All the President's toys

Every career has its perks - some rather more than others. Whoever wins on Tuesday will enjoy the finest freebies on the planet. John Walsh takes a look at the victor's spoils
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The Independent US

The house

The house

The President's top perk is the free home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC, better known as the White House. It was built in 1792, and George Washington himself helped choose the site for the residence, though he never lived in it. James Hoban, an Irish-American architect, modelled the design on Leinster House, the Dublin palace that now houses the Irish parliament. The White House is enormous, but much of it is underground. There are 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, eight staircases and three lifts. The president can unwind on the jogging track or tennis court, or in the bowling alley, billiard room, cinema or swimming pool - though since the days of Nixon, the pool has been covered over and is now used as the press centre, home of the daily lectern briefings you see on TV. You get to use the "furniture and other effects" - that is, any bits that weren't nicked by Hillary Clinton. The president also gets to walk importantly through busy corridors attended by a phalanx of advisers and chiefs of staff, just like Martin Sheen in " The West Wing". The staff of 100-plus includes florists, groundsmen and your own private doctor.

The uniform

As de facto commander-in-chief of the armed forces, you get to wear a USAF flight uniform without ever having flown a plane. On top of that, you stand a good chance of becoming a Freemason. And you will become an object of erotic fascination thousands of government employees, including a few hundred young female interns.

The library

Outgoing presidents can bask in the certainty that they will enjoy free mail for life and free office space, and will be given a staff budget for whatever they choose to do next. More specifically, they will be given ex gratia funds to establish their very own presidential library.

The motor

President William Taft led the way by converting the White House stables into a car garage in 1909. Since then, every President has confirmed the awesome majesty of his calling by riding around in a mile-long black limousine. Often it's an armour-plated Cadillac with bullet-proof windows and tyres. It's even got its own ventilation system, in case of chemical attack.

The chopper

For shorter flights, the leader of the Free World can whizz around in one of his two Bell UH-13-J helicopters. Whichever one he travels in is called "Marine One".

The bunkers

Fans of "Dr Strangelove" will remember the scene in which Peter Sellers, playing the President, discovers two of his generals beating the hell out of each other and shouts: "You can't fight in here - this is the War Room!" The modern equivalent, now called the Situation Room, is in the basement of the West Wing of the White House, and is equipped with the most advanced communications equipment in the world: panels in the walls hide huge video screens, electronic maps, satellite tracking devices and clocks showing the time in whichever theatre of conflict is currently under inspection. And there's always a duty officer making notes of every word exchanged by the President and other world leaders. The Situation Room isn't the same as the bunker to which George W Bush fled on September 11. That's the "Presidential Emergency Operations Centre", under the East Wing. Allegedly, it is nuclear-blast proof.

The plane

For trips to foreign countries and in-transit meetings with world leaders, the President has a dozen planes at his disposal; whichever one he's in is called Air Force One. But the two most often identified as the head honcho's jet are identical, super-fitted Boeing 747-200Bs. Both powder-blue-and-white planes are handsomely modified: they've each got 4,000sq feet of interior floor space, with a wood-panelled conference room, a dining-room that can seat 50 people (the food's mostly tex-mex these days), a bedroom suite with shower for the President and First Lady, a staff office, 87 telephones - there's even a designated space for house-trained members of the media. A crew of 26 looks after up to 76 passengers, who can watch first-run movies and munch M&M chocolates stamped with the Air Force One logo. George W Bush installed an exercise treadmill and a satellite TV screen so he could watch his favourite sports programmes. Sometimes called "the flying Oval Office", Air Force One can, theoretically, stay in the air for a week.

The heavies

Wherever the President goes outside the White House, he is accompanied by a small army of bodyguards from the US Secret Service. Recognisable by their unsmiling demeanour, dark glasses, their habit of barking orders into their Dick Tracy-style wristwatch-transmitters and by the curly flex running from their shirt collars to a hidden ear-receiver, their job is to protect the nation's chief executive - and his family - at all times, even if it means hurling themselves in the way of an assassin's bullet. They are, perhaps, the biggest perk of all, though the rules are changing. Presidents used to be guaranteed protection for life, but no longer. From Bush onwards, the President will be shielded from harm for 10 years after leaving office. After that, he's on his own.

The holiday home

When the stress of running the Free World becomes too great, the President can kick back at Camp David, a rustic 125-acre compound in the Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland. It was established by Franklin D Roosevelt in the 1930s as a Rousseau-esque woodland home, full of cottages named after trees. Though it's meant to be a retreat, it has - like Chequers - become a place to which to invite foreign dignitaries as a sign of, you know, special favour and respect. It was here that George Bush Snr taught Gorbachev to pitch horseshoes, and Clinton tried to find common cause between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat.

The free food and drink

With five full-time chefs on constant stand-by, the White House has the finest room service money can buy. If the President wakes at 3am with a craving for breast of widgeon in elderberry jus and white truffles on the side, he'll get them. A glass of plonk should be no problem either: there's been a fancy wine cellar since the days of Thomas Jefferson, and you can expect the best that Napa Valley can produce. If the incumbent is a stranger to alcohol (like the reformed George W Bush), that's no problem. Lyndon B Johnson installed a soda tap in the dining room, delivering gallons of his favourite soft drink, Fresca.

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