August 11, 2012 · 0 Comments
By Matthew Stevenson:
Am I the only one who thinks the White House has descended to the level of Priceline or eBay? I can now bid for the president’s time and attention as though I were wildcatting at Teapot Dome, Wyo., or influence-peddling on a level with Mark Hanna?
On most days I get emails from the president, his wife or the reelection staff. They offer me the chance to dine with President Barack Obama, “hang” with the first lady, shoot some hoops at the White House or spend the evening with the first couple at the home of “Sex and the City” star Sarah Jessica Parker. The email invitation from Carrie Bradshaw had the suggestive subject line: “My place.” At least it didn’t say, “Mr. Big.”
On the quiet days, the only offer is a conference call with David Axelrod or dinner with George Clooney.
A recent email from Vice President Joe Biden had the subject line: “Let’s Grab Some Coffee.” As at a private school silent auction, I can bid $190 for joe with Joe.
The beauty of the Biden offering is that I am not tied to the menu. The vice president reassures me: “If you’re not a coffee drinker, that’s okay. You can order whatever you want.”
The first lady has also written to me, suggesting I join “Barack” on his bus tour around the Midwest. “The girls and I miss Barack when we’re not on the road with him,” she added, “But I know he’s looking forward to hanging out with you — so I’ll let you take my seat this time.” Apparently, “hanging” is a White House preoccupation.
She also invited me to the president’s birthday bash: “Barack turns 51 next month, and there will be a little celebration at our house in Chicago. We’d like to give grass-roots supporters an opportunity to join in the fun. You guys deserve it, and I know Barack would personally love to see you there.” When I didn’t respond, Biden invited me. They don’t give up.
I started receiving email messages from the president once he entered the White House. They brought me up to date on affairs of state. These bulletins seemed at first like an attempt at online democracy — a megabyte agora. Only later did they start to sound like those Reader’s Digest mailers: “You may already have won an all-expenses-paid trip to Martha’s Vineyard …”
When the emails started arriving daily — like those I get from car rental companies — I began to wonder if it would be unpatriotic to consign the president to my junk file. Would the Department of Homeland Security or the Secret Service take it poorly?
At the same time, what is presidential about the leader of the free world putting himself up for bid at auction?
Normally a president cannot be bought for $190 — unless some zeroes are added to the number. President Warren Harding’s raffle tickets had to include generous oil and gas concessions out West. To seal his stolen election, Rutherford B. Hayes agreed to end federal occupation and Reconstruction in the South.
The Obama campaign justifies putting the president out for tender because the GOP is shaking the trees of the Citizen United decision so the White House can become yet another Romney vacation home — albeit one without jet skis. In any case, it was President Bill Clinton who first offered up White House time shares in the Lincoln Bedroom.
If the goal is to raise a billion dollars to defeat the Republican octopus, why is the Obama team reduced to selling $190 bus tickets — as though the presidency were Bolt?
To restore America to greatness, perhaps the presidency needs to be converted from a lottery into something more dignified — like a hedge fund or limited partnership. I am sure Goldman Sachs can handle the fine print of the constitutional amendment/prospectus. The investment banking industry, as in past, could underwrite the presidential offerings.
Shares in Obama Capital or the Romney Global Opportunity Fund could be sold to Wall Street banks, insurance companies, arms manufacturers, large law firms and wealthy investors, who at the moment have to invest in the presidency over-the-counter. An index — a cross between the Dow Jones and RealClear polling averages — could be created to track presidential performance.
Such benchmarking would allow political broadcasters to report with greater precision on the pulse of the nation. For example: “Shares in the Obama Limited Partnership returned 4 percent for the quarter ended June 30, 2012. Health care positions, in particular, appreciated following the 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court. Performance, however, suffered as the fund’s real estate mortgage portfolio remains a drag on earnings.”
With such tracking figures in hand, every four years the presidency could be awarded to the fund manager with the best returns over the 24 months preceding the election. The problem with the current system is that it is unregulated. Investors are forced to gamble millions on such nonperforming assets as Newt Gingrich or John McCain.
In a country suffering from high unemployment, trade and budget deficits and unfunded debt obligations, doesn’t it make the most sense to award the presidency to the candidate who can deliver limited partners and insiders the highest returns?
Matthew Stevenson, a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine, is the author of “Remembering the Twentieth Century Limited,” a collection of historical travel essays. His next book is “Whistle-Stopping America.”