- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2009


There’s something unseemly, at best, about Barack Obama signing a half-million dollar book deal five days before taking office as president.

As Washington Times reporters Jim McElhatton and Christina Bellantoni revealed Thursday,. Crown Publishing Group will publish a condensed version of Obama’s 1995 memoir “Dreams from My Father,” and will split the $500,000 advance with Crown, plus collect 15 percent of domestic hardcover book sales and up to 10 percent of paperback sales. He also agreed to deliver a new nonfiction book after leaving office, for an undetermined or at least undisclosed sum. Cha-ching!

Mr. Obama was following his established modus operandi in his writings. He signed a two-book deal with Crown before entering the Senate in 2005, thus avoiding Senate disclosure requirements (a slick technique pioneered by Hillary Clinton some years earlier).

We do not oppose politicians writing books, though Mr. Obama’s timing for this particular payday was awkward. Certainly it stands in contrast to former President Ulysses S. Grant who penned his memoir while living in poverty and dying of cancer, to keep his family from starving after he passed away. Mr. Obama has already reaped millions from book sales and is not hurting financially. But many Americans are currently suffering economic hardships, and the notion that we have a money-grubbing president is certain to chafe. This also comes in the wake of controversy over Rep. Charles Rangel’s unreported royalties on his ironically titled book “And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since.”

We are reminded of the controversy over Newt Gingrich’s two-book, $4 million deal with Harper Collins in 1994, after the Republican congressional electoral triumph that November. The debate over this deal led to a two-hour shouting match on the House floor in which Democrats were so vituperative that remarks from Rep. Carrie Meek (D-FL) were later stricken from the record. House rules were later modified to ban advances, but royalties are still permitted, which is something of a subterfuge since advances are against royalties anyway. Then-House Ethics Committee member Nancy Pelosi stated self-righteously that the American people “expect us to come here and not as 435 free-enterprise, profit making zones but to do the work for the people.” Speaker Pelosi was later represented by the William Morris Agency for her deal with Doubleday for her 2008 memoir “Know Your Power: A Message to America’s Daughters.” Hypocrisy?

We understand that it is impossible to untangle the nexus of politics, fame and the publishing industry. In most cases the political memoir or occasional children’ book is a harmless vanity, the kind of thing that sells (if at all) only because of the name attached to it. President Obama’s deal will not take much of his time since he will simply sign off on an abridgement of previously published material. Nice work if you can get it. Consider it his own bonus check. And while Mr. Obama’s deal is not illegal, it does tend to cheapen the office of president. We urge him to redeem himself by donating the money to a youth-oriented charity, though it would have pleased us more if he had come up with that idea himself.

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