Why Do We Love Advising Presidents-Elect?

Everyone seems to have advice for President-elect Obama these days: physicists, economists, Willie Nelson — even Freakonomics commenters are getting in on the act.

Why are we always so eager to advise new presidents? Rarely do new congressmen, major league sports coaches, and corporate executives generate the same flood of unsolicited advice. So why are we so eager to share our ideas about how the president should govern, especially considering he might not even be able to carry them out?


You're right about congressmen and corporate executives, but you're way off on sports coaches. Turn on sports talk radio some time. The amount of unsolicited advice people want to give their teams' coaches completely dwarfs what Obama's getting.

posted by a consultant

1. Running on a platform of "Change" invites suggestions.

2. Whom do you know that thinks (s)he is not smarter than average?

3. Those fixated on one particular item (pollution, abortion, jobs, financial ruin brought on by Bush, Obama's dog choice) often believe (or hope) it to be at the top of the agenda.


President Elect Barack Obama should look into this phenomenon immediately upon taking office.


Technically, he's not the president-elect until the Electoral College convenes on Dec 15. So, all this talk about advising the president-elect is entirely premature...


I'm so glad you asked, for I know the answer.

Very simply, we all feel we have great ideas that, for one reason or another, never get a hearing outside the barber shop or coffee shop.

Oddly enough, it wasn't 10 minutes ago that I was trying to get with a very influential man in my company in order to ask him how I get my ideas heard.

I have ideas all the time (as does everyone, I imagine). Yet there is often no real place to get them heard--or at least no where that can actually put those ideas in motion.

For instance, I have a great idea on fixing Social Security. Simple, elegant, something everyone could understand, and would save us billions...but just where do I go with that where I don't just get a form letter in return?

I write to my Senators and Congressmen...and I have YET to get anything other than a boilerplate letter in return.

We are not heard. Only those with the money or connections get to places where they can be heard. That's why celebrities who may know far, far less than you or I on some matter are breathlessly brought before Congress to testify to the world...while our ideas lie dormant, becoming ever more stagnant because we don't know how to take the next step.

Give us one hour with Obama and we'll give him ideas that can transform America's future for the better.

Alas, it ain't gonna happen....


Eric M. Jones

Dear President -Elect Barack Obama,

I have absolutely no advice for you. So I hope you are not waiting for me to give you any. The only corner of the universe I can clean up is right here. I voted for you so you can try to fix some of the mess. Good luck.

Yours truly,


I agree with Ted regarding coaches. However, it's mainly the guys at the top that get all the unsolicited advice. You don't hear many people saying, "You know, what the Redskins tight ends coach really needs to do is...." No, people offer their opinion about the head coach and sometimes the offensive and defensive coordinators. Why? Because we think we know a lot about football. We mask this by offering general solutions to the guys at the top. We don't offer advice to the tight ends coach because, really, what the heck do we know about such a specialized job? It's easier to say, "Jim Zorn really needs to get Chris Cooley more involved in the red zone," than it is to say, "The position coach really needs to work with Cooley on the precision of his route running and using his body to find the open spots in the defense around the goalline." (I made all that up. I really have no idea why Cooley only has one TD this year because, well, I'm not a tight ends coach.)

Similarly, people have general ideas about running a country, foreign policy, and economic policy. Every four years, people seem to have an opinion on everything, including topics they've only read one short article about.



Everyone thinks that they are smarter than the person in power above them. Well, it doesn't get much more powerful than the President.

As Ted pointed out, we are ALWAYS trying to give sports coaches pointers.


A naive belief that we live in a democratic society?



Truth. If you don't think major league sports fans are the kings of unsolicited advice, you're not paying attention to major league sports. Much of it may not be quite as dumb as a lot of the requests people make of the President-elect, but there's definitely plenty of it.

science minded

when it comes to political economy, the lessons of history are worth knowing and some situations not worth repeating. There's too much at stake.


Due to the entire nation ruminating on this single and seemingly critical decision, people use the presidential election as a time to set their ideological axes and have greater incentive to signal where they stand to the rest of the ruminators.

Ellene Cain

I agree with Kory - this is a democracy and Barack is listening. He is soliciting our viewpoints on his website. We have a Pres-elect with a genius IQ ( according to certified records of his Stanford-Binet results -166) but with none of the social disfunction that often accompanies IQs that high. He has a healthy world view and has personally experienced both parts of the racial divide that has been a a stain on us since the founding of this counrty. Americans have a lot to say to a real leader. We finally have one.

I think the sports analogy diminishes the questions. Sports talk is a in a different category in my view.


There are not very many jobs with a lot of responsibility, a lot of publicity and the do not have obvious technical prerequsites.

We offer advice to presidents because we are under the illusion that we could do the job, at least a little. We don't offer advice to nuclear scientists or brain surgeons because we are not under that illusion.

Profession sports coaches are offered advice on the parts of the job we think we can could do. But we know so little of offensive line play or the technique of playing safety in the NFL that we don't offer that advice.

Thinks about teachers. They get tons of "advice" from people whose only knoweldege of pedagogy is that when they were young they were subject to it. But that's a job with responsibility, one that we all know about (publicity) and the youngins don't understand technical training. (Plus, there's the added bonus of adults not really trying to expand their knowledge of teaching after they leave school themselves, so still view it through their own experiences as children.)



In hope that he'll fix something, anything, that the last guy and his coterie have so royally screwed up. And that would be my advice - fix something.


We are all lobbyists for each and every cause we want or need. The problem is that money is the common denominator and those who have plenty get their views or concerns heard before others with less resources.

The only thing other than voting that would make the common man or average Joe/Jane's opinion heard is through the marketplace. We vote on a daily basis on what is important and valuable to us with the purchases we make. This is the cue that business and government should listen to and ignore all the other noise.

I think it is a human trait to give advice (solicited or not) when there is a deviation from normal. How many times have you gotten advice from others after you cough, sneeze or have a hiccup? Everyone wants to play doctor even when they can't cure themselves.

Michael From China

American dream?pie?


A follow-up to my comment above:


Guess, who Obama will listen to? Me, you or this guy?