Jewish World Review June 19, 2002/ 9 Tamuz, 5762

Wesley Pruden

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Consumer Reports

The golden perk
of the presidency | A good wife and a shady reputation can be worth a lot of money. You could ask almost any number of Washington pols, beginning with Bill Clinton.

The former president and the former first lady - still a lady but no longer the first among them - filed their financial disclosure forms last week and the figures don't lie. They're rolling in dough.

The Hot Springs flash made $9.2 mil doing what he does best, listening to himself talk, sometimes getting $350,000 a pop for it, and rarely less than a quarter of a mil. Miss Hillary earned, or at least received, $2.85 mil, as part of the advance for her memoirs, due in the bookstores next year. The president has a contract guaranteeing him $10 million in advance for his book, also due next year. It's not clear how much of that advance he got last year, since he didn't have to say. Neither is it clear how he can talk as much as he does and deliver a book, too, since writing, unlike talking, is a harsh and demanding discipline.

However they got it, it's a lot of money, and it made a lot of the front pages because the nation is still semi-obsessed with the Clintons, the scab on the body politic that we can't resist picking at.

Mr. Clinton made a lot of his speechifying in Asia, where ex-heads of state retain their currency longer than they usually do elsewhere, even ex-heads of state from obscure republics and even if they have to be wheeled on stage in iron lungs to say a few words in an unintelligible foreign tongue. Live ones, like Bill Clinton, are golden, and they don't have to say much.

In fact, not much is exactly what Mr. Clinton had to say in a recent speech to a Chinese real-estate seminar in Shanghai, for which he was paid $350,000. He spoke for about 20 minutes and then, as is the custom, agreed to take a few questions. He didn't have many answers beyond, "I'm not up to date on that one." His hosts were said to be disappointed, but getting themselves photographed with him no doubt assuaged their feelings. Such photographs with foreign political celebrities, like speeches, are highly prized as currency, presumably making the photographee a surrogate big shot.

Mr. Clinton made a nice haul in Tokyo, too, getting $450,000 for three days of schmoozing with executives and guests of a Japanese vitamin manufacturer, and $400,000 for three speeches in three days to a Jewish philanthropy in Scotland.

Nevertheless, there's no arguing with his spokesman, who boasted that he's the most requested speaker on the international lecture circuit, or that he could be booked every day for the next three or four years. (This may be what the publisher waiting for his manuscript is afraid of.)

Cashing in on celebrity could be the best perk of the presidency. Ronald Reagan was famously paid $2 million for two speeches in Japan after he left the White House, and President George H.W. Bush - "41," as he's called at the current White House - once took his fee for a speech in Japan in shares in a telecommunications company that eventually were worth $14 million, though it is not known when or whether he sold the stock.

(Full disclosure here: The former president and his wife, Barbara, were paid a bundle by the Washington Times Foundation, which is wholly separate from the newspaper, for a series of speeches they made to groups of visiting Japanese women. I introduced them on several of those occasions, and once received a nice doughnut, glazed as I recall, and a cup of coffee in the Green Room, where I also had a nice chat with the actress Shirley Jones.)

Wives can offer a valuable hand in raking in the family cash, and their husbands' connections don't hurt. The wife of Tom Daschle, the Democratic majority leader in the Senate, is a lobbyist for defense contractors, and Hadassah Lieberman, wife of the senator from Connecticut, earned $328,000 last year for her speeches, mostly to Jewish groups. John Kerry, the senator from Massachusetts who is presumed to be a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in '04, even lumps his assets with those of his wife, Teresa Heinz, heir to the ketchup fortune.

Still, it's a far, far better thing to be an ex-president, and best of all to be a hot ham. That's when you attract a lot of ketchup.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002 Wes Pruden