Is Obama’s $65 Million Book Deal Corrupt?


David Frum just published a dark horror story about the ways in which Donald Trump will corrupt democracy — what he calls a pathway to autocracy Trump could follow.

Reading it, I was struck by how much of what he worries Trump will do that we conservatives have already lived through:

Opponents of the regime are not murdered or imprisoned, although many are harassed with building inspections and tax audits.

Using the tax system to harass opponents? Check. Obama’s been there and done that. As for building inspections, talk to anyone who does business in New York City on why you have to donate to Democrats. Like, say, Donald J. Trump.

If they work for the government, or for a company susceptible to government pressure, they risk their jobs by speaking out.

Well, possibly. That would be much smaller than the pool of people whose jobs or businesses are now threatened every time they oppose gay marriage — and hardly anyone cares. Government employees would also have recourse to the First Amendment, unlike private employees fired for what progressive elites consider incorrect views on sex and marriage.

Day in and day out, the regime works more through inducements than through intimidation.

Well, that would be a change from relying equally heavily on inducement and economic intimidation, and yes, backed by name-calling, shaming, insults and occasional violence.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has not lost any of its prestige among progressives for dubbing mainstream social conservative organizations as hate groups akin to the Ku Klux Klan, and it has worked for them over the short term, reducing access to media by disfavored SPLC speakers. (For an example of how this pressure works, see Zack Ford’s recent attempt to tell NPR how they should cover the transgender issue.) The price is that the SPLC has lost its bipartisan power to be considered a legitimate source of truth. But to the Left that might be a fine trade-off.

The courts are packed, and forgiving of the regime’s allies. Friends of the government win state contracts at high prices and borrow on easy terms from the central bank.

Um, like Citibank?

Those on the inside grow rich by favoritism; those on the outside suffer from the general deterioration of the economy.

This is precisely what we’ve experienced over at least the last decade: regulatory overreach that makes businesses subservient to government and government largesse (Solyndra anyone?) and strangles free enterprise to the detriment of the average working family. Nonetheless, the upper middle class and the rich both do well, as their assets are bid up in a system where investment in real enterprise becomes increasingly hazardous and toadying up to the Obama administration increasingly profitable.

In a Twitter debate — if anything that happens in 144 character bursts can be so dignified — I was told President Obama’s reportedly $65 million book deal only came after he left power and therefore was not corrupt.

Yes, that’s true given the way we describe corruption, but progressives have figured out ways to guarantee their heroes can inordinately profit after leaving office — including by a book deal in which even a Slate columnist acknowledges it was international book dealer who drove the price up so high.

The Clintons cleverly found a way to cash in on their former and possible future power: Bill Clinton’s $15 million book deal was followed up by a $14 million book deal for Hillary Clinton in 2014 — on a book which sold only 177,000 copies, a number which might support an advance of around $200,000 or, at most, $2 million if you kick in “prestige.”

But they also invented new ways to cash in on their access to power through the Clinton Foundation. If foreign donors were not trying to buy access to U.S. political power, why have the donations so mysteriously and completely evaporated with Hillary Clinton’s loss?

So the answer to the question is, no, it’s not corruption by modern standards, but that’s part of the problem.

The American — and European — economies are being shut down because we are reverting to being what Harvard Prof. Niall Ferguson calls in his 2012 The Great Degeneration “extractive governments” where elites create rules that favor themselves and close the door to new entrants. This type of government has been dominant for most of human history and the reason why the vast majority of people and societies remained so poor.

Rule of the mandarins by plutocracy for the plutocracy. It’s pretty close to the system we have now. It’s invisible because the use of emoluments to corrupt politicians and keep them from exercising their constituents’ will is almost entirely a liberal and progressive phenomenon. And so to liberal and progressives — and also David Frum — it’s practically non-existent. It’s the normal they don’t want to normalize by acknowledging it.

Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.

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