For Democrats, Obama's Wall Street payday sends the wrong signal
"I am not a member of any organized party -- I am a Democrat."
-- Will Rogers, 1935
Never mind that at a rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the president of the United States recently delivered what former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson described as "arguably the most hate-filled presidential communication in modern history."
Nor that Donald J. Trump's old pals on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" are suggesting that the great man shows signs of senile dementia and needs a neurological work-up.
Gee, no kidding.
Never mind, too, that Alabama Republican congressman Mo Brooks has suggested (also on MSNBC) that people with pre-existing medical conditions are morally deficient and deserve to pay much higher health insurance premiums than right-living specimens like himself.
It's tempting to observe that when you've said "Alabama Republican congressman," you've said it all.
Even so, like any proper Democrat, I find myself distracted by party infighting. Not that I've ever actually participated in a political campaign. Readers may not be shocked to learn that I normally vote Democratic.
Never mind my misgivings about Sen. Bernie Sanders. When Bernie's right, he's right. He and fellow New England puritan Sen. Elizabeth Warren are certainly correct about the dreadful optics of former President Barack Obama's decision to accept a $400,000 fee for a one-hour speech to a Wall Street bank. Bernie thinks it's "unfortunate," while Warren pronounced herself "troubled."
Actually, it's worse than that. Granted, the investment firm Cantor, Fitzgerald wasn't among the major malefactors in the 2008 financial system collapse, and that it's a health care conference that Obama will be addressing. Given Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, I'm confident he'll have something interesting to say.
But ordinary voters aren't going to hear it. What's more easily noticed is the conjunction of "Wall Street" and "$400,000." Many will be tempted to think pretty much what they thought when Hillary Clinton accepted similarly preposterous speaking fees from Goldman Sachs before setting up to run for president as the working family's friend.
To wit, that Lady Bountiful already had more money than she knew what to do with, but no understanding of their everyday lives. I think people were wrong about Hillary's lack of compassion, but it's easy to see how they got the idea. It's the sheer symbolism of the thing.
Despite the fact that the Clintons have donated vast sums to charity, and that Bill Clinton has devoted his post-presidency to downright heroic efforts to alleviate Third World suffering (see Joe Conason's book "Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton), the message behind those Wall Street paydays proved hard to overcome. (It didn't help that the establishment media has all but refused to cover the Clinton Foundation's charitable enterprises except to hint at scandal where none has been shown to exist.)
And then came "basket of deplorables."
But back to the equally unfortunate symbolism of Barack Obama's $400,000 speaking gig. Yes, Ronald Reagan once earned $2 million in 1989 dollars for a gig in Japan (For which he was bitterly criticized). And yes, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have both cashed in, big-time.
Nor do I begrudge former President Barack and first lady Michelle Obama a nickel of their reported $60 million book deals. No more than I resent the outsized riches of Steph Curry or the Rolling Stones. One way or another, I figure they've earned it.
Given their international celebrity and the fact that both Obamas had already written highly successful books, publishers competed to sign them. Ultimately, these are market decisions, paid for by the ticket- and book-buying public. You can read Obama's presidential memoirs or not; it's entirely your call.
But with the Democratic Party struggling to redeem itself in the wake of Hillary Clinton's loss, Obama's Wall Street payday sends exactly the wrong signal at a very bad time. The Washington Post's Greg Sargent writes about focus groups put together by a Democratic-oriented polling firm called Priorities USA.
Researchers talked to two kinds of voters: those who switched from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016; and those who switched from Obama to "did not vote."
"Skepticism about the Democratic Party," Sargent writes, "was echoed rather forcefully in the focus groups that I watched. In one, Obama-Trump voters were asked what Democrats stand for today and gave answers such as these:
'The one percent.'
'The status quo.'
'They're for the party. Themselves and the party.'
One woman, asked whether the Democratic Party is for people like her, flatly declared: 'Nope.'"
Shockingly, twice as many respondents said Democrats' policies favor the rich as said that about Trump and the Republicans. It appears that Trump's relentless vulgarity protects him against the Scrooge McDuck aspects of his personality. He may be a jerk, but such voters don't think he's a snob.
About Wall Street Democrats, they're not so sure.
Email Gene Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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