For a former President who has promised to devote his retirement to helping veterans, Mr. Bush’s decision to charge $100,000 to deliver a speech to Helping a Hero charity and an additional $20,000 for a private jet is truly alarming.
Another example of former politicians profiting while nominally “serving the people.”
President Barack Obama when asked if he would follow the example set by his predecessor and refrain from criticizing the policies of his successor responded: “…if there are issues that…go to core questions about our values and ideals, and if I think that it’s necessary or helpful for me to defend those ideals, I’ll examine it when it comes.” President George W. Bush and the self-imposed obscurity that he has chosen since his presidency ended has been praised as the ideal for which a former president ought to strive.
Mr. Bush has suggested that his withdrawal from public affairs in his retirement was inspired by his readings on George Washington, who, at the end of his time as commander-in-chief, rode away to Mount Vernon and refrained from interjecting himself into matters of government. Similarly, Harry Truman was known to keep a statue of a plow on his desk in recognition of his hero, the Roman general Cincinnatus, who relinquished governing power in favor of returning to his farm and plough.
Although the aspects of Mr. Bush’s retirement most frequently chronicled by the media have been his new hobby of painting and his work routines on his ranch, like former President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Clinton, Mr. Bush has notably supplemented his income with paid speeches. This was, of course, a significant issue for Hillary Clinton’s campaign when she was criticized for charging large sums of money to speak at corporations and financial institutions in what some construed as payment for preferential treatment by the State Department.
However, an eyebrow-raising event in Mr. Bush’s supposedly quiet and uneventful retirement was his July 2015 decision to charge $100,000 to deliver a speech to Helping a Hero charity, an organization that aims to provide aid to soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also required a payment of $20,000 to cover his transportation to Houston in a private aircraft. Mr. Bush’s spokesman has stated that the former President “has made helping veterans one of his highest priorities in his post presidency.” However, this help to veterans comes at a cost.
One former marine who works for the organization and who lost both of his hands as a result of combat in Iraq criticized Mr. Bush’s decision to charge a fee to speak: “For him to be paid to raise money for veterans that were wounded in combat under his orders, I don’t think that’s right.”
Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted during the summer of 2015 a condemnation of President Bush’s speaking fees: “Jeb’s brother George insisted on a $100,000 fee and $20,000 for a private jet to speak at a charity for severely wounded vets…”
Many argue that there is nothing fundamentally improper with politicians and former politicians enriching themselves through legal means so long as their private economic interests align with the public interest, or in this case, benefit a charity with a worthwhile mission. In fairness, the organization more than doubled its revenue the year Mr. Bush spoke as compared to the previous year in which he did not. But all the same, there is a troubling irony in that a President sends his troops into combat and then asks them for money to speak to them. However, for many, politicians becoming wealthy while supposedly acting as or having been “public servants” causes a visceral repugnance. In this case, there is something particularly disturbing about Mr. Bush’s actions given that he had sent these servicemen and women into combat and then, while claiming to be devoting his retirement to serving these veterans, charges six figure sums of money to deliver remarks.
When you have served as President, as tempting as this image of Cincinnatus might be and returning entirely to the responsibilities one has as a private citizen alone, an ex-president always remains a steward of the public’s trust and ought to be a role model upon which all Americans might look to for guidance. Particularly tangible examples of an ex-President’s stately duties in retirement might include his holding office in his Presidential Library, authoring books, and continuing to appear at major events both internationally and domestically as a sign of the unity enjoyed between the past and present leaders of the nation. In the case of Mr. Bush, he notably authored a biography of his father 41: A Portrait of My Father and was involved in his brother, Jeb’s, 2016 Presidential Campaign.
Although legal and done all too frequently, that anyone who has held the office of President United States ought to be too dignified to enter into an arrangement where a former commander-in-chief is being compensated lavishly for working on behalf of the American troops he once commanded and thrust into danger in the interests of our country.
Staff in concert with Lucas Elek. Mr. Elek is an undergraduate majoring in political science at Williams College. He worked this past summer on Katie McGinty’s senatorial campaign.