Less than a year after he left the White House in 1953, Harry Truman gave a speech to the City College of New York alumni in a Manhattan hotel ballroom. I was editing their magazine at the time, and if the former president's "honorarium" had exceeded $1000 and expenses, the check would have bounced.
The memory comes back at the news in the Clinton tax returns that on one day in 2005 the former president made $475,000 for two speeches in Canada, more than double his annual salary in the White House, as part of a schedule of 352 speaking engagements that year.
The Clintons' total income of $109 million in the past eight years is a testament, pace the Obama bashers, to the value of words--from daises, in the pages of books and around corporate tables. It may be a measure of their embarrassment that the returns were released in a Friday night news dump to get as little attention as possible.
Cynics may see all this as selling out to 21st century celebrity, but we are a long way from the days after the Civil War when Gen. Robert E. Lee indignantly refused offers to write his memoirs. "I should be trading on the blood of my men," he said.
That evening in 1953, Harry Truman gave a rousing speech about the dangers of McCarthyism to academic freedom. It was worth every penny.