Goldberg: How the White House became a path to obscene riches
Is it any wonder Donald Trump makes the most of his post-presidency, fundraising for $30,000 and pocketing the money, performing to arena crowds with Bill O’Reilly at $100 a ticket, selling $50 MAGA Mar-a-Lago Christmas hats and decorations for $95 at his Trump merchandise store? It’s exactly what you would expect from a peddling billionaire who is always on the alert.
But let’s keep his behavior in perspective.
Long before Trump ran for the White House, the presidency had become a springboard to enormous untold riches. Although some of us still think that the job of Commander-in-Chief is a burdensome and solitary public service undertaken selflessly for the good of the country, the reality is that there is not much self-sacrifice, from least not financially.
In fact, there is a lot of money to be made.
Nicholas Goldberg was editor of the editorial page for 11 years and is a former editor of the Op-Ed page and the Sunday Opinion section.
Of course, presidents have come from the ranks of the wealthy since there was the United States. George Washington, with 50,000 acres of property, a 500-acre plantation at Mount Vernon, hundreds of slaves, and a 21-bedroom mansion, was one of the wealthiest Americans of his time.
And for those without such advantages, there have been plenty of opportunities to cash in after the fact: Ulysses S. Grant wrote a best-selling memoir to raise money late in life. Gerald Ford was among the first to collect honoraria for speeches after leaving office. Harry Truman, long admired for his ordinary retiree persona on Medicare, is now accused of lying about his finances to extract more money from the government.
Hey, everyone has to pay the bills!
But in recent years, it has gotten out of hand. The post-presidential gain has taken on obscene proportions.
Bill Clinton, for example, took $500,000 for a single speech from a Moscow bank with close ties to the Kremlin. In total, Bill and Hillary Clinton reportedly earned – and I use that word loosely – $153 million in speaking fees between 2001 and 2015. If you add books, consultancy fees and the like, they raked in $240 million dollars during those years, according to a separate analysis by Forbes.
The Obamas are doing pretty well too. Barack Obama received $400,000 for a speech at financial services firm Cantor Fitzergald just months after leaving office. That’s more than six times the median annual US household income for, at most, a few hours of work. God knows how many speeches like that he gives every year.
And he and Michelle reportedly received a $65 million advance for a two-pound deal with Penguin Random House.
Obama talks about trying to keep it real. “There is only so much you can eat. There’s only such a big house you can have. There are only a limited number of beautiful trips you can take. I mean, enough is enough,” he said in 2018.
A year later, he bought his 6,892-square-foot Martha’s Vineyard home on a 29-acre estate for $12 million. It’s a getaway from his $8million nine-bedroom home in Washington, and it’s where he must have held a lavish 60th birthday party last year with George Clooney, Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé and Jay -Z and some 450 others, before it was curtailed due to COVID-19.
George W. Bush summed up post-presidential life as he left office when he told an interviewer that his plan for the future was to “replenish the old coffers”, noting that he could earn money. “ridiculous” money on the lecture circuit. . And he did.
And, some might ask, why not? This is America, land of opportunities! Why blame our former presidents for their wealth? Why shouldn’t they sail with David Geffen to Tahiti or fly on Ron Burkle’s plane. They have no obligation to avoid material things and devote themselves like Mother Teresa to the poor.
Also, people seem to want to buy their books and listen to their speeches.
So what’s the problem?
Well, for me there is an element of jealousy, of course. I do not deny it.
There’s also the fact that we the taxpayers are paying the five living ex-presidents over $200,000 a year in pensions for the rest of their lives, plus their office space bill, a million dollars in fees. travel allowance and lifetime Secret Service protection. , among other benefits. Why are we doing this exactly?
And the source of the money they earn raises questions. Why are Moscow banks and corporations such as Cantor Fitzgerald and various zillionaire tycoons (including Jeffrey Epstein) willing to buy a presidential association at such exorbitant prices? What’s in it for them?
Ultimately, however, I feel betrayed. I am embarrassed by the commercialization and exploitation of the presidency. By the twisted incentives that now exist to run for office. By the blatant excess in the lives of our ex-presidents, which sends a depressing message at a time of extreme poverty and grotesque income inequality.
In 2006, Obama wrote this:
“Following my [campaign] fundraising, I became more like the wealthy donors I met, in the very particular sense that I spent more and more time above the fray, outside the world of immediate hunger, of the disappointment, fear, irrationality and frequent hardship of the other 99% of the population, that is, the people I had entered public life to serve.
I still greatly admire Obama, but in the end it is Jimmy Carter who, by all appearances, deserves our praise.
He built all these houses for the poor, wrote poetry and published dozens of books and monitored elections in troubled countries. He made a lot of money, sure, but he lives in a modest house, carried his own suitcases when he traveled, and taught Sunday school (probably for less than $400,000 an hour) .
Keeping it real isn’t easy when temptations abound and money is thrown at you. But when it comes to former presidents, the world is watching.