The first U.S. president I ever saw was Dwight Eisenhower during the presidential campaign in 1956. I was in the top most balcony of the Oklahoma City civic center auditorium and there were probably two or three thousand people between me and the president.
But it was a great thrill to be there with a cross section of citizens of Oklahoma City. The event was open to all and, except for the big-wigs, we were admitted on a first-come, first-served basis. The event did not lend itself to questions and answers, but my recollection was that, in those days, presidents did have a give and take with ordinary citizens.
If anyone then had told me that, in my lifetime, U.S. presidents would appear only in select audiences of their hand-picked partisan supporters, before patriotic tableau carefully designed by their "communications directors," and take questions only from pre-screened, adoring fans, I would have scoffed at the idea of such quasi-authoritarian practices ever becoming commonplace in the republic of Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison.
But, in the early 21st century here we are. I cannot recall an event since the early Republican primaries in 2000 when George W. Bush has gotten anywhere near a cross-section of the American people he has been elected to represent and to govern. Here in Denver a few months back, some local Republican hack who got himself up to appear to be a Secret Service agent (a federal crime) hustled three local people out of the hall where the president was to speak simply because they had some kind of "no more war for oil" bumper strip on their car. The White House still claims they had nothing to do with it.
Even today, President Bush used the august platform of the Council on Foreign Relations, most recently granted to that great fraud and pretender Ahmad Chalabi (who should have been held to account for the deaths of 2100 Americans but was not), but only on the condition that the president would not take questions from the kind of knowledgable, informed leaders the Council seeks to attract.
How can a president govern who is so isolated, so cocooned away from the American public, so protected from any question, let alone voice of dissent? And how can the press, not only protected by the First Amendment, but also heavily obligated by that protection, not regularly report that the president has not seen a variety of real Americans for FIVE YEARS?
This kind of unAmerican behavior destroys the very core of democracy. It is more characteristic of a Latin American dictatorship than the American republic. Of even deeper concern, this is the behavior of frightened people. What is the Bush administration frightened of? Are they really convinced the president is incapable of handling himself in the give-and-take of democracy? Or are they simply afraid of the American people?
They may be afraid of me. But I'm even more afraid of them.