Post-Presidency, Obama Is Already Hurting His Cause

He has no reason to take paid speaking gigs, and lots of reasons not to
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 25, 2017 5:03 PM CDT
Updated Apr 26, 2017 3:33 AM CDT
Obama Must Turn Down Paid Speaking Gigs to Fight Populism
Former President Barack Obama hosts a conversation on civic engagement and community organizing, Monday, April 24, 2017, at the University of Chicago in Chicago.   (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Former President Obama is in an excellent position to disprove that "mainstream politics is just a moneymaking hustle," but he's off to a horrible start, accepting $400,000 from bond firm Cantor Fitzgerald to speak at a health care conference. And while it'll be hard to say no to "so much cash for so little work," it's something Obama and other center-left politicians need to do to defeat the rise of populism around the globe, Matt Yglesias argues at Vox. Center-left politicians—because they don't deal in absolutes like populist nationalists—are easier targets for claims of corruption. "One man's sophisticated and pragmatic approach to public policy can be the other man's grab bag of corrupt opportunism," Yglesias writes.

That's why, fair or not, Obama and politicians like him need to do more to show "a self-sacrificing spirit and moral leadership" than their political rivals—even if it means leaving money on the table. Hillary Clinton earned millions in speaking fees, opening herself up to claims of corruption and possibly costing her the election. But populism can be defeated when center-left politicians are seen as trustworthy. Obama should donate the money from the Cantor Fitzgerald gig—which he doesn't need, thanks to his best-selling books and presidential pension—and turn down all future paid speeches, Yglesias argues. This would set a new precedent that former politicians taking paid speaking gigs is "corrupt, sleazy, or both." Read the full piece here. (More Barack Obama stories.)

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