I find myself wondering whether Bill Clinton got paid for his speech the other night to the Democratic National Convention. He earns something like $75 million per year from speaking engagements, and charges, depending on what source you believe, between $500,000 and $1 million per speech.
I suspect that the speech he gave to the DNC was a freebie, by which I mean he didn’t receive cash on the barrel-head. I don’t doubt, however, that he will figure out a way to collect $500,000 to $1 million in political favors if the speech helps accomplish its goal – the re-election of President Barack Obama.
This was a particularly long speech, some 3,150 words long, so I am going to assume that it would be worth a full $1 million on the Clinton speech market. To some that might seem like way too much money to pay an aging reprobate whose remarks on almost any subject are predictable.
An organization that wanted to hear what Clinton might say could simply pick an old speech from the collection at the Clinton Library, and have the organization’s recording secretary read it aloud to the assembled membership. It might be a nice gesture to give the recording secretary an honorarium of $50 or an ample bouquet of flowers for doing so.
But instead, organizations will dig down deep to have Clinton himself appear at their podiums. It must have something to do with aura and charisma. Everyone to his own taste.
Can any speech by Clinton really be worth $1 million? I hesitate to ask the question, because I know there are lots of free-marketers who will read this, and they will maintain – quite correctly – that the value of goods or services should be determined by the market and is worth what the market will bear.
After all, Elton John gets paid $1 million or more to perform at the weddings of perfect strangers. (I don’t know whether he offers a discount for gay weddings.) Rush Limbaugh’s latest wedding featured music performed by Sir Elton.
Suppose the roles were reversed. Suppose Bill Clinton played music at weddings, while Elton John gave speeches at universities or before meetings of foreign-policy scholars, or whatever. I am not sure Sir Elton would find any takers if he insisted on charging $1 million per speech, but it is just possible that Clinton could charge that much to play music.
Perhaps you have forgotten the fact, but Clinton plays the saxophone. Charlie Parker he’s not, but he is better than your average man on the street, especially those who have never taken sax lessons. Before he became president, he might have been able to induce passersby to toss coins into his open saxophone case by playing on street corners.
After he became president, his value as a sax player automatically went up. If Bill Clinton played sax at your wedding, especially his juiced-up version of “Heartbreak Hotel,” wouldn’t you pay him handsomely? If he said a few words as well, such as “Thank you very much,” mightn’t you be induced to write him a check for a million dollars?
Remember that wonderful Billy Wilder movie, one of the greatest movies ever, “Some Like it Hot”? At one point the Marilyn Monroe character rhapsodizes about saxophone players. She says she finds them sexually irresistible, but laments that they also tend to be cheating scoundrels. How could she have known that back then, when Clinton was still in his early teens?
Returning to that speech he gave before the DNC: At 3,150 words, and assuming an overall value of $1 million, the speech was worth about $317 per word. It doesn’t matter what the words were, or whether they were true of false, they were worth $317 apiece.
When he told this lie: “I want to nominate a man cool on the outside, but burning for America on the inside,” that alone was worth more than $5,000. Later, when he added this whopper: “One of the main reasons America should re-elect President Obama is that he is still committed to cooperation,” that was worth close to $6,000.
Maybe the Republicans should hire Clinton to speak on their behalf as well. During his DNC speech he mentioned Mitt Romney six times and Paul Ryan three times. If he were to get up on the podium at a Republican rally and point what Limbaugh calls “his bony finger” at the crowd and chant: “Romney, Romney, Romney, Romney, Romney, Romney, Ryan, Ryan, Ryan!” and then go back to his seat, that would cost the Republican National Committee less than $3,000 at $317 per word. That seems like a bargain.
But, you may ask, would Clinton actually proclaim his support for the Romney-Ryan presidential ticket at a Republican rally, or would he refuse to participate on principle?
Not to worry, skeptics. This is Bill Clinton we’re talking about. “Principle” is one $317 word that he never uses.