11/06/2007 12:31 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

A President of All the People

In the grand scheme of things, and particularly in a critical election year, the issue of presidential audiences is probably not of the greatest importance. Except that where and to whom a president speaks tells us a lot about how he views his relationship to the people he is oath-bound to serve. Before we see the last of the incumbent president, I hope someone takes the trouble to review all the public speeches the president, and for that matter the vice-president, and for that matter the entire cabinet, have given and the nature of the audiences to whom they spoke. The point is simple: this administration's officials from the top down do not speak to general audiences representing a cross-section of the American people.

This Bush administration has systematically, and cynically, chosen to speak only to audiences whose acceptance and acceptability are guaranteed. Without any research whatsoever, and based only on observation of the staged backdrops to presidential and other speeches, I am willing to wager that George W. Bush and virtually his entire cabinet have never, during this entire administration, spoken in a forum whose doors were open to all.

Think back. Can you remember a presidential speech where the audience was not hand-picked? My guess is this paranoid manipulation and hand-selection of favorable audiences dates to the second Nixon administration, where the president became so unpopular he could not appear before ordinary Americans. This, of course, was also the period that gave rise to the Cheney-Rumsfeld, Addington-Yoo, blue state-red state carving up of America into us versus them and the anti-Constitutional "unitary executive" imperial consolidation of power.

If you are out to set up an imperial presidency and an imperial foreign policy, you are probably well advised to speak only to audiences of carefully selected robotic ditto-heads, those who surrendered objectivity, critical judgment, and reflective thought a long time ago and who will chant "stay the course" and "support the president" every time stage manager Rove flashes the cue. But if you still believe, as I do, that we live under a Constitutional government where are leaders are elected to serve all the people under a system of checks and balances and are to be held accountable in every regard to the people they serve, then we should demand leaders with the courage to face all their constituents on all occasions and address all relevant issues of the day.

By the way, I also don't recall even one press story in the past seven years calling into question this undemocratic practice of imperial audience staging.