September 23rd, 2020


'Veep' captures the grubbiness of post-presidency greed; Obama should take heed

Sonny Bunch

By Sonny Bunch

Published May 2, 2017

'Veep' captures the grubbiness of post-presidency greed; Obama should take heed
When it was revealed that Barack Obama was going to hit the post-presidency lecture circuit with a bang - pulling in an obscenely high fee of $400,000 from the firm Cantor Fitzgerald for what is sure to be a boilerplate address on the need to come together as a nation, or some such - few batted an eye.

But a complaint was lodged from a surprising source: Vox's Matthew Yglesias, scourge of the Jacobin-reading left and noted "neoliberal," suggested the deal was not only unseemly but also counterproductive.

"The Clinton family had earned tens of millions of dollars over the years thanks to buckraking speaking fees that raised fundamental questions in people's minds about the motives of both their public policy and their philanthropic work," Yglesias wrote of the appearance of corruption that came with Hillary Clinton's speaking fees and the damage that did to the center-left's ability to argue that its pro-business policies came from honest conviction rather than the hope for filthy lucre at some point in the future.

"You see from the success of Emmanuel Macron in France and Justin Trudeau in Canada (or before them Helle Thorning-Schmidt in Denmark) that center-left politics remains perfectly viable around the world when its leaders are trusted. But you also see from the ongoing meltdown of the UK Labour Party how the perception that Tony Blair used his prime ministership primarily to vault himself into the ranks of the global financial elite can poison a political tendency's reputation."

Simply put, normal folks find something mean and grubby about the idea of a president pandering to global elites for big bucks. And HBO's "Veep," which recently began its sixth season, is helpfully illustrating just that point.

Some worried that the ascendancy of Donald Trump would render the satirical impact of the prestige comedy obsolete, that life was now so much stranger than fiction that the machinations of the now-ex-president Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) would fall somewhere between too hopeful and too close to reality for comfort. But by getting Meyer out of the White House and onto the post-presidency fundraising circuit, "Veep" is, ironically, more relevant than ever.

As the show opens, we see that Meyer has reconciled with her awful husband, Andrew (David Pasquesi), and that the two of them are trying to find ways to raise the funds necessary for her to not only maintain the lifestyle to which Selina had become accustomed but also build a presidential library.

With the show's customary salty language and florid phrasing, we see her instructing her minions to negotiate with banks to get private jets for speeches; we see Andrew asking her to pull strings to get foreigners off no-fly lists and dullard children into colleges in exchange for donations.

It's all pathetic and small -- behavior unbecoming of someone who served the nation in the highest capacity possible. The pathetic nature of what they're doing contrasts sharply with the huge amounts of money being discussed: Even a smaller library - one housed in Selina's alma mater Smith, for instance - would require a low-nine-figure sum to get off the ground.

A proper legacy, of course, requires much more - a fact that the newest ex-president knows all too well. In a fascinating August 2015 New York Times article that revealed then-President Obama cajoled titans of industry and the arts to eat and drink and listen to him until the witching hour approached, we also learned that he planned on amassing an enormous war chest to cement his legacy and influence global affairs going forward.

"The long-running dinner this past February is part of a methodical effort taking place inside and outside the White House as the president, first lady and a cadre of top aides map out a postpresidential infrastructure and endowment they estimate could cost as much as $1 billion," Michael D. Shear and Gardiner Harris reported. "The $1 billion - double what George W. Bush raised for his library and its various programs - would be used for what one adviser called a 'digital-first' presidential library loaded with modern technologies, and to establish a foundation with a worldwide reach."

Maybe that billion raised from private citizens and massive corporations alike comes with no strings attached, maybe it doesn't; Lord knows Barack Obama is in a better position to garner cash than Selina Meyer. But it certainly engenders resentment, creates the appearance of corruption and raises questions about how we want our ex-presidents to behave.

Perhaps it's unfair to Obama that his post-presidency has coincided with the raise of anti-globalist populism and a distrust of the fabulously wealthy that he feels the need to court, but this is the world we live in. If he's interested in helping the center-left regain its footing, he's better off taking tens of millions for a book than hundreds of thousands for a speech.

The conservative critics the BBC left out of its best movies poll
Republicans buy movie tickets too, Paul Feig

Toys with disclaimers ---- against social and political commentary. Seriously
Why conservatives should back plans to make the Oscars more diverse
With '13 Hours,' Hollywood is finally acknowledging conservative audiences