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For Democrats, Obama’s Wall Street Payday Sends The Wrong Signal

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For Democrats, Obama’s Wall Street Payday Sends The Wrong Signal

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I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat. –Will Rogers, 1935

Never mind that at a rally in Harrisburg, PA, the president of the United States recently delivered what former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson described as “arguably the most hate-filled presidential communication in modern history.” Or that Donald J. Trump’s old pals on MSNBC’s Morning Joe are suggesting that the great man shows signs of senile dementia and needs a neurological workup.

Gee, no kidding.

Never mind too that Alabama Republican congressman Mo Brooks has suggested (also on MSNBC) that people with pre-existing medical conditions are morally deficient and deserve to pay much higher health insurance premiums than right-living specimens like himself.

It’s tempting to observe that when you’ve said “Alabama Republican congressman,” you’ve said it all.

Even so, like any proper Democrat, I find myself distracted by party infighting. Not that I’ve ever actually participated in a political campaign. However, readers may not be shocked to learn that I normally vote Democratic.

Anyway, never mind my misgivings about Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). When Bernie’s right, he’s right. He and fellow New England puritan Sen. Elizabeth Warren are certainly correct about the dreadful optics of former President Barack Obama’s decision to accept a $400,000 fee for a one-hour speech to a Wall Street bank. Bernie thinks it’s “unfortunate,” while Warren pronounced herself “troubled.”

Actually, it’s worse than that. Granted, the investment firm Cantor, Fitzgerald wasn’t among the major malefactors in the 2008 financial system collapse, it’s a health-care conference that Obama will be addressing. Given Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, I’m confident he’ll have something interesting to say.

But ordinary voters aren’t going to hear it. What’s more easily noticed is the conjunction of “Wall Street” and “$400,000.” Many will be tempted to think pretty much what they thought when Hillary Clinton accepted similarly preposterous speaking fees from Goldman, Sachs before setting up to run for president as the working family’s friend.

To wit, that Lady Bountiful already had more money than she knew what to do with, but no understanding of their everyday lives. I think people were wrong about Hillary’s lack of compassion, but it’s easy to see how they got the idea. It’s the sheer symbolism of the thing.

Despite the fact that the Clintons have donated vast sums to charity, and that Bill Clinton has devoted his post-presidency to downright heroic efforts to alleviate Third World suffering (see Joe Conason’s book Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton), the message behind those Wall Street paydays proved hard to overcome. (It didn’t help that the establishment media has all but refused to cover the Clinton Foundation’s charitable enterprises except to hint at scandal where none has been shown to exist.)

And then came “basket of deplorables.”

But back to the equally unfortunate symbolism of Barack Obama’s $400,000 speaking gig. Yes, Ronald Reagan once earned $2 million in 1989 dollars for a gig in Japan. (For which he was bitterly criticized.) And yes, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have both cashed in, big time.

Nor do I begrudge former President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama a nickel of their reported $60 million books deal. No more than I resent the outsized  riches of Steph Curry or the Rolling Stones. One way or another, I figure they’ve earned it.

Given their international celebrity and the fact that both Obamas had already written highly successful books, publishers competed to sign them. Ultimately, these are market decisions, paid for by the ticket- and book-buying public. You can read Obama’s presidential memoirs or not; it’s entirely your call.

But with the Democratic Party struggling to redeem itself in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s loss, Obama’s Wall Street payday sends exactly the wrong signal at a very bad time. The Washington Posts Greg Sargent writes about focus groups put together by a Democratic-oriented political action committee called Priorities USA.  Researchers talked to two kinds of voters: those who switched from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016; and those who switched from Obama to Did Not Vote.  

“Skepticism about the Democratic Party,” Sargent writes, “was echoed rather forcefully in the focus groups that I watched. In one, Obama-Trump voters were asked what Democrats stand for today and gave answers such as these:

‘The one percent.’

‘The status quo.’

‘They’re for the party. Themselves and the party.’

One woman, asked whether the Democratic Party is for people like her, flatly declared: ‘Nope.’”

Shockingly, twice as many respondents said Democrats’ policies favor the rich as said that about Trump and the Republicans. It appears that Trump’s relentless vulgarity protects him against the Scrooge McDuck aspects of his personality. He may be a jerk, but such voters don’t think he’s a snob.

About Wall Street Democrats, they’re not so sure.

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Gene Lyons

Gene Lyons is a political columnist and author. Lyons writes a column for the Arkansas Times that is nationally syndicated by United Media. He was previously a general editor at Newsweek as wells an associate editor at Texas Monthly where he won a National Magazine Award in 1980. He contributes to Salon.com and has written for such magazines as Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Entertainment Weekly, Washington Monthly, The Nation, Esquire, and Slate. A graduate of Rutgers University with a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia, Lyons taught at the Universities of Massachusetts, Arkansas and Texas before becoming a full-time writer in 1976. A native of New Jersey, Lyons has lived in Arkansas with his wife Diane since 1972. The Lyons live on a cattle farm near Houston, Ark., with a half-dozen dogs, several cats, three horses, and a growing herd of Fleckvieh Simmental cows. Lyons has written several books including The Higher Illiteracy (University of Arkansas, 1988), Widow's Web (Simon & Schuster, 1993), Fools for Scandal (Franklin Square, 1996) as well as The Hunting Of The President: The 10 Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, which he co-authored with National Memo Editor-in-Chief Joe Conason.

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33 Comments

  1. MJ Hoop May 3, 2017

    Those who think the dems are not for them, will be the most outraged when they discover they have been led down the golden-yellow brick road to find nothing, but that bluster they are being had by, behind the magician’s curtain…

    Reply
    1. dpaano May 3, 2017

      And, MJ, that’ll be a long, sad day for them! Nothing this president is doing or is going to do will benefit the lower or middle class. He and his minions are only out to make money for themselves…..example, Trump’s proposed tax plan! It’s just unfortunate that his followers don’t understand or don’t WANT to understand that the only ones that will benefit by Trump’s so-called “tax cuts” will be the 1% … the rest of the low and middle class will get nothing of any savings!

      1. MJ Hoop May 4, 2017

        Just gotta wait for the noose to tighten, dpaano, and stand back and watch. Amazing what nasty surprises hide in wait for the people who believe in magic.

        1. CPANY May 5, 2017

          Dream on! The sleazebags that inhabit out political system never receive their just desserts.

          What I believe the Republicans are inadvertently doing is setting the stage for a revolution. By that time, if the revolution is successful, they’ll have escaped to another country.

  2. dbtheonly May 3, 2017

    What wrong signal can be sent when the RWMO and the Lamestream Media will publish what they choose regardless of the facts?

    Why condemn, now Mr., Obama? Because he’s not living up to the purity standards of the Tea Party of the Left? To what end? Is he going to run for office? (God grant it)

    No, ideological purity is an unachievable standard. The whiners are going to whine, the haters are going to hate.

    Meanwhile, there’s a Congressional seat in Georgia to be won. The Governors of NJ & VA are to be elected. There’s work to be done.

    Reply
    1. idamag May 3, 2017

      Uh . tea party standards? Ideological purity? That doesn’t define the republican party.

      1. dbtheonly May 3, 2017

        ida, I don’t get the gist of your comment.

        I will assert that Tea Party standards have been part of the Republican Party for 8 years. Any number of Republicans have lost in primaries because of their perceived lack of adherence to those standards. Eric Cantor is perhaps the most notable example.

        Equally, I assert there is a Tea Party of the Left which tries to push Democrats into unreasonable and radical positions. If the TPL has been less successful in trashing Democratic office holders; it’s because Democrats always have had a much bigger tent.

    2. Amylthompson May 4, 2017

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  3. plc97477 May 3, 2017

    The problem with Democrats is that they have allowed the right to define them for years and then they clutch their pearls and head to the fainting couch. Come on people! We need to own up to what makes us great instead of whining about the “optics” of something. I would trust Obama to put that $400000 to good use a lot more than I would the bank so let him have it. I would assume since he has promised to end gerrymandering before the next election that the money will be used to pay for court fees to put gerrymandering into the courts. But if you like clutching pearls and fainting go for it, just stop making it sound like it means something.

    Reply
    1. Eleanore Whitaker May 3, 2017

      Not all Democrats are like this. Sanders is not a Democrat and his mouth is going like a Howitzer, so envious is he that he will NEVER command equal speaking fees.

      As for Senator Warren, maybe she should learn that McConnell and Ryan are just 2 good ole boys who never allow any woman to speak anywhere at any time, not when they can amass wealth off THEIR jobs and ties to their corporate dickheads.

      1. yabbed May 3, 2017

        Sanders is a wholly creepy guy. Have you read his savage “Sex Essay”? Look it up online. He’s a full time misogynist pig.

        1. Eleanore Whitaker May 4, 2017

          I came across men like Sanders in business. These are the guys who send out their wives to jobs with big time job security like Brainey Janey who now gets to live off her college professor severance from Burlington College from which she was forced to resign. Seems like Brainey Janey is more Bossy the Cow who thought it was dandy to sell Burlington college property without administrative board approval to a Catholic diocese hard up for money due to those sex scandals of one of their priests. Nice lady right?

          Take public funding to help out pedophiles who get moved from place to place.

          But I digress. Guys like Sanders are all about TITLE, not earning a living. So they always gravitate to jobs that require the least amount of labor for the maximum amount of income. What better job description than being a Senator right?

          Now, when he and the Brainey Janey retire, they are “set.” Course now, that’s on our tax dollars.

    2. idamag May 3, 2017

      Damn good letter!

  4. Dominick Vila May 3, 2017

    The irony of those who defend Gen. Flynn’s decision to deliver a speech at the Kremlin for $45K, and now complain because former President Barack Obama, now a private citizen, is going to collect $400K for delivering a speech in Wall Street, the bastion of capitalism, is inescapable. Mr. Obama can do whatever he pleases. As disturbing as this may sound for the average right winger, he has the same rights as all other Americans. Only those who can only aspire to a janitorial job at Goldman Sachs can complain at the sight of a brilliant man making more in a single speech than they could make a 5 years.

    Reply
    1. yabbed May 3, 2017

      And we are talking $400,000 and those Wall Streeters get double and triple digit millions in bonuses every year.

      1. Dominick Vila May 4, 2017

        Flynn sold out to the Kremlin for a lot less than that! Anyway, Wall Street does not pay $400K to listen to an idiot. They want to hear what a man they respect has to say.

    2. CPANY May 5, 2017

      Are you pulling our legs, Dominick? The $400,000 was a payoff to Obama for past “favors” or, more accurately perhaps, past “services”. The Clintons are experts at this form of sleaze, one of the reasons that Hillary lost.

  5. Rose Saxton May 3, 2017

    I am not outraged about President Obama receiving a $400,000.00 payday for a speech on Wall street. My outrage is with 45 profiting off of his so called Winter White House. He is receiving $200, 000.00 per member. Up $100, 000.00 before being sworn into office. President Obama should receive that $400,000.00 plus another $400,000.00 after what he has gone through. Besides he is a private citizen now. Therefore, put that in your pipe and smoke on it!

    Reply
    1. dpaano May 3, 2017

      45 is probably jealous because I doubt anyone will be asking him to make a speech once he’s out of office (the sooner the better)! He absolutely can NOT stand anything that our previous president did and is doing everything he can to dismantle President Obama’s actions even if his doing so is detrimental to the citizens of nation! He’s a thin-skinned, narcissistic, unqualified, bloviating idiot! Just my opinion, of course!

      1. idamag May 3, 2017

        This nation is not important to the orange POS nor the so-called republican party.

      2. Rose Saxton May 4, 2017

        Great point!

  6. Eleanore Whitaker May 3, 2017

    Good Ole boys of the right get another feast for their already too fat guts. Big Bad Black man seizes an opportunity not a single plantation good ole boy would EVER turn down. But how DARE this black man use his experience and talents and DARE to be paid? How DARE he?

    Oooooh but you see when Jared Kushy Boy hopped off to Russian to meet with the WEALTHIEST Russian investors in 2013, well, little white boy gets a Plantation Owner’s pass…White is the ONLY Right to the right, right?

    If the damn Democrats are so envious that this particular president has the ability to present a program, maybe they need to get off their asses and try to learn how to be a super intelligent, articulate orator who presents innovative ideas.

    You know what this BS is…more right wing Russian smear campaigns to tear down the ONLY president they knew was their worst nightmare.

    Nice try Ruskies! Too bad you don’t fall all of us ALL the time. And let’s pretend that the Republican crooks are not drooling over yet another major distraction from the Lard Ass in Chief’s Putin phone call this week. Sure sure…it was all about “Syria.”

    Reply
    1. idamag May 3, 2017

      Applause

  7. dpaano May 3, 2017

    I think, bottom line, people are confused about Trump. He’s lied to them about EVERYTHING and many are not sure what they should believe or disbelieve. Unfortunately, Trump has lied many times about all the so-called “bad” things that the Democrats have done, but people don’t really know the truth. As for President Obama giving a speech at a healthcare conference and, heaven forbid, getting paid for it…..that’s his prerogative since he is now a “private” citizen and NOT in politics any longer. And, if most of them actually knew WHO and WHY he’s giving the speech, they may think differently, but RW news outlets fail to give the FULL details. I can also probably guarantee that some of that fee is going to worthy causes that the Obama’s believe in. President Obama is not doing anything that other ex-presidents have also done without anyone having qualm about it…..why now, all of a sudden, his giving a speech has got people up in arms?

    Reply
    1. idamag May 3, 2017

      Two standards: One for republicans and one for Democrats. Those back country yoemen have been the delight of the republican party. They love ignorance.

  8. idamag May 3, 2017

    The push by the big greedies to destroy the Democratic Party is still in full swing. I am not a Democrat, but I think the republicans are evil. They lie, they distort and they steal. Obama is fund raising to clean up politics as you can bet the republicans will never do so and the Democrats won’t take action.

    Reply
  9. FT66 May 3, 2017

    Am sorry to write this and please take my comment as being written by a person who vividly wants to put everything upright. The whole article is totally nonsense. Please the author of this article, can you tell us how receiving 400,000 dollars makes someone rich. Also do you mean someone can receive money from anywhere and not Wall Street. How is the money one gets from Wall Street looks different from that received from different places? Are you against receiving money from anywhere or are you against Wall Street only? One last question: If Obama decides to give any speech free of charge, how does that help anyone who is poor?

    Reply
  10. Mary Bell Lockhart May 3, 2017

    What matters is what Clinton and Obama SAY in their speeches and what they DO with the money. As a progressive, I’m very sure that, in both cases, it will be to benefit others and advance their progressive values. Furthermore, the skepticism for Clinton and Democrats that the focus groups identified came directly from the negative campaigns of Bernie Sanders and the Green Party. Attacking Clinton for the paid speeches was one way they dehumanized Clinton and they demonized the Democrats almost as much as Trump and the Republicans did. That’s what gave Trump in those few states by the tiniest of margins.
    And the divisive rhetoric continues today, applied here to Obama. Nevermind that he brought us Dodd-Frank reforms and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he shouldn’t be allowing any big money to be used to help others. They say, “It doesn’t look right.” To my mind it looks exactly right – take all the money you can get from whomever is willing to give and use it to do good for the people and the planet.

    Reply
  11. ♚ King Leo ♚ May 3, 2017

    Weird how only Hillary and Obama are being held to this purity standard by the Sanders cultists who think they’re progressive. Maybe there’s something different about those two?

    Reply
  12. yabbed May 3, 2017

    This kind of stupidity explains so much about our media’s failure as a service to citizens and society. Here we are in the middle of a treasonous scandal involving the President of the United States and our nation’s greatest enemy, Russia, and some half baked columnist comes out with this kind of nonsense. Here we are with an incompetent grifter President and his greedy family enriching themselves by enormous offenses to the emoluments clause and every known ethical breech and we have some half witted criticism of the one President we’ve had who lived scandal free 8 years in the job being criticized for taking a fee for a speech like every former president but Jimmy Carter.

    Reply
    1. ♚ King Leo ♚ May 3, 2017

      Not to mention that he’s donating FIVE TIMES as much as this just to ONE of the charities he donates to. Ridiculous and useless posturing by the most ridiculous and useless posers on the left.

  13. Robert Vasquez May 3, 2017

    Why aren’t the media outlets filled with articles about the Trump family’s cashing in on their current stay in the White House? If I were Obama, Clinton, or any other former politician, I would charge as much as possible for any speeches before any for-profit businesses. Not everyone is as lucky as Trump was to get $10 million dollars from his father to see what he could do with it or to inherit an estate worth hundreds of millions of dollars as Trump did when his father died.

    Reply
  14. MJ Hoop May 4, 2017

    Final paragraphs demonstrate that we have more than our share of stupid in this land lately. The author doesn’t contribute to raising the IQ, either. Not to be a snob is a laudable characteristic is it? Such trashtalk. Not smart, not sharp, not funny, not fearless. Pretty pathetic , actually.

    Reply

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