President Barack Obama is back from his post-administration vacation visits to Hawaii and French Polynesia, and he's already been busy. He spoke at the University of Chicago on Monday, and he's headed to an awards ceremony in Boston next, followed by a string of private paid speeches both at home and abroad. The former president's new — and reportedly impressive — payroll for these speeches has already drawn criticism from some, and several people are asking why Obama is now getting paid for his speeches.
According to Fox, one of Obama's upcoming speeches, which will reportedly take place at a Wall Street conference put on by Cantor Fitzgerald LP, will earn him a reported $400,000 — which is roughly the amount that he would make in an entire year as president. Obama is also intending to give paid speeches in both Europe and the United States, and all of those talks are likely to earn him a pretty penny.
Some people criticize the idea of former presidents earning money for speaking engagements after vacating the White House, while others see it as their own personal business. According to Politico, Harry Truman once said he had "a very strong feeling about any man, who has the honor of being an occupant of the White House in the greatest job in the history of the world, who would exploit that situation in any way, shape or form."
Both Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, however, have responded to questions about their speech circuits with a more laissez-faire — and practical — approach, with each citing their needs to "make a living" and "pay the bills." So why not turn their global fame into a speaking gig? As private citizens who are no longer on the presidential payroll (except for receiving an annual pension), it's really their own prerogative.
Obama's new role as a funded speaker is also hardly new territory for anyone who has made waves in politics, either: Obama joins both George H.W. and George W. Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and others in collecting fees for speeches. And according to Fortune, past presidents' inflated prices make perfect sense, economically, since they bring a level of influence to the event that would otherwise be difficult to achieve.
"The speech is kind of secondary to ... just being able to have a big name at your event," Lance Strate, a communications professor at Fordham University, told Fortune in 2015. "It might get reported on some form of TV or cable news, which further adds to the prestige and the publicity of the event."
Just like other former presidents have, Obama is likely to keep drawing criticism for charging for his speeches. However, now that he's no longer tied to politics, there's really no reason he shouldn't be using his private time and expertise in order to craft a new career as a public speaker.