Among yesterday’s news stories was speculation that Newt Gingrich might make a run for the White House in 2008. The reporter — I forget who it was — opened her report by saying that "There might be another contender in the Presidential sweepstakes." I realized, when listening to this report, that the term "presidential sweepstakes" is quite common.
"Presidential Sweepstakes" — a curious term, as I reflect upon it, but surprisingly accurate.
Contrary to the myth that the elected Chief of the executive branch of the national government in the United States is a public servant, this official — "the President" — is much more like the winner of a sweepstakes. The odds at the beginning of each election cycle for anyone but a first-term incumbent President to win election to that exalted office are small. But the pay-off from winning the sweepstakes is huge — lots of prestige; a nice, fully staffed house; a nice big airplane; bodyguards for life; enormous demand for your services (such as they might be) when you are no longer in office; your name in the history books; rock-star-like fame; and torrents of influence and power.
Does anyone in the world really think that being President of the United States is a sacrifice, sort of like being President of the East Alabama Old Car Club?
I doubt it. U.S. presidential elections are the world’s grandest sweepstakes, with one enormously lucky winner every four years. And just as each person who enters the Publishers’ Clearinghouse Sweepstakes does so because he or she hopes to win incredible personal benefits, so, too, with Presidential candidates: they’re in it overwhelmingly for themselves, not for the welfare of the rest of us.