Former President Barack Obama has been suffering backlash for agreeing to give for-profit speeches on Wall Street now that he is no longer president but a private citizen. Obama is set to receive $400,000 for his appearance at an event organized by Wall Street firm Cantor Fitzgerald.
Upon first hearing, the amount he charges for a single public appearance might appear exorbitant, especially when compared to how much others of a similar caliber have charged in the past. For each of his appearances, George W. Bush only charged between $150,000 and $175,000, which is less than half of what Obama is charging.
But Obama is not alone when it comes to taking advantage of being a former president, as he is definitely not the first to give speeches on Wall Street, or for Wall Street companies got profit. So many other ex-presidents have been doing the same for such a long time that it seems to have now become part of a set ritual after presidents wrap up their terms in the White House. In addition to Bush, numerous other former presidents have given speeches for profit after they complete their terms.
In fact, both of the Clintons have given numerous for-profit Wall Street speeches, even though Hillary has not been president. According to CNN, the Clintons have made over $153 million over the course of 14 years and have given 729 speeches, averaging at about $211,000 per speech. So if one former president can prolong his relevancy for almost a decade and earn an excess of $150 million by speaking over 700 times in combination with his wife—who has not served as president—then surely, another president who is fresh out of office should be able to speak once without receiving an excessive amount of backlash.
An even more extravagant example is from the era of Ronald Reagan. In 1989, Reagan earned around $2 million for speaking twice in Japan, according to the New York Times. Adjusted for current inflation rates, that is about $4 million, effectively making each speech worth $2 million. That makes each of Reagan’s speeches worth five times the price of Obama’s.
One reason Obama might come under unreasonable fire is that many notable others, including Hillary Clinton, have been criticized for doing the same. Back in October 2016, WikiLeaks released documents containing excerpts of Clinton’s speeches, revealing some of her true beliefs about Wall Street. In one of her speeches to Deutsche Bank, she talked about how she believes that the banking system is “rigged” and how this is a potential problem for people everywhere. With these unfortunate leaks, news outlets and other politicians had a field day, with some quick to judge and call her out.
For example, then-candidate Donald Trump once tweeted that “Hillary will never reform Wall Street. She is owned by Wall Street!” and “No one has worse judgment than Hillary Clinton – corruption and devastation [follow] her wherever she goes.”
Despite the speeches’ irrelevance in last year’s events, Trump’s words have found their way into the minds of many across the U.S., especially those who supported the president during his campaign. Due to the obvious disdain Trump showed Clinton, other politicians would undoubtedly be sure to follow in his footsteps and carry on the trend.
One example is when Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders voiced his opinions upon hearing about the announcement that Obama agreed to speak on Wall Street. Speaking to CNN, Sanders stated that “it does not look good’ and that “it is distasteful.”
While Sanders does have a point, he omitted that what Obama did to repair Wall Street while it was in a tough spot, which far outweighs the fact that he accepted money from them, and it could even potentially be seen as an attempt to compensate Obama.
Before Obama took office, about 800,000 people nationwide were losing their jobs per month, and the economy was collapsing at a rate of eight percent year after year in what became known as the Great Recession. But during his first term alone, he managed to apply $1.4 trillion to the support of the economy through tax cuts and other reforms. By 2014, economic output returned to the way it was before the Great Recession. In fact, Obama’s work was some of the most successful economic work of any president in quite a while.
“I’d just point out that in 2008, Barack Obama raised more money from Wall Street than any candidate in history ― and still went on to successfully pass and implement the toughest reforms on Wall Street since FDR,” Obama spokesman Eric Schultz said to HuffPost.
Post-presidency, Obama will continue his efforts by working with his foundation to “carry on the great, unfinished project of renewal and global progress,” according to the Obama Foundation’s website.
Obama should be able to speak on Wall Street without receiving hypocritical retaliation especially considering many politicians, including every former president in recent memory, has given speeches on Wall Street, or elsewhere for profit. Additionally, Obama reformed Wall Street and the overall economy drastically when it was at a low point and contributed to the economic rebirth of America. For these reasons, he has every right to speak on Wall Street, regardless of the amount of money he will receive for his appearances, and should not have to deal with backlash from those who believe it is politically incorrect to do so.