Former President Barack Obama’s speaking fees have become a flashpoint in the debate over the future of the Democratic Party.
Obama remains enormously popular on the left, but he has nonetheless come under fire from progressives who are angered by his decision to accept $400,000 from financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald for a speech at a healthcare conference in September.
The issue has renewed tensions between liberals and mainstream Democrats that emerged during the bitter 2016 primary contest between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who campaigned hard against the influence of money in politics.
Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have both registered their disappointment with Obama, showing that not even the most revered Democrat in the country can escape the populist wrath.
Mainstream Democrats are frustrated by the criticism, arguing that Obama is now a private citizen who should be free to pursue new opportunities. They say the left is increasingly holding liberal politicians to an unreasonable standard that divides the party and distracts from the work of opposing President Trump’s agenda.
Progressives say that Democrats are again missing the lessons they should have learned in 2016.
Nina Turner, a former Sanders surrogate, said that it’s time Democrats wrestle with Obama’s legacy, which includes Wall Street executives in top advisory roles and a sharp rise in income inequality.
Turner said that money in politics will be a bellwether issue for liberal candidates in 2018 and beyond as emboldened progressives look to build on Sanders’s insurgent campaign.
“President Obama may not be in politics anymore, but he’s very much a symbol of what Democrats stand for, and so people are disappointed by this,” Turner said.
“It’s not the right synergy for the former Democratic president to be taking money from the enemy. Americans believe that the more money you have, the more access you get, and now our beloved president is proving them right. Progressives want something to be done about this, about Citizens United, and we will absolutely judge our candidates on these issues.”
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SOURCE: JONATHAN EASLEY