Harry Truman once said he could "never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office." But boy has that sentiment ever gone out of style. Bill Clinton made $17 million in speaking fees last year, and Hillary makes $200,000 a speech. David Petraeus was almost paid that much for a part-time teaching gig. "There's no doubt that these and other ex-public servants are 'commercializing' their former offices," observes George Packer at the New Yorker.
And maybe it's fine if some business wants to pay a Clinton six figures. But "it is fair to ask exactly what they do to earn it." America is in the grip of a star system. "At the highest altitude, the distinction between entertainers, inventors, business moguls, athletes, academics, and government officials breaks down." It's a system with "wildly unequal rewards for relatively small differences in talent," that has a demoralizing effect on everyone else, and encourages "pervasive mediocrity and corner-cutting." Petraeus needed three Harvard grads to help write his syllabus. "Nothing spells the end of real achievement like becoming a brand." Click for Packer's full column. (Read more speaking fees stories.)