There are a few worn phrases I could use to start this post:

“There’s a sucker born every minute.”

“Some people have so much money they don’t know what to do with it.”

“He took the money and ran.”

They all work, individually and collectively: the former top civil servant of the United States holds court before an audience of 12,000 or so in Montreal. He cracks a few jokes, offers his views on the current human condition, and an hour later is collecting his loot.

The event was organized by the Montreal Chamber of Commerce. I have no idea if they made enough from ticket sales to pay Barack Obama’s speaking fee. Admission was up to $400 a seat, I’m told, though at least a few thousand were free.

So, what exactly did he talk about? Writes Jesse Feith of the Montreal Gazette in a review of the event:

“Whether speaking about climate change, the economy, the state of online discourse or the state of democracy at large, Obama often tied the conversation back into today’s youth and the future that awaits them.”

He is inspired by the younger generation, he says, particularly Greta Thunberg for galvanizing young people on the climate change issue.

And Barack ended on an upbeat, if not vague, note with comments about facing the “enormous challenges” ahead: “We have solved big problems in the past. … The question then becomes what can each of us do to continue pushing that boulder up the hill and further the causes we believe in.”

The old boulder line . . .

He is certainly no messiah or original sage, apparently.

It’s doubtful any in attendance came away any more enlightened on issues. Yes, we’ve all heard about climate change. It’s trending.

But those in attendance probably weren’t there to really listen to what he had to say. It was more likely a love-in for members of the Quebec business community and others, including 2,000 students who got in free. They were all there to be in the presence of Barack Obama, to hear the voice of a man they considered to be a great president. And for later bragging rights.

Yes, I am being somewhat cynical about former presidents and their speaking tours. I’m not sure ticket buyers are getting real value for their money. I don’t see Obama as a con man. He’s honestly speaking his mind, and the people love his vibe.

But he’s not exactly galvanizing people the way his young hero is in these desperate times.

He’s not leading 500,000 people through the streets of Montreal in a climate protest demonstration the way Greta did. No tickets required. All welcome.

Yet he could do it, if he wanted to. He could probably lead millions still.

Hence the juxtoposition: Barack pushing his boulder up the hill with ticketholders cheering him on, Greta sailing to America to lead millions freely through the streets.

And Venice is sinking, anyway.


— Jillian