It’s really not about what people get paid for giving speeches
PALM BEACH, Fla. — As speaking fees go, Hillary Clinton’s allegedly scandalous $200,000 per engagement is chump change compared with Donald Trump’s $1.5 million.
But, of course Trump wouldn’t bother to part his lips for less. It costs at least a million just to wake up in the rarified world he occupies.
So what’s the big fuss about Clinton’s fees, which are negotiated by her speaking agency?
There seem to be two “problems,” at least if you’re Bernie Sanders. One is that Clinton, because of her high-dollar rates, is out of touch with the “real Americans” she presumes to represent. Two, her speaking fees from financial institutions, specifically, supposedly suggest that, as president, she wouldn’t be “tough” on Wall Street, whatever this is supposed to mean.
The Sanders crowd is on firm ground in their assessment that Clinton is out of touch with everyday Americans. This is not news, folks. The Clintons have been living the life of millionaires since their first giggly night inside the White House. Except for dealing with domestic help, chauffeurs, chefs and Secret Service agents, Hillary Clinton hasn’t been in touch with regular folks ever since.
That said, there’s no basis for insisting that one must be poor to work for the interests of those less fortunate. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy were hardly from the barrio. Indeed, it’s often the privileged who most fiercely embrace the adage that from those to whom much is given, much is expected. Giving back, after all, is a privilege of having something to give.
To this point, I’ve always been struck by an observation Broadway director Moss Hart made in his autobiography, “Act One.” Having grown up bitterly poor, Hart wrote that poverty is evil not because you have nothing but because you have nothing to give. This is very much in the spirit of Jesus’ beatitude that “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Unfortunately, the Democratic base has been electrified by the notion that the poor are poor because the rich are rich. To this zero-sum interpretation of income inequality, a friend always responds: How many poor people has Oprah created?
On the right, the base is riled about those they perceive as taking their country from them.
Thus, our politics have been reduced to a tug of war between envy and resentment. And neither side seems able to stop building molehills when there are mountains to conquer. Clinton’s speeches are molehills.
First, on what planet do people not try to make as much money as they can? Speaking fees vary widely, as indicated by the gap between Clinton’s and Trump’s. Sanders made less than $2,000 total in 2014, which he donated to charity. A relatively wealthy man himself, forfeiting the paltry sum he earned from speaking and from appearing on a TV show ($850 from HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher”) wasn’t a make-or-break financial decision.
For perspective, a few other high earners include: Tim Geithner, $200,000 per speech; Ben Bernanke, $200,000 to $400,000; George W. Bush, $150,000; Chelsea Clinton and Dick Cheney, both $75,000; Newt Gingrich, $60,000. These figures are from an ABC News analysis. (Disclosure: I’m in Palm Beach as a paid speaker, but I’m dirt cheap — and tons funnier — compared with Clinton.)
Obviously, the Clintons have golden tongues, but the market pays what the market demands. And, yes, the former president and first lady have amassed a small fortune from telling folks whatever it is their audiences find so compelling.
What pearls tumble from Hillary Clinton’s lips?
This, Sanders surely would like to know, as would The Washington Post, which has repeatedly requested her speech transcripts. Thus far, Clinton has declined to provide them, a decision with which I agree or at least find defensible. Given that these were essentially private conversations, privately transacted, she’s under no obligation to share the texts with anyone else.
More likely than the cover-up conspiracy Clintons always seem to inspire, she probably prefers to protect the intimacy that any good speaker tries to develop with an audience — a particular group of people rather than the entire country. Personally, I don’t allow my speeches to be recorded so that I can relax and not worry over every word.
To a grown-up point, which Donny Deutsch argued on Friday’s “Morning Joe,” doesn’t a president need to work with Wall Street as well as Main Street?
Class warfare may inspire the angry masses, but it’s no way to run a country. Nor, one hopes, is it any way to get elected. The better way is to promote policies that will help more people become givers by raising them up, rather than pushing down others perceived as having “too” much.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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