Former President Barack Obama just agreed to give a not-so-free speech and people aren’t too happy about it, some going as far to label him a hypocrite.
Obama spent his eight years in office championing the problems of the poor and advocating for the middle class. During a speech just last Monday, he spoke to students at the University of Chicago and touched on the importance of pursuing goals aside from money or fame.
On the other hand, the former Commander in Chief appears to enjoy the high life, forging copious connections with Hollywood elites and tech giants during his presidency. After leaving the White House, he spent months vacationing with billionaires like Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey. Most recent on his list of luxury is his acceptance of a $400,000 fee—equal to his annual salary as president—to speak at a health care conference in September sponsored by the Wall Street trading and investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald.
My reaction to all of this: who the hell cares?
As a private, taxpaying citizen, he has the right to do as he pleases. Let him enjoy the fruit of his labor without being scrutinized for doing so. And aside from the fact that he deserves to reap the benefits of post-presidency life, it seems as though there is something more insidious and implicit within the assumption that Obama shouldn’t accept money for his speech.
Not only was he the first black president of the United States, but now he is expected to be the first in recent U.S. history to turn down money for speeches. Following his presidency, Bill Clinton reportedly earned $200,000 a speech for over a decade, and George W. Bush’s speeches cost upwards of $175,000 a pop. In 1989, Ronald Reagan earned $2 million for just one week of speeches in Japan. In comparison, $400,000 could be considered a modest price tag for a speech from a man who has been called one of the best speakers of the 21st century. If anything, he should’ve asked for more.
Put simply: I can’t help but believe that if Obama were a white Republican, he would be congratulated as a smart businessman. Instead he’s labeled a sly opportunist. This is yet another indicator of the pressures and double-standards placed on the “firsts” of any kind, an expectation that they ought to be held at a higher moral standard than their predecessors.
And let’s be honest—it could be much worse. He could, for example, be a nepotistic and bigoted autocrat forcing taxpayers to fund his private golf course endeavors. But that’s not the case.
—Tess Riski, News Editor