Barack and Michelle Obama’s reported $65 million book deal with Penguin Random House is only part of their lucrative post–White House trajectory. Also included: a lavishly funded foundation, a $1.5 billion library and museum, and a speakers’ bureau contract with the firm that brokered Hillary Clinton’s Goldman Sachs speeches.
For more than 35 years, Jimmy Carter has set the standard for what a former president might do upon leaving office, working with Habitat for Humanity, establishing the peace-and-justice-oriented Carter Center, and lining up alongside Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, and Desmond Tutu in The Elders. He’s made mistakes, such as getting funding from the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), a criminal enterprise. And, from time to time, he’s weighed in on politics, writing a book called Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid—which drew brickbats from the Israel lobby, with some denouncing Carter as anti-Semitic—criticizing the war in Iraq, and criticizing President Obama for targeted assassinations and “abandoning [America’s] role as the global champion of human rights.”
It remains to be seen whether Obama, who wants to keep his hand in politics, can live up to Carter’s standard. So far, it’s not auguring well, as the following survey of Obama’s post-presidency activities reveals.
As an ex-president, it doesn’t appear that Obama will be joining union picket lines anytime soon, or marching in the streets with protesters. As president, he adopted a centrist, no-drama stance, nodding occasionally to the Democratic Party’s progressive left but planting himself squarely in the neoliberal, Wall Street–oriented faction of the party’s establishment wing.
Elected with a massive mandate in 2008, and taking office with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, Obama had an opportunity to create a New Deal–like national program on jobs and the economy in response to the financial meltdown. Instead, he limited himself to supporting bailouts for the crumbling financial sector, refusing to prosecute the Wall Street wizards whose fraud and shenanigans caused the crisis, and all but ignoring struggling homeowners whose mortgages were underwater. Amid calls for Obama to adopt an FDR-like approach to the economic crisis, the White House and the Treasury Department settled on a stimulus package far smaller than what progressives would have liked. And, even while engineering the Affordable Care Act, which enabled millions of people to secure health insurance, Obama failed to challenge the insurance industry by signaling any support for a single-payer, Medicare-for-all approach.