So the Emperor Nero (or is it Zero?) fiddles while Rome burns — going to multiple fundraising parties as the world reels from one catastrophe to another. A White House flack defends the president, saying that everyone would be much more worried if we allowed some untoward event — such as the Russian president shooting down a western airliner — to throw the emperor off his chosen course of entertaining and being entertained by the rich and foolish.
It’s hard to disagree with that. Would we really be better off if the president — meaning this president — were deeply engrossed in the nitty-gritty of policy-making or statecraft rather than harmlessly engaged in small talk at political fundraisers?
I don’t think so.
The going rate at the president’s fundraising dinners is a little north of $32,000-a-plate. That’s about two-thirds of the medium family income in the United States, but it is chump change for the “folks” (as the president likes to say) in Hollywood Hills, Silicon Valley, the Upper East Side in Manhattan, and out in the Hamptons and places like Martha’s Vineyard and Palm Springs — to mention just a few of the president’s favorite haunts.
The president loves money and despises only the getting of it through means other than kowtowing to government. Certainly he doesn’t want to kill the golden goose — Wall Street — which has been the single greatest source of quick personal enrichment for members of his and other administrations.
Never mind that Citigroup needed a $45 billion federal bailout or that our current Secretary of the Treasury — “Clueless” Jack Lew — earned over $1 million in presiding cluelessly over a unit of the bank that lost hundreds of millions of dollars and helped throw Citigroup into near insolvency. While most top-level executives have contracts with incentives to keep them from leaving, Lew’s deal with Citigroup in the late 2000s provided him with a $940,000 bonus if he could manage to secure a “full time high level position with the United States Government or a regulatory body.” He was able to collect that bonus even after Citigroup had been forced into the arms of the federal government, which made his bonus a gift from the public purse.
From Citigroup Lew sprang and to Citigroup (or some other such institution) he will presumably return… like others before him. In the age of Obama, no great financial misdeed goes unrewarded and to become rich through one’s political connections (in Wall Street / Washington nexus) is glorious.
When he’s not going to fundraising parties, the president likes to talk about them — but only in the most sanctimonious way, as if you’d never see him doing fist-bumps at a fundraising event with high-priced lobbyists (like Bill Daley, J.P. Morgan Chase’s top lobbyist before he became Obama’s chief of staff from January 2011 to January 2012) and super-rich lawyers (like John Eddie Williams, “the king of mass torts,” who hosted a fundraiser for the president on his visit to Houston right after the Fort Hood massacre; according to TexasTrialLawyerWatch.org, Williams gave $1.4 million to trial lawyer groups and the Democratic Party in 2010 and is “frequently seen in the Capitol where he advocates legislation that will increase opportunities to sue and roll back existing lawsuit reform.”) Here is Obama on the subject of fundraising, doing his faux-folksy best to sound serious and speak with a straight face (as Dave Barry says, I’m not making this up):
Ordinary folks can’t write massive campaign checks or hire high-priced lobbyists and lawyers to secure policies that tilt the playing field to their advantage at everyone else’s expense. And so people get the bad taste that the system is rigged, and that increases cynicism and polarization and it decreases the political participation that is a requisite part of self government.
As one of those who can’t write massive campaign checks, I have a theory about the baby-faced billionaires from Silicon Valley, the odd assortment of heirs and heiresses who have embraced progressivism, and the actors and lawyers and bankers who show up for $32,000-a-plate Obama fundraising parties. To borrow an expression from the novelist Graham Greene, they are not just stinking rich; they are part of dwindling number of Americans — the last members of the “untorturable class,” who can live without fear of the IRS and other instruments of our enlarged, envenomed, and ever more intrusive state.