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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/1/17

Yes, Obama's $400,000 Speech is a Problem

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A new poll shows fully two-thirds of the American public agrees with this statement: "The Democratic Party is out of touch with the concerns of most people."

And scarcely more than one in four Democrats themselves think the party understands most people's everyday concerns.

It was also just announced that Barack Obama, following in the well-heeled footsteps of Bill and Hillary Clinton, will be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for giving a speech on behalf of a Wall Street firm.

Anyone who thinks these two facts aren't connected isn't paying attention. Obama's payday reflects a longstanding pattern of behavior from Democratic leaders: Talk like liberals, govern from the center, and make a lot of money once you're out of office.

Their policies better than Trump's and the GOP's, but that adds even more bite to that poll's other major finding: Democrats are viewed as even more out of touch with everyday concerns than Trump, a twitter-happy billionaire president who weekends at his palatial estate.

Democrats need a better message, to be sure. But they also need messengers who will walk the walk after they have talked the talk.

No Surprise

Barack Obama's $400,000 speaking fee, from investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald, shouldn't surprise anyone. Obama courted Wall Street leaders like Jamie Dimon, CEO of scandal-plagued serial lawbreaker JP Morgan Chase, until it became politically unfeasible to do so during his re-election campaign. (Dimon was once described as Obama's "favorite banker.")

In 2009, after Wall Street's criminality shattered the economy and ruined millions of American lives, Obama famously told Wall Street's top CEOs, "My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks."

In the years that followed, Obama's Justice Department failed to prosecute a single bank executive for that criminality. Even when regulators identified the individuals responsible for criminal behavior, as they did with GE Capital, the Justice Department failed to follow up.

For his part, Obama appointed the CEO of GE Capital's parent corporation to a prestigious economic position.

Obama chose Wall Street-friendly figures Eric Holder and Tim Geithner to lead the Justice and Treasury departments, respectively. He then followed Bill Clinton's lead by overseeing a revolving door between his administration and Wall Street's biggest banks (most notably Citigroup, the banking behemoth forged in a merger pushed by top appointees in the Clinton Administration).

As the nation has learned under Donald Trump, a president's pronouncements can have a powerful effect on legal actions. When Obama pre-emptively declared that Wall Street executives had not broken the law -- an opinion not shared by experts like William K. Black, Jr. -- that very possibly had a chilling effect on prosecutors in the field. It certainly sent a signal to lower-level appointees in his own Justice Department.

The Victims

It may be overly cynical to see these large fees as payment for services rendered, but Obama's record on these matters -- like Bill Clinton's before him -- certainly didn't help that perception. At best, these speeches reflect the insular worldview of privileged insiders who neither understand nor fully empathize with the victims of lawbreaking bankers.

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Richard (RJ) Eskow is a former executive with experience in health care, benefits, and risk management, finance, and information technology. Richard worked for AIG and other insurance, risk management, and financial organizations. He was also a (more...)
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