What Does the President Have Against Sin City?

Obama’s recent remarks about Las Vegas have been approached as just another gaffe, a throwaway line that could have the unintentional result of driving business away from the economically beleaguered state of Nevada. But there may be deeper implications hidden in his words.


First, here’s what Obama said, in context:

Responsible families don’t do their budgets the way the federal government does. Right? When times are tough, you tighten your belts. You don’t go buying a boat when you can barely pay your mortgage. You don’t blow a bunch of cash on Vegas when you’re trying to save for college. You prioritize. You make tough choices. It’s time your government did the same.

After the furor of criticism, Obama apologized, writing a letter to Harry Reid:

I wasn’t saying anything negative about Las Vegas. I was making the simple point that families use vacation dollars, not college tuition money, to have fun. There is no place better to have fun than Vegas, one of our country’s great destinations.

But it’s not as though Obama can plead ignorance. He has dissed Las Vegas before, and gotten a great deal of negative publicity for it. Surely that must have made an impression on him. Nor can he say his recent remarks about Las Vegas were off-the-cuff; they were carefully prepared and vetted by him in a speech. So why did he repeat the error?

We can dismiss Obama’s claim that he said nothing negative about the city. Although that is technically true — his words were about vacationing itself, using Vegas as an example — he must know that discouraging people from blowing their money in Las Vegas is discouraging people from going to Vegas itself, and that one of the biggest draws there is gambling.


Vegas is a city, but it’s hardly a typical city; gambling and the resultant tourism are its raison d’etre and the driving force behind its economy. Discouraging people from going there has negative repercussions for the financial health of the city of Las Vegas and the state of Nevada.

If Obama didn’t know that originally, he had to have learned it after his previous remarks. So we are left with the conclusion that  (a) he is abysmally forgetful; (b) he is abysmally stupid; or (c) something keeps driving him to criticize Vegas. Or perhaps some combination of all three.

My guess is that it’s mostly (c), and that this has the side effect of making him seem forgetful and perhaps even stupid on this topic. I believe that what is driving him so forcefully is his desire to be a preacher/teacher to the great American unwashed, a superior moralizer who likes to lecture inferior others on what they should do with their money.

This, of course, has little to do with what the federal government does with its money (which so far, especially under Obama, and despite his remarks about priorities and tough choices, is to spend and gamble away our children’s future), or what personal extravagance the Obamas have shown in the White House (quite a bit). Frugality is for the little people, the ones who fail to do simple things like keeping their tires properly inflated and using those vile energy-saving bulbs.


You know, those bitter clingers and the rednecks who are so stupid as to blow money in places like Vegas when they need it for bigger and better things. The folks who might even value their personal freedom to do whatever they choose to — including gamble, if they happen to feel like it — without sourpuss preacherman Obama spoiling their fun. Las Vegas seems to be a symbol to Obama, a sort of secular Sodom and Gomorrah rolled into one, and he just can’t resist using it as an example of what not to do and where not to go.

But there’s an even deeper problem behind what Obama is saying here: his ignorance of the way economics actually works, or even the way Vegas works. It might indeed be a much better choice for an individual who is struggling to pay college tuition to stay away from Vegas, and especially from gambling. Or he/she might actually be taking advantage of some of the amazing deals there. The last time I looked (and granted, that was a long time ago; I must confess right here and now that Vegas is not my idea of a fun vacation), there were reductions on hotels and food in order to pull in the gamblers. But if you could resist the lure of the tables and the slot machines you could have a pretty nifty and even economical stay.

But the more important point is that the economy of Las Vegas and Nevada depend to a large extent on tourism, and to discourage that activity it is to economically depress the state further. And anything that depresses one state depresses the country as a whole.


Obama’s remarks could also be construed as discouraging vacationing and tourism in general. There are more states than Nevada that depend heavily on that sort of thing — Vermont, for one, and perhaps even his home state of Hawaii, a rather expensive place to visit.

No city (or state) is an island entire of itself, even if it happens to consist of islands, like Hawaii. Each state is part of our economy, which is a complex and interrelated system. If President Obama doesn’t know that already, he ought to start learning very fast.


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