Video from the Gaithersburg Book Festival …

… Peter Cozzens and I discuss westward expansion: https://www.c-span.org/video/?427995-9/panel-discussion-westward-expansion

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“Autumn of the Black Snake” in The Nation

Today, just posted: Richard Kreitner of The Nation and I discuss Empire, Conquest, and the War America Forgot.

Tomorrow, Tuesday 5/16, publication day, I’ll discuss the book with Matt Rosza of Salon; interview to stream on Salon’s Facebook Live page starting at 10:00 A.M.

Tomorrow evening: Book-launch event at Greenlight Bookstore’s Flatbush Avenue branch. Drinks and milling about to start at 7:00; talk to begin around 7:30. Signing, maybe singing, etc. All are welcome.

Former Presidents and Speaking Fees

I’m going to try wrangling some ideas that came up in a recent Twitter discussion/debate with the leading Jefferson scholar Annette Gordon-Reed, in hopes of arriving at greater clarity than the 140-character back-and-forth allowed, or allowed me, anyway. I’d been watching social-media reaction to President Obama’s accepting a big speaking fee backed by a well-known Wall Street firm and considering my reactions, going back to the end of the 1980’s, to what has become accepted practice for former presidents: embarking on new careers that involve making significant income for having served the office. Since Gerald Ford pioneered that practice — until the other day, I’d always thought it was Ronald Reagan — every former president with the exception of Jimmy Carter has engaged in it. I’d taken Reagan to be the first because his $2M for two speeches was memorable at the time. And yet with Reagan it seemed unhappily characteristic of the man and the nature of his presidency, so I recall also being (naively) startled when learning of Bill Clinton’s speaking fees.

It’s thus not, to me, Obama who personally errs here. Yes, we have the Carter example, but what I call wrong with the practice has to do with what I think is a fundamentally ill effect on the body politic. That nowadays such fees will most often come from some segment now shorthanded as “Wall Street” underscores the issue, in this time of scarifying inequality between the richest and poorest, and of the pervasive, now militant public opinion that government is rigged on behalf of the richest and most powerful. It’s an opinion that, while it often seems fully justified, is having a frighteningly destructive effect on our politics and public discourse.

I posted this on Twitter: “It’s never been OK that former presidents make that kind of $ giving talks to people who can pay that kind of $ to hear those talks.”  And “That presidents spend their terms knowing such affirmation and inclusion await makes the office itself a bad joke.” And “Everyone compromises for money, but there are limits. No serious person would want this kind of inclusion unless it spoke to something deep.”

Crudely put, those are my longstanding reactions to the practice of parlaying having been president into a high-income career making personal appearances.

Annette Gordon-Reed responded with this question: “How much should they make?” Continue reading