With just a little more than three and-a-half years remaining in his second term and financial insecurity staring him in the eye, President Obama has quietly begun preparing for his retirement. Mr. Obama will be only 55 when he steps down and, like all retirees, will doubtless face a huge daunting vacant space in his life.
According to this week's financial disclosures by the president and his wife, the family's net worth is somewhere between $2- and $7-million, although some analysts reckon it's about $12-million. The prez also continues to get generous royalties on all sales of his two best-selling books, as he will on the one he writes when he retires. Still, a few mill doesn't buy you what it used to.
A second-term president, however, must not even hint that his time runneth out, for fear of being seen as a lame duck with no leverage to throw around, and Mr. Obama has famously used his unparalleled power to squeeze everything he wanted out of Congress.
Accordingly, The Family has begun hosting cozy Friday night dinner parties at the White House ostensibly to fill the President's abundant spare time with sophisticated conversation and clever repartee from the best progressive minds in the world. In reality, of course, their purpose is to make connections for his next life. That's why the guest list seems to rather err on the side of folks who have the particular connections that a retired president, especially a great liberal like this one, might lack.
That's why, according to the Wall Street Journal this week, some recent guests have included the chair of American Express Co. and the CEO of the Carlyle Group. Now Amex presumably needs no long introduction, but the Carlyle Group might. It's an astonishingly successful "global asset management firm, specializing in private equity," with $170-billion in assets being managed and with tentacles in virtually every sphere of government and throughout the private sector. To the consternation of his progressive base, large numbers of executives from corporation like Amex and Carlyle contributed generously to Obama in his first campaign, and their largesse paid off in spades. Yet despite his administration providing a vast windfall for Corporate America, many of those donors ungraciously deserted him for the second. So the President's need to improve his relations with the 1 per cent for future considerations is obvious.
Another notable guest reported at these intimate soirees is Tony Blair, even though as Prime Minister of Britain Mr. Blair had forged an unexpectedly cozy relationship with his American counterpart, George W. Bush. Fears that a Labour PM -- even a New Labour PM -- would clash with a far right Republican president proved utterly false. Mr. Blair, the heir of Thatcherism, was warmly embraced by Mr. Bush and lionized by American neocons.
Indeed, the two co-operated fully in deceiving their respective nations into invading Iraq, an escapade which Blair still blindly justifies. For his sins while in office, he has paid no penalty. Au contraire. His years since stepping down as PM have been rewarding and fulfilling. If anyone can advise an unemployed ex-liberal, ex-president of the U.S.A. as to lucrative potential opportunities, it is surely Tony Blair.
And if any two public figures are a more natural team than Obama and Blair--both of whom utterly betrayed the progressives who made them -- it's hard to imagine who they might be. Hence Friday night at The White House.
"What's Tony up to now, anyway?" I hear you asking. Well, lots of things, some charitable but a great deal not so much. As a major Daily Mail feature neatly put it this week, Blair now runs a "shadowy and quasi-political network of businesses whose tentacles stretch from his smart offices next to the American Embassy in London into every corner of the globe." He employs some 200 staff and is worth anywhere between CAD $95 and $125-million -- not bad for an old leftie. Clients include J.P. Morgan, the American banking giant that pays him $4-million a year; a consortium of South Korean investors and oil companies; Zurich Insurance; governments in Columbia, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China (the China Investment Corporation), Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, and various others. Just imagine the points!
What exactly he does for any of these clients, or what insights he shares with them, as with the Philippine businessmen who paid him $637,832 for two half-hour speeches, is hard to say. Given the nature of his clientele, it's hard to assume that democracy and good government, or old socialist shibboleths about equality, human rights and social justice, are high on their priority list. But Blair can live with that.
Blair knows everyone, and as the Daily Mail nicely put it, "political contacts in high places only help grease the wheels of the various opaque business ventures which have propelled [him] into the ranks of the super-rich." Now doesn't that work out swell? Who loves the opaque more than President Obama, with his killer drones and his super-snooping and his war against whistle-blowers? Coming soon: Comrades Blair and Obama, Inc. Progressives will kvell with pride.
This article was originally posted in the Globe and Mail.