Student Commentary: Obama’s Wall Street Speeches

Mayank Sharma, Staff Writer

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Wall Street has played a heavy hand in politics for a long time. Politicians frequently receive money in the form of paid speeches and campaign donations. This election, Clinton struggled enormously with corruption scandals, and one of these was her refusal to release her own Wall Street speech transcripts.

 

In September, Obama has accepted $400,000 from a Wall Street firm to give a speech at a health conference. Understandably, many are upset about this, politicians and citizens alike.

Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was “troubled” by the payment, and Bernie Sanders (D-VT) said that accepting the money was “distasteful”. And to an extent, they’re right.

From the perspective of legal proceedings or ethical violations, Obama is free from wrongdoing — he has no role in government, so he’s free to do as he pleases as a private citizen. Businesses and private citizens have the right to exchange money for any services or goods as they please, and that’s perfectly fine.

There have been rumors that Republican Congressional Representatives may try to pass a bill to cap the Presidential pensions if they receive sums like Obama plans to. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) sponsored a version of the bill during Obama’s presidency, which was vetoed on the basis of undermining Presidential foundations and offices. That’s a valid argument, and the bill is ultimately irrelevant to any type of policy.

However, from Obama’s speech and interactions with political science students at University of Chicago, he’s made it clear he wants to be involved with the cultivation of a new generation of honest and empowered politicians.

Given that goal, he should refrain from accepting the money and any future payments from Wall Street. Many Americans voted for Obama with the hopes that he would crack down on Wall Street with heavy regulations, and to take money from Wall Street firms despite that position while hoping to pass down principles to a younger generation compromises his goal.

If Obama hopes to inspire others, he should remain free of any conflict of interests, or else he would simply be undermining his own point. How can younger generations look up to a role model encouraging them to fight against an institution when that role model is benefitting from that institution’s corrupt activities?
Unfortunately, given that Democrats are sorely lacking in visible candidates for 2020, and beyond, they need all the support and help they can get. Obama’s endeavors are desperately needed by the party, and if he really wants to make a lasting difference and maximize his influence, he should swear off Wall Street payments.

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