Sweepstates

by Don Boudreaux on September 26, 2007

in Politics

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.

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{ 18 comments }

John Smith September 26, 2007 at 1:59 pm

‘Winning the U.S. presidential elections is like winning the world's grandest sweepstakes, the pay-off is huge.’

hummmmmm…..

Actually I have always wondered what personality types would want the Presidents job? I understand the position holds tremendous power, prestige, influence, notoriety, control and many other nice perks….. but I’m not sure…..their are the downsides……

How many days in a year is one required to work with the Presidents job?

After my 4 years are up do I have to get a “real job”?

M. Hodak September 26, 2007 at 2:28 pm

John,

You apparently don't work in the guru business. Fame can be monetized in many, many ways. Remember all those legal costs the that nearly bankrupted the Clintons when he was on a measly President's salary? Slick Willy has never looked back. At $150K per speech, his talk is no longer cheap.

shawn September 26, 2007 at 3:31 pm

…kinda like all that prestige that comes with being the president of an economics department?

tom September 26, 2007 at 3:59 pm

Don's comments are interesting. Everyone knows that there are tremendous benefits personally from becoming president, but when a reporter asks a candidate, "Why do you want to become president", the answer always has to do with what he or she what to do for the American people.

Wouldn't it be interesting for a candidate to say, "I want to become president because … 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."

Al September 26, 2007 at 5:30 pm

Are you all saying that if you were offered the job of President- you'd actually TAKE it?

I'm afraid this is just crazy talk.

Bret September 26, 2007 at 5:48 pm

It's one of the most dangerous jobs in the nation. 43 presidents, 4 of which were murdered, 4 more died in office, one more almost murdered, 2 impeached.

Not my kind of job, but I'm sure that many are willing to take those risks.

Nasikabatrachus September 26, 2007 at 6:46 pm

[...] 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.

Plus, on saturdays you get to play Halo 3 in the War Room.

Ampersand September 26, 2007 at 8:41 pm

"Are you all saying that if you were offered the job of President- you'd actually TAKE it?"

It's an interesting thing to think about. My initial reaction was hell no, would I really want to go through what Bush/Clinton/any Prez goes through?

But then imagine living the rest of your life, and seeing all the bad, tragic decisions that get made by Presidents, and knowing you could've, just maybe, changed the world a little for the better. I would always wonder what the planes, the trips, the prestige would've been like…sign me up.

Simon Clark September 26, 2007 at 9:47 pm

What if we required all our elected officials who hold high office to give up the vast majority of their wealth and live on only a modest stipend? Would removing the economic insentive (and actually adding a disinsentive) improve the quality of officials? There would be more room for genuine do-gooders but then a do-gooder can often do great harm and there would also be more room for people merely wanting fame (reality TV contestants?) and power (tyrants?)…

EM September 26, 2007 at 11:31 pm

Simon, I highly doubt that would make things significantly better. As it stands, the ones who are able to run for office are already fairly rich. The best thing, actually, would be to increase the president's salary by a lot. If you want a top-quality CEO, you offer more money. The same holds true for government office.

EM September 26, 2007 at 11:33 pm

Scratch that second sentence; you said take away their wealth. That said, the fame- and power-seekers are still problems

colson September 27, 2007 at 12:06 am

Wait, are we talking about being president or being a rapper?

shawn September 27, 2007 at 8:21 am

…and…"sweepstates"….I LOVE it.

JamesH September 27, 2007 at 2:37 pm

EM wrote:

As it stands, the ones who are able to run for office are already fairly rich.

Usually, yes, but in fact Clinton wasn't. And Carter was well off through his business activity, but was middle class compared to the Bushes.

I think the most intriguing issue that's not quite mentioned here is, as some have noted, that when asked why they want to be President, candidates talk about what they're going to do for America.

When I teach U.S. Gov't and U.S. Presidency, I always point this out to my students, then have them look at the real responsibilities of the presidency, which are almost wholly in foreign affairs, rather than domestic. I'd like to see a candidate say, "I don't give a crap what legislation Congress passes, I'm going to be focused on foreign affairs." That was, in fact, the Nixon model (although of course he couldn't say it out loud).

Al September 27, 2007 at 4:06 pm

Ampersand,

I don't doubt that you'd make some good calls, and perhaps some bad calls as well. If making the world a little better of is the goal, though, I think you'd get a much better bang for your buck by inventing something that helps people. You'd probably have much more luck at it that I would- I don't have a knack for that kind of thing . . .

Still- if someone actually offered Don the presidency for fou year, would he take it? Revealed preferences and all that . .

tlholaday September 27, 2007 at 7:37 pm

I can see why someone obsessed with ad hominem argument would be highly concerned with a candidate's motivation, but what difference does it make to clear thinkers?

What a President does during his or her term will be beneficial or detrimental regardless of whether the office was sought for glory or from a Socratic fear that "if the better abstain, the worse will rule."

Is the essayist ignorant of the post-Presidential careers of Truman, Hoover, Coolidge, Johnson, and Nixon? Does he seriously assert that Edwards and Paul are candidates because they yearn for pension benefits? What rubbish.

lowcountryjoe September 28, 2007 at 6:29 am

True story and somewhat off-topic.

I took the opportunity to see Newt Gingrich (and some others) kick off his Solutions for America program which, for me, was moderately disappointing because of the large amount of populist drivel that was being pushed — the largest applause lines were rhetoric concerning getting tough on illegal immigrants and allowing the teaching of God back in public schools while shrinking the size and scope of federal government and sociial security choice options garnered much less in comparison. This was in Atlanta, by the way.

Anyhow, just toward the tail end of the event, as Newt appeared as though his was wrapping up his speech, some guy from the audience in a suit (with clipboard and pen) stands up and says something that I couldn't quite hear. The gentelman repeats himself as the rest of the audience wonders just what in hell he's doing: "Mr. Speaker, will you be taking questions?". Newt, appearing not to have rehearsed this, basically tells the guy that, no, he's not going to be taking questions and that he's almost done with his speech. And then Newt says to the guy, after a short pause, "But I am going to be doing a book signing after the event, in the lobby, and you can catch up with me there."

I think that the guy was a plant, myself. I find myself suseptable to certain conspiracy theories whenever and wherever marketing is involved (and also at Vegas-style shows when weird 'random' events seem to happen with audience members being incorporated into the act somehow.

Will Newt run? I don't think so; he seems commited to bringing ordinary Democrats and ordinary Republicans (and everyone else, for that matter) to the table to propose solutions to America's biggest problems. I just have this feeling that the 'solutions' that people will come up with will rarely include allowing markets to facilitate optimal results.

But, if Newt does run, this would be one heck of a marketing gimmick to have kicked off a campaign with.

By the way, Don, I dig the play on words of the title. Of course it would actually have been even more funny if the ninth and tenth amendments of the Bill of Rights hadn't been killed off and burried long ago in our precious United State [no, I did not forget an 's'] of America.

Randy September 28, 2007 at 10:11 am

I'd be the first president to leave office looking younger than when I started. I'd only work a couple of weeks every year, just long enough to veto all spending bills and force continuing resolutions.

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