Marine Le Pen, the “far right” candidate who came close to Emmanuel Macron, the “centrist” one, in the first round of the French election said she wants to be “president of all the French.” In America, Biden similarly promised to be “president for all Americans,” but failed. Trump, more realistically (it did not happen often), promised to be the president of half the Americans. It is indeed impossible to be the president of all in America or France given what is now understood to be the job.

This can be seen with a simple model. Imagine a country where half the voters (plus or minus one) love wine and hate beer; and where the other half (plus or minus one) love beer and hate wine. Call that country “Syldavia” as in the adventures of Tintin (Hergé, Le sceptre d’Ottokar [Casterman, 1947], translated as King Ottokar’s Sceptre). We can also imagine that the voters in each group hide or supplement their tastes with strongly held values: the wine lovers strongly feel that wine production on family farms, being more labor intensive, creates more jobs; the beer lovers strongly favor the “good union jobs” in the beer industry.

Presidential candidate B (slogan: “Make Syldavian Beer Great!”) promises to ban wine and divert to beer all the resources currently devoted to wine production. At the opposite end of the political spectrum (who said voters had no choice?), candidate W (slogan: “Make Syldavian Wine Greater Still!”) promises to ban beer and divert to wine production all resources used in beer. As we say in French, “to govern is to choose” (gouverner, c’est choisir). Clearly, however, neither B nor W will be the “president of all Syldavians.”

Compromises can be imagined, including replacing beer and wine production by a single mixture made of X% wine and [100-X]% beer. But all voters would probably hate it and the compromise would make each of the candidates the president of zero Syldavian.

Assuming no “externality”—that is, no Syldavian is made miserable by the mere thought of somebody else drinking beer or wine—there is only one way for a candidate to be “the president of all Syldavians”: it is to let each and every Syldavian produce and drink whatever he wants; it is for the government to discriminate against no one. The model neglects a few other complications, but the general result seems unimpeachable.

The reader interested in more weighty complications should consider James Buchanan’s theories. My review articles at Econlib, “The State is Us (Perhaps), But Beware of It!” and “Lessons and Challenges in The Limits of Liberty,” may be helpful introductions.