Barry (Obama, that is) is cashing in now.
He's going to rake in $400,000 to give a speech to Cantor Fitzgerald, a Wall Street investment bank. Some on the Left are flipping out that it cuts against everything Obama was supposed to stand for. The Right is screaming about it as well. But, in all fairness, much of the Right would flip out if Obama did anything less than hurl himself into a bottomless pit full of feces, sharp sticks, and armor-plated baboons hopped up on Viagra and trained to rape humans before ripping their faces off.
I was initially amused and bemused by the news and the outrage. After all, aside from Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter, has any ex-president or politician of any persuasion declined to use their status to cash in? (Presuming they outlived the office, that is). My first thought was "the man can do what he likes with his time, and if Cantor Fitzgerald wants to pay him $400,000 for some of that time, who are we to complain?"
But then I got to thinking… which is often dangerous. Because sometimes I think about dark shit. Not this time though.
I admit, I like Barack Obama. I'm glad he was president. In hindsight, I sorta wish Romney won in 2012 — only because I have this idea that the "real" Mitt Romney is the guy who was Governor of Massachusetts, not that hobgoblin weirdo fuckhead who ran for President. But, if I could hang out with Obama, I'd do it. I'd even pay money to do it. Romney? If you told me that Mitt Romney was coming over for dinner, I might need tranquilizers.
But I hardly think that Cantor Fitzgerald is paying that kind of money because the billionaires are all impressed with Barack Obama.
Now there is a sort-of innocent explanation. Branding. It doesn't hurt Cantor Fitzgerald's branding to have BHO's name spoken in the same sentence. So, that just might be worth $400,000.
On the other hand, think about how this happens to be the same guy who got elected, in part, on a promise to bring the Cantor Fitzgeralds of this world to heel. He didn't. Now they shower him with money.
Do I suspect that there was a "secret deal?" Hell no. That's wicked fahkin retahded. Do I suspect actual corruption? No. Still fuckhead-on-a-stick level shit there. But, could it create the appearance of corruption, or perhaps contribute to a system where there really isn't a need for corruption, but it is corrupt nonetheless?
Obama is rich, but he isn't really that rich. He's not democracy-bending rich. He's not "nobody in my family will ever have to work again until there is a revolution" rich. He's not Romney rich. He's not "buy a sports team" rich. But, you know what? A few right moves, and he gets to be. One of those right moves is being able to charge $400,000 to speak to a bunch of fuckers who should be marched out into the fields at the end of a rifle and beaten while they harvest rice.
So around goes the conspiracy theory that Obama bailed out these pricks, instead of having them rounded up and locked up. Now they pay him back. That sure makes sense. So how would other future presidents behave? You're in your second term, and you know that you're going to graduate from the presidency pretty fucking rich… but not gravity-alteringly rich. Do you want to make sure you keep the billionaires happy?
You see this in the judiciary a lot. Judge is up for retirement. You would think that would mean that she would no longer give a fuck about having a more generous strike zone for campaign donors. But, sometimes they get more sketchy as their judicial career is about to end. Why? Because they're about to go from "first year associate at a big law firm" salary to charging $750 per hour to be an arbitrator. How do arbitrators make money? By getting picked to be arbitrators. How do you get picked to be an arbitrator? Get a reputation as being fair and impartial? Fuck no. You get picked by getting a reputation for favoring one side over another. Sure, the other side might know that and try and bounce you, but life is a game of playing the numbers. When you're an arbitrator, you want list serves, especially internal ones at big law firms, to light up with your name when the question goes out.
So you're a judge about to retire. Imagine in one of your last cases, you throw a complete bullshit decision out there — in favor of a firm with a few hundred lawyers and a very active arbitration practice. You get reversed on appeal. Who gives a fuck? Because by the time the reversal comes down, you're in private practice as an arbitrator — and that firm that got reversed on appeal gives no fucks about the reversal when it comes to picking you to rack in six figures to arbitrate a dispute.
She sure as fuck has a strong incentive to do the wrong thing, for the right people.
So lets crank that proven-scenario up to the presidential level.
Lets picture Elizabeth Warren as President. (I like the idea, for the record). She gets elected on this message of "I am going to finally rein in Wall Street." Bernie Sanders stands behind her nodding and smiling. But, then a funny thing happens. As the end of her second term is in view, she wonders … "I can do the right thing right now." Or she might think, "meh, let the next guy do the right thing… I'm gonna keep Goldman Sachs happy. After all, look how rich the Clintons and Obamas became after they moved out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave." After the term is up, Goldman Sachs says "Liz was a good little kitty, lets invite her to speak for $500,000 or so."
And so do the other guys in the same game.
And then daughters get put on boards to do no work, but to collect huge paychecks. Wife gets appointed to some such shit as well. And the perks keep coming in. The ultimate costs to those giving them out is nothing. But, it creates a gyre of money and an incentive to keep shit in line. You know that if you leave office with the right people, with the right bank accounts, liking you, that's a good thing.
So how do we fix this shit? Maybe we can't. But, maybe we can.
Maybe there ought to be a prohibition on certain kinds of work after one is in office. Maybe judges should have a period of time in which they can't serve as arbitrators or mediators in private practice, or they lose their pensions. Maybe Presidents should be prohibited from income outside of their pension. Maybe. Maybe Presidents should automatically be given positions as Senators-at-Large for a term after their presidency, with conditions on that.
The fact is, from the President down to the lowliest state court magistrate, a lot of people draw small paychecks for the job they do — and they don't do it with a blind eye toward how they can cash in on it later.
I don't have a great solution. That's not what this is about. But, don't think for a moment that $400,000 landing in Mr. Obama's lap is just him getting paid for his time. It doesn't make him a bad guy. It doesn't make him corrupt. It doesn't make him evil. And I don't necessarily begrudge the guy his pay day.
But, you gotta have shit in your eyes to not see this as part of a bigger picture.
UPDATE: Just by happenstance, Glenn Reynolds has a parallel article talking about lobbyists, with a few less cuss words. Discussing why lobbying pays so well he writes:
First of all, the architects of complicated regulatory schemes are often the only ones who understand them. But more significantly, when you're the architect of a regulatory scheme, it's handy for companies if it's already in your mind that you might get a lucrative job from them later — or not. (source)
Yep… nibble on the fingers…
His proposal to fix it — post-government employment should be taxed at a super-high rate for the first five years you go to lobby. Not a bad idea. Perhaps worth looking at for ex-president income and ex-judge income as well.
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