Sunday, July 16, 2017

Obama Drunk the Speaking Fees Kool-Aid

So, here we go again. What, specifically, I'm referring to is me being quoted, or rather re-quoted, about speaking fees and ex-presidents, and ex-presidential candidates. This one came to my attention as it appeared on the I Drunk website, dated April 25, 2017, under the heading of Barack Obama’s New “Job” Will Pay Nearly as Much as His POTUS Salary… In One Hour. And actually, at the bottom of the post, there is a note that this news item first appeared on the Hot Air website, on the same day, and with that same title: Barack Obama’s New “Job” Will Pay Nearly As Much As His POTUS Salary… In One Hour.

So, what's the story behind this double re-quoted quote, you may ask. Well, here's how the article begins:

The Obama family has certainly been busy since departing the West Wing. The past couple months have been filled with golfing trips to southern California, extended stays in the South Pacific and cruises on David Geffen’s super yacht in the Caribbean. But just like anyone else, the former leader of the free world needs to get back to paying the bills sooner or later. Good news is on the way for those of you who were worried about Obama’s future financial security, however. He’s going to be following the proud tradition of other past presidents and prominent elected officials, striking out on the paid speaking circuit. And his first gig is going to pull down more money in a single hour than 99% of Americans earn all year. (Washington Examiner)

What follows appears to be a block quote, but I am not entirely certain what the source of the quote may be, assuming it is a quote and not just some highlighted text, but here it is:

Former President Barack Obama will be paid $400,000 to speak at Cantor Fitzgerald’s healthcare conference this September, according to a new report.

Obama, whose legacy item was the Affordable Care Act, will deliver the keynote address at the organization’s lunch in what will be one of his first paid speeches, Fox Business’ Charlie Gasparino reported Monday. Cantor Fitzgerald is a New York City-based financial services firm that specializes in fix incomes sales, institutional equity and trading.

This is where the block quote ends, and what follows returns to the regular format for the article:

Just to be clear, I’m not here to criticize Obama for this. Quite the contrary, in fact. As I’ve done with all other private citizens who follow any such path I encourage it. Obama made his way through the political world to a position of prominence and now, as a retired, private citizen, he should be free to cash in to the best of his ability and live the American dream just like anyone else.

I felt the same way about the Clintons, for example. As CNN reported early last year, Bill and Hillary made an estimated $153M from more than 700 appearances on the speaking circuit between 2001 and 2015. (That’s an average of more than $200K per speech.) Granted, when you decide to swing back into the elected political scene (or attempt to in Hillary’s case) you may have to be prepared to be held accountable for where the money came from and what influence those paying you might have been seeking, but you’re still free to take the jobs.

The Clintons weren’t the only ones. George W. Bush did the same thing starting in 2009. According to Politico, Bush gave more than 200 such speeches commanding between $100K and $175K each. It’s added up to tens of millions of dollars for the former POTUS.

So far you may be wondering, so what? And who could blame you, but your patience is about to be rewarded, as we get to the part of the piece that makes it worthy of Blog Time Passing:

If, like me, you’re wondering why people would pay so much money for a lecture from somebody who is no longer in power, Lance Strate, communications professor at Fordham University, offered an explanation in this 2015 piece for Fortune Magazine.

Hurray! And now for the quote, which like the passage above, appears in block quote format in the article:

“The speech is kind of secondary to … just being able to have a big name at your event,” Strate said. “It might get reported on some form of TV or cable news, which further adds to the prestige and the publicity of the event.”And even if it doesn’t end up on the evening news, almost every conference will put their speeches on YouTube, where there is always a chance it will go viral.

If, like me, you're cognizant of format style, you might question the way the block quote format is being used here, so let me quickly add that I'm just reproducing what was on these two sites, okay? Anyway, the main point is how my Fortune magazine quote is being recycled. And now let's get to the end of the article, where the author, whose name, by the way, is Jazz Shaw, essentially comes to the conclusion, based on my comments, that the medium is the message:

So it’s not about the actual content of the speech. These former officials don’t have some secret wisdom or recipe for success that nobody else is privy to. They’re just the very expensive bait which will hopefully attract a lot of attention to the event. There’s an interesting anecdote in that article about how Bush was hired to speak to one sports related association and delivered the sage observation that, “bowling is fun.”

So you get on out there and cash in, Mr. Obama. If you can find anyone willing to pay you, grab what you can. You can probably land another book deal for millions and the publisher won’t even care if they sell any copies. It’s the American dream and you should grab onto as much as you can get just like anybody else.

Now, I will say that I disagree with this conclusion, and believe that, especially given the current political climate, this particular venue for a speech was not helpful and in fact tarnishes Obama's image and legacy, but sure, he was entitled to get that payoff, and it's all in the past now.

The funny thing for me, though, is that this wasn't the end of the story, but I'll leave that for another post. Instead, let me fill you in on the beginning of the story by directing you to the following series of blog posts:  

And as for the rest of the story so far, to be continued...

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