sanders and Warren have some credibility here. There were asked, and they gave their honest opinion of the news. These two have consistently talked about financial issues and against Wall Street bankers and money in politics and they are currently the two most popular active politicians in the country. Their words carry weight.
Also, it is fair to consider Obama’s donor base and what influence it might have had on him.
From Warren’s Perspective
Warren is responsible for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It was created as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010. Warren fought tooth and nail to get that bureau created and it is the most effective part of that bill.
Even before she became a United States Senator, Warren consistently talked about money in politics. Her “You Didn’t Build That” speech, which talked about fairness in taxation, was “borrowed” numerous times by Obama.
This is Warren’s forte and she has been consistent so any criticism or warnings from her in this area should be heeded.
From Sanders’ Perspective
Sanders has also consistently talked about financial/economic fairness for over 30 years. He did so as a mayor in Vermont and he did so as a congressman.
This next clip comes from The Rachel Maddow Show (before she was all about Russia, Russia, Russia).
Now, I know he drew fire from many a Democrat for talking about Hillary Clinton’s speeches to Goldman Sachs, but why would he be any different? If he had debated Donald Trump, I’m sure Sanders would have talked directly about all of Trump’s bankruptcies and questioned him about his finances, especially regarding tax returns. That should have been a consistent line of attack from HRC’s camp, but she was somewhat compromised because of the speeches.
As It Pertains to Obama
The issue isn’t just about what we personally think about Obama making this money. However, it speaks to a larger issue of money in politics. I voted for Obama, but I can’t let him off the hook here, especially since I just complained about Republicans being bought off by the telecom industry.
Obama received more money from the financial sector than any American political candidate in history.
- He received $1,295,955 from individuals at Goldman Sachs lifetime.
- He received $1,179,123 from JPMorgan Chase & Co. (mostly from individuals) lifetime.
- He received $1,006,159 from Citigroup Inc. (mostly from individuals) for his entire political career.
He also received a pretty penny from the health sector. He received a total of $1,158,040 from Kaiser Permanente over the course of his career.
Did that affect the way he governed?
Now, I know Obama’s spokesman, Eric Schultz, defended Obama’s speaking fee and said the former president pushed forward “the toughest reforms on Wall Street since FDR.” But how were those reforms actually enforced?
When I covered Preet Bharara — the U.S. Attorney from New York who was fired by Trump in March, I found out more about the Obama Justice Department. While Bharara led all U.S. Attorneys in convictions tied to the 2008 financial crisis, he only went after hedge-fund managers much of the time and did not get the big CEO’s who caused the crisis. But he took his orders from higher up not to go after those guys.
Additionally, after the aforementioned Dodd-Frank act was passed, Obama’s administration held up at least 19 provisions. His SEC Chair, Mary Jo White, was excoriated by Senate Democrats but Obama kept her in office. I mean, why else would White hold up those provisions unless she was given the orders to do so? And if she wasn’t given those orders, why did Obama defend her and keep her in her position?
People want to complain about Trump rolling back those rules, but many were never enforced in the first place.
Now, we hear of Obama doing a speech for a bank, and we not supposed to ask questions?
Above, I said the ACA was better than we had before, but it was not the best law we could have had. Right now, a fight for better health care is being waged across the country and more people want single payer. Yet when Obama was stumping for health care reform he took the public option off the table and pushed the type of health care exchanges often promoted by Heritage Foundation (at the state level). The Heritage Foundation is a right-wing think tank and some version of that health-care exchange plan was already set up in Massachusetts.
Even before promoting the ACA, Obama said he would include HMO’s in talks for a better health care plan. But many observers felt that was a bad idea. They were right because in 2015, Aetna held the ACA hostage in order to get the Obama administration to approve its merger with Humana. That merger was blocked and Aetna left the exchange, leading to higher premiums late last year.
Honestly, I don’t see Obama using a Republican health care plan if he did not receive campaign funds from the health care industry.
What Really Bothers Me About This Discussion
I think the past election not only created a chasm on the left (which I want to talk about in more detail this month) but it the exposed hypocrisy from some people on both the left and the right. Some people are willing to look over glaring flaws in their candidates as long as there is a D or an R next to their name. When people try to make excuses like that, change the subject, and make counteraccusations it’s called “whataboutery.”
Sadly, I think this thing with Obama is similar, if not the same thing.
We should demand better from our candidates and political parties.
Don’t get me wrong. When I voted for Obama, I felt he was the better candidate and I still do. But what he’s doing right now is a mistake considering how divisive the past election was.
Many voters were angry at Clinton—
No. NO! Don’t you say that. Hillary was perfect! Oh my God! STOP BEING IDEOLOGICALLY PURE, YOU HATER!!!
Many voters were angry at Clinton because they felt she was out of touch with the voters. When they heard about the speeches, and found out some of the things she said, they were even more frustrated. But they were already frustrated because of the 2008 financial crisis.
After those “To Big to Fail” banks were bailed out with taxpayer money, what did they do? All of a sudden, they refused to give loans to people who needed them.
Obama did have a program to save people’s homes, but some still lost their homes when heartless people like Steve “Foreclosure King” Mnuchin defrauded them, yet faced no jail time.
Additionally, Obama has effectively gone back on a statement he made as he was leaving the White House:
Hopefully, you can see this is like a slap in to face to some voters, right?
Again, I voted for Obama and I would choose Clinton over Trump 10 times out of 10, but I have to say something about the optics. That’s what this is about.
Many Democrats are squabbling over the issue of money in politics. This issue came up again this year, shortly after Tom Perez was chosen as the DNC chair:
After the Democratic National Committee Chair vote, the party’s 442 voting eligible members voted on Resolution 33, which would have banned money from corporate political action committees and would have forbidden “registered, federal corporate lobbyists” for serving as “DNC chair-appointed, at-large members.” The measure, introduced by DNC Vice Chair Christine Pelosi, was soundly defeated.
Don’t you think Republicans would use this against the Democrats in 2018?
Maybe you think that’s not “fair,” but when you under the impression the Republicans were going to play fair? They’re certainly aren’t being fair to Americans with all the legislation they’re working on.
These people stole a Supreme Court pick using BS reasons.
They blocked a seat for the FCC for over two years by treachery. Let’s see a Republican apologist excuse that.
They obstructed Obama for 8 years.
They disrespected him, his wife, and his kids because they were black.
People on the right promoted this birther BS because Obama was black. And that is one major reason I can’t stand Trump. He used this to court a bunch of bigots.
What makes anyone think these people will be “fair” on this speech issue?
You don’t have to be fully empathetic (which can be tiring and unfulfilling anyway), but think about why this angers some people. Especially think of those who are willing to vote Democratic but are turned off by Wall Street.
Again, this is not about me passing judgment on Obama, but I think it’s fair to hold even the people we admire and vote for accountable. In particular I am talking about the optics of this planned fall speech. While not everyone will be bothered by this, I would like form more people to take the time to figure out who might be and how this can be used politically.
That’s all I’m saying.