To add to an increasing series of stupid decisions on behalf of The New York Times, the editorial board got together and figured, “Hey, why the hell not? Let’s see how pissed we can make everyone who reads us,” when they put together this gem (“The Cost of Barack Obama’s Speech,” The New York Times, 5/1/2017):
Is it a betrayal of that sentiment for the former president to have accepted a reported $400,000 to speak to a Wall Street firm? Perhaps not, but it is disheartening that a man whose historic candidacy was premised on a moral examination of politics now joins almost every modern president in cashing in.
There’s been a lot of moaning about Obama’s speaking fee, which is double the typical $200,000 that Hillary Clinton charges. But there’s something very strange about this piece in particular, and that’s the insistence that Obama was some sort of saint to the 99%:
It shows surprising tone deafness, more likely to be expected from the billionaires the Obamas have vacationed with these past months than from a president keenly attuned to the worries and resentments of the 99 percent…
Indeed, it’s the example he set that makes it jarring to see him conform to a lamentable post-presidential model…
But why not elevate a new generation of political leaders and stay true to his values by giving his speech fees to his foundation and other charities focused on those goals?
First. Obama is again being held to a standard that other (white) presidents apparently don’t have to be held to. Despite being one of the most popular contemporary presidents, not to mention one of more historical significance because, yes, he’s the first black president, he should give money earned from speaking fees away in order to set an example. Is the Times editorial board going to ask that of George W. Bush? Bill Clinton? Will they even bother to ask it about Donald Trump?
Second. While people get pissed over whatever “optics” they think Obama’s acceptance of Wall Street money creates, we have a man in the White House right now who is using the prestige of the office in order to benefit himself financially, and he’s not even being discrete about it.
Third. Obama is a private citizen. I myself might find his willingness to take money from Wall Street sleazy, but it’s not a conflict of interest—right-wing cranks will continue to insist that this is Obama being paid for his “services,” because yeah, $400k is totally worth tarnishing his reputation, especially when that amount is a drop in the bucket next to his multimillion-dollar book deal (which, as the Times reports, stands at $65 million when combined with Michelle’s book deal).
Fourth. The idea that Barack Obama was “astutely attuned” to the wants and needs of the 99% is insane. Sure, I’m willing to believe he actually cares about people, particularly people in need, more than Donald Trump, but he is hardly the working-class hero this weird vignette paints him to be. Admire Obama all you want, but don’t idolize him by attributing qualities to him that he did not exhibit on a regular basis. Denying reality is for the right.
There are plenty of things to criticize Obama about. This is incredibly low on that list.