Should presidents become super rich after leaving office?

December 8, 2019

 

Obama just bought an $11 million dollar beachfront mansion on Martha's Vineyard, apparently not the first mega home that the Obama family now owns. Such ostentatious wealth purchases by a president who before he became president was comfortably entrenched among upper middle class Americans and deserving of that status, especially counting his degrees and credentials, but was not really super rich, not until now, not until after being president, it somehow doesn't sit right with the image I had of the man. I don't begrudge him, but couldn't he and Michelle and the kids be content with a home without a beachfront and with less than seven bedrooms and 8 baths and two guest wings? Aren't there things in life he would rather put his new found wealth into?

 

 

Obama isn't the only one. The Clintons became super rich after Bill left the presidency. I can't think of any remedy for our ex presidents becoming so rich after leaving office. Most of the money ex presidents make after they leave the presidency comes from speaker fees and sales of books that they write, with or without the assistance of extensive staff or ghost writers. And since most of us believe in free speech and free markets I can see no way to prevent this source of income, it's supply and demand. Though one might think that some of the proceeds should be devoted to charity and I'm sure that some of that does happen, but perhaps not enough. And the spectacle of it all just goes to highlight the inequality of income and wealth in American society.

 

It may be a small step but there is something we can do to limit the taxpayer burden of supporting  ex presidents. The United States Treasury provides a pension to a former president. In 2017 that pension amount was $207,800 per year. He or she gets this even though not retired and is clearly able to earn a very good living. In addition an ex president gets taxpayer funded office space and supplies, money to pay for support staff, money for travel, health benefits and secret service protection for self and family. Now I don't mind the health benefits. All Americans should get them. And I don't mind the secret service protection. We wouldn't want our ex presidents and their family unguarded from the crazies of the world.

 

But seriously do taxpayers need to fund a pension of over $200,000 per year to a relatively young man or woman who is clearly not retired as the evidence that he is earning millions of dollars a year. And to boot, taxpayers are funding his or her office space and staff and supplies and travel expense. In Obama's case, this while, according to Investors Business Daily, Obama's wife "Michelle earned a $65 million advance on her book, 'Becoming.' She's also making beaucoup bucks on a speaking tour. Ticket prices for her 'Conversation With Michelle Obama' in Brooklyn ranged up to $4,070. ... The Obamas also signed a $50 million deal with Netflix to produce programs that 'promote greater empathy and understanding between peoples and help them share their stories with the entire world.' ... Barack Obama now commands $400,000 per speech. Last year, he pulled down $1.2 million for three talks to Wall Street firms. Michelle can command $225,000 for a speech."

 

The Obama's aren't the only ones profiting from once being in the White House. According to Forbes.com,  Bill and Hillary Clinton left the White House in 2001, and turned political fame into a personal fortune, raking in more than $240 million, according to an analysis of 15 years of their tax returns. And Clinton also is still getting a generous pension from American taxpayers.

 

I don't begrudge a pension for our former presidents, but can't it at least wait until they truly retire and are no longer earning such grandiose sums?

 

And there is a question we should ask ourselves, "Should we prefer Presidents who are rich before they are elected to office or who become rich after they leave it? I think it would would be nice if they were upper middle income before being elected and remained that way after they leave office but is that realistic?

 

And wouldn't it be nice if all our ex presidents had the humility and integrity to go back to the same house he or she lived in before they became president. When Harry Truman left the White House in 1953, according to historian David McCullough, he had no income or support from the federal government other than his Army pension of $112.56 a month and he was provided with no government funds for secretarial help or office space. Truman refused to cash in on his celebrity and influence as a former president refusing to make commercial endorsements, to accept "consulting" fees, or to engage in lobbying.

 

Many of our presidents were millionaires before becoming president but more than a few were not and a few were of very modest means and some even remained so after leaving the presidency. At least one, John F. Kennedy was a billionaire from an inheritance, and the current president Donald Trump claims to be a billionaire. But the days when an ex president remains among the middle class would seem to be gone forever as ex presidents now receive hundred thousand dollar offers for speeches and multi-million dollar offers for the rights to their memoirs.

 

For the net worth of all U.S. Presidents from Washington to Trump go to https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2019/02/13/donald-trump-george-washington-net-worth-us-presidents/39011559/

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