There’s little doubt that President Obama was a historic leader of the world’s most powerful nation. In his eight years in office, the economy was steered clear of a looming depression. His healthcare reforms are established as a totemic policy in American politics. In global affairs he looked for no new dragons to slay. He can also claim credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden, the Iran nuclear deal and the opening up of Cuba. When he reappeared in public life, after three months off, it was to encourage young people to participate in political life. Yet now it has emerged that he is to be paid $400,000 to speak at a Wall Street conference. This is a mistake. He should give the fee to charity.
What message does this send to young people? That a career in politics is a way of getting rich? Tony Blair has destroyed his reputation by chasing money. Hillary Clinton’s standing among leftwing voters was sunk by her highly-paid speeches to Goldman Sachs. Mr Obama should not allow populist critics to paint him as a pawn of moneyed interests. He doesn’t need the money: he and Michelle have a two-book deal worth $65m. Mr Obama won many of the white suburban or post-industrial counties that Mrs Clinton lost in 2016. His success rested on the symbolism of hope. Don’t tarnish it now.