Malcolm Gladwell Helps Obama Plan His $1 Billion Retirement
Print Friendly and PDF

From the New York Times,

With High-Profile Help, Obama Plots Life After Presidency By MICHAEL D. SHEAR and GARDINER HARRIS AUG. 16, 2015

President Obama, at the White House in June, is privately mapping out a postpresidential infrastructure that could cost as much as $1 billion.

WASHINGTON — The dinner in the private upstairs dining room of the White House went so late that Reid Hoffman, the LinkedIn billionaire, finally suggested around midnight that President Obama might like to go to bed.

“Feel free to kick us out,” Mr. Hoffman recalled telling the president.

But Mr. Obama was just getting started. “I’ll kick you out when it’s time,” he replied. He then lingered with his wife, Michelle, and their 13 guests — among them the novelist Toni Morrison, the hedge fund manager Marc Lasry and the Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr — well past 2 a.m.

Mr. Obama “seemed incredibly relaxed,” said another guest, the writer Malcolm Gladwell. He recalled how the group, which also included the actress Eva Longoria and Vinod Khosla, a founder of Sun Microsystems, tossed out ideas about what Mr. Obama should do after he leaves the White House.

“Where we’ll end up, I don’t know yet,” said Marty Nesbitt, the president’s longtime Chicago friend who is leading an extensive planning effort for Mr. Obama’s library and an anticipated global foundation. …

The long-running dinner this past February is part of a methodical effort taking place inside and outside the White House as the president, first lady and a cadre of top aides map out a postpresidential infrastructure and endowment they estimate could cost as much as $1 billion. The president’s aides did not ask any of the guests for library contributions after the dinner, but a number of those at the table could be donors in the future.

The $1 billion — double what George W. Bush raised for his library and its various programs — would be used for what one adviser called a “digital-first” presidential library loaded with modern technologies, and to establish a foundation with a worldwide reach.

Supporters have urged Mr. Obama to avoid the mistake made by Bill Clinton, whose associates raised just enough money to build his library in Little Rock, Ark., forcing Mr. Clinton to pursue high-dollar donors for years to come.

Including construction costs, Mr. Obama’s associates set a goal of raising at least $800 million — enough money, they say, to avoid never-ending fund-raising. One top adviser said that $800 million was a floor rather than a ceiling. …

The real push for donations, foundation officials said, will come after Mr. Obama leaves the White House.

Shailagh Murray, a senior adviser, oversees an effort inside the White House to keep attention on Mr. Obama’s future and to ensure that his final 17 months in office, barring crises, serve as a glide path to his life as an ex-president. Mr. Obama’s recent visit to a federal prison indicates, advisers say, a likely emphasis on criminal justice reform after he leaves office. His eulogy for one of nine African-Americans killed at a church in Charleston, S.C., is a forerunner, they say, of a focus on race relations. Diplomacy with Iran and Cuba could serve as the foundation for foreign policy work.

“His focus is on finishing this job completely, thoroughly,” said Valerie Jarrett, one of Mr. Obama’s closest confidantes inside the White House. …

The heart of the postpresidential planning is Mr. Obama’s own outreach to eclectic, often extraordinarily rich groups of people. Several aides close to Mr. Obama said his extended conversations over the lengthy dinners — guests say his drink of choice at the gatherings is an extra-dry Grey Goose martini …

The process started as early as the week after Mr. Obama’s re-election in 2012, when the director Steven Spielberg and the actor Daniel Day-Lewis went to a White House screening of the movie “Lincoln.” Mr. Spielberg held the president spellbound, guests said, when he spoke about the use of technology to tell stories. Mr. Obama has continued those conversations, most recently with Mr. Spielberg and the studio executive Jeffrey Katzenberg over dinner at a Beverly Hills hotel in California in June, according to some of Mr. Obama’s close advisers.

The advisers said Mr. Spielberg was focused on helping to develop a “narrative” for Mr. Obama in the years after he leaves office. …

Dinner guests say that postpresidency planning is a big topic of conversation but not the only one. “He loves those sessions,” a top adviser said. “They’re very nourishing to him.” …

The Chicago library will include an office for the president, but aides said the Obamas could live in Washington while Sasha, 14, their younger daughter, finished high school here. Several said Mr. Obama, who graduated from Columbia University in 1983, may also have a New York office on Columbia’s campus.

My prediction: The Obamas will buy a Manhattan penthouse overlooking Central Park on the west end of Central Park North, so they can claim to live in Harlem but basically live on the Upper West Side.

Or at least that’s what I bet Barack wants to do. Michelle, I don’t know. There are a lot of tensions there, such as Jodi Kantor’s 2012 revelation of Michelle’s passive-aggression snit in reaction to Barack’s 2008 victory, which was to tell him to go bach it in the White House and she and the girls would stay in Chicago until the school year is done.

… One top aide said Mr. Obama respected Mr. Bush’s decision to limit his time in public after leaving office, but also admired Mr. Clinton’s aggressive use of the spotlight to press his agenda. …

In their conversations with Mr. Obama and his advisers, people from Silicon Valley and Hollywood are pressing for a heavy reliance on cutting-edge technology in the library that would help spread the story of Mr. Obama’s presidency across the globe. Ideally, one adviser said, a person in Kenya could put on a pair of virtual reality goggles and be transported to Mr. Obama’s 2008 speech on race in Philadelphia.


In an interview on the website Tumblr last year, Mr. Obama was asked what he expected to be doing in 10 years. The president took more than 30 seconds to respond, in a manner that suggested he had not yet settled on a good answer.

Playing golf.

Clinton, Vernon Jordan, Ron Kirk, Obama at Farm Neck in Oaks Bluff on Martha’s Vineyard this weekend

How’s that for an answer?

Okay, and giving speeches and signing copies of his third and fourth memoirs.

For a longer answer, Barack might point out that he hasn’t got caught cheating with an intern so he hasn’t had to agree to facilitate an aggrieved wife’s long-term plan for world domination like Bill Clinton had to.

Commenter Dave Pinsen sums up this article better than I did:

It’s as if Obama’s supporters have come to the same conclusion you have about Obama being sort of low energy and antisocial, and but they realize it would be somewhat embarrassing for all concerned if the first black president spent his retirement doing just enough buck-raking to keep playing golf with Alonzo Mourning, instead of spending the rest of his life as a moral authority on black issues. How would it look after Jimmy Carter had spent his post-presidency building houses for black people until he was wracked with cancer at 90, while Obama split his time between six figure speeches and golf?

But raising hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate donations, and leading a global conference every year, like Bill Clinton has a blast doing with his Clinton Global Initiative, would be too tiring for Barack. So let’s raise all the money for him in one big lump sum, and then use our Silicon Valley & Hollywood know-how to build an animatronic Obama that can impart important lessons like Honest Abe while Obama’s golfing on Martha’s Vineyard, or one of Trump’s golf courses.

But you make “low energy and antisocial” sound like a bad thing. In contrast, I prefer to think of these traits in myself as proof of my Presidential timberhood.


[Comment at]

Print Friendly and PDF