The Washington Post writes about the public speaking racket:
On his last day as secretary of defense, Robert M. Gates received the vaunted Medal of Freedom from President Obama.
Less than a week later, he received another coveted prize: the keynote speaker gig at the annual National Grocers Association convention in Las Vegas.
In official Washington, there is an afterlife, and it’s a crowded, cacophonous place. Called the public speaking circuit, this D.C. Elysium is bound by the same transactional laws as the realm that preceded it. But instead of political parties, it is governed by speakers bureaus that promise visibility to those who sign up. In the past 30 years, a proliferation of bureaus has promoted, booked and enriched former lawmakers, candidates, consultants, Cabinet members, political reporters and gadflies.
“Let’s say you are secretary of something — there are two ways you are going to make a really good living: a lobbyist or a speaker, or a combination of the two,” said James Carville, the political consultant and a client of the Washington Speakers Bureau, the agency that represents Gates.
In Washington, said Carville, who has given about 3,000 speeches over the past 20 years, relevance is currency, and the speaking circuit “keeps you in.”
I really don't get the public speaking business, even though I've been wondering about it for years. I've seen James Carville enough for free on television for one lifetime. The guy looks like he's just burst out of John Hurt's abdominal cavity (see video). As for Robert Gates, yes, I could well imagine paying him a load of money to give a speech if I were the Emir of Kuwait or somebody like that, to encourage the others, but if I were in the grocery business?
I could see wanting to go to a talk by some reclusive personality who is never on television, but, of course, the opposite is true: everybody wants to crowd into a giant hotel ballroom to see -- in person! -- some guy they've seen on CNBC a hundred times. It's like how baseball franchises used to worry that if they put their games on TV, nobody would pay to go to the old ballpark anymore; but when the Cubs put all their home games on TV, it turned out that everybody then wanted to pay to go to Wrigley Field because they'd seen it on TV.
If something's not on TV, it's not really real. Fortunately, we now have hundred if not thousands of TV channels.
From the speaker's perspective, flying around the country giving speeches seems like it would get old pretty fast. Is Obama going to be happy doing this for several decades? For Obama, the worst case scenario is that he fails of re-election, then spends decades flying around the world first class giving speeches. His best case scenario is that he gets re-elected and then spends decades flying around the world in his own Boeing Dreamliner giving speeches. No wonder he seems kind of moody lately...