[OP-ED]: Why should Obama have to be saintlier than his predecessors?
The best thing about President Barack Obama’s historic presidency is that it’s over. We can now look back on it -- and him -- in far fonder terms than it was experienced live.
Especially in comparison to his successor, you’d think Obama’s approval ratings would stay sky-high until well after his likeness was carved into Mount Rushmore -- but no. He’s been out of office for barely one fiscal quarter and already some of his former fans are turning against him.
After the news about Obama’s upcoming $400,000 speech at a health care conference sponsored by the Wall Street financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders called the gig “distasteful.” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said she was “troubled.”
The terms “fat cats” and “hypocrite” were bandied about, and newspaper op-ed pages chimed in with delightfully colorful headlines like “$400,000 for an Obama speech: Tacky but not corrupt,” from the Los Angeles Times.
It was fun to watch the opposite-day dueling op-eds at the major papers. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board declared: “Let the man make a buck, as long as he pays the top marginal rate,” while The New York Times’ editorial board grimly mourned that it was “disheartening that a man whose historic candidacy was premised on a moral examination of politics now joins almost every modern president in cashing in.”
But in total, even his less ardent fans have to be thinking: Awwwwwwww, leave Obama alone, already!
This is why fewer and fewer good, smart people of modest means will grow up dreaming of becoming president: Not only does every aspect of your life get skewered and put through a funhouse mirror, but after you’ve served your country even your former supporters will have the long knives out for you should you want to cash in on your incredibly unique experience.
But more so than that, people’s disgust at Obama’s new opportunities to make a living speaks of a pervasive bias against those with high ambitions and who happen to be minorities.
Most high-achieving minorities grew up with hard-core parents who drummed into them the idea that in order to succeed in America they had to be not twice, but three or four times as good -- academically, in their work ethic and in their behavior -- as their white peers.
There was no wiggle room -- you were either undeniably better or you had to prepare to take a back seat to people whose names typically were easier to pronounce or spell.
So, yes, what I’m saying is that even if liberals don’t understand it, criticizing President Obama for failing their purity test of not turning down a big payday for doing what he does best -- speechifying -- is, if not exactly racist, then at least a harmful double-standard.
By all accounts, most modern former presidents parlay their time in office into lucrative speaking engagements, book deals and other options. Why should Obama be held to a different set of rules?
People who otherwise wouldn’t blink an eye at a rapper, an actor or an athlete making millions seem to think that Obama should be above financial incentives and, in fact, should give away his experience and expertise.
“Speak, Obama, speak. Just not for money,” wrote Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of The New York Times, in The Guardian.
Just imagine if all experts and all who excelled at their disciplines were expected to provide their knowledge for free. For one, no one would ever pay for a newspaper or a book again.
Trevor Noah, the host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” put it best: “So, the first black president must also be the first one to not take money afterwards? No, no, no, no, no, my friend. He can’t be the first of everything.”
Go on and break the mold of having to be so much better, saintlier and humbler than your predecessors and peers, President Obama. Feel free to dispense with the silly double- and higher standards that minority “firsts” are held to.
You will be making a very big statement -- one that has the capacity to set a precedent that even after they’ve proved themselves, “firsts” don’t have to forever be at least twice as good as everyone else.