For sure, working at a high level in the capital brings contact with
many who exit government to rake in huge sums. It's why so few
high-ranking Senate and House members return home after retirement or
defeat. There's just too much money to be made in Washington, often as
a shameless influence peddler.
One was reminded of the larger reality in recent disclosures about
former Clinton-era aide Lanny Davis assisting unseemly clients,
including the strongman who runs Ivory Coast.
Amid all the attention, Davis withdrew from that $100,000-a-month gig.
Imagine: $100,000 a month. But the point remains. You leave government
and a significant amount of lucre, be it above-board or just plain
filthy, is there to be had.
So it's natural to labor hard in government, see what goes on a few
blocks away and feel entitled to same. People who came to town to
change the world, and fight for the working guy, wind up thinking that
a salary that would be a king's ransom to most of their constituents
is chicken feed.
It's partly because they inevitably contrast themselves not with
others in government, or cushier locales in the nonprofit world, but
with the mightiest denizens of corporate America.
Should that be the basis of comparison, even stipulating that Gibbs is
smarter than many outrageously-compensated corporate executives I have
encountered and probably labored twice as hard in an inherently
thankless, burnout task in which family life takes a back seat?
I've known elected officials, who had significant impact on laws and
regulations touching the private sector, who bristled at the sums
earned by the CEOs who lobbied them and whose firms they impacted,
sometimes helped enormously. One congressional titan even pointed with
blatant envy to the seven-figure salaries of network television
anchors who cozzied up to him.
In some cases, I could appreciate the reflex. It's probably more
pronounced amid the new private equity fortunes. Chicago mayoral
candidate Rahm Emanuel, for one, made a tidy $16 million in that
universe in just one year after leaving the Clinton administration.
So President Obama may have spoken a certain marketplace truth Monday.
Unfortunately, it's a market known to too few Americans during
historically tough times when a pink slip, or just the need for a root
canal, can bring financial crisis to homes.
One can wish Gibbs the very, very best and concede the very positive
words many have for him. But a former Chicago community organizer
might have edited himself just a bit better in suggesting that a loyal
lieutenant is a portrait in financial sacrifice.