President Bush's Press Secretary announced today that he will not schedule any formal press conferences. Not now, not ever. All recent Presidents have regularly conducted press conferences as a way of simultaneously presenting their policies to the American people and allowing themselves to be questioned by a group of respected professional journalists. The fact that President Clinton, George W.'s father, and even the Alzheimeric Ronald Reagan conducted formal press conferences makes the younger President Bush's moratorium on such event a surprising and extreme departure from the minimum expectations of Presidential engagement with the American public.
Bush 's representatives say that the President retains the right to hold spur of the moment press conferences when he wants to, but that reporters will otherwise have to capture his attention at White House meetings, brief public appearances, or meetings with foreign leaders if they want to talk with him directly. Bush has held only one press conference since his selection as President by the Republican-appointed Supreme Court and inauguration amidst the largest protests in Washington D.C. since the days of the Vietnam War. During that press conference, he promised to hold many more, on a frequent basis.
Of course, this announcement is just the latest in a long string of broken promises from President Junior, but this particular broken promise hits the American public particularly hard because it further undermines the democratic system of government that took such a devastating blow with Bush's questionable rise to power in spite of his inability to capture the support of a majority of voters.
Presidential press conferences have been the only time that the American people have been able to see their highest elected official answer questions that he has not scripted in advance. These press conferences have been vital to American democracy because they have forced the President to be accountable to the people. In a press conference, a President can by no means count on being asked only easy questions. In order to successfully survive a press conference, a President has to have a broad and deep understanding of the issues that face the nation.
A Presidential press conference is the one time that the American public has the chance to tell whether their President is truly competent or just knows how to read a speech from a teleprompter. When the President allows reporters to ask unscripted questions, voters have the opportunity to tell whether the President knows what he's talking about, and ultimately whether he is worthy of re-election. Now that President Bush has refused to schedule any press conferences whatsoever, he has taken away this vital opportunity for public access.
The striking similarity of this sudden removal of journalistic access to the President to the refusal of the autocratic bureaucrats of Soviet Union to allow people to see leaders suddenly struck incompetent by life-threatening illnesses has already been remarked upon by many Americans. The difference here, of course, is that serious questions about the basic ability of George W. Bush to command the White House have been raised ever since he announced his candidacy, and have never been put to rest. The President's refusal to answer the questions of reporters while cameras are rolling will only intensify the questions that the American people have been struggling with since his inauguration.
Why is President Bush afraid of holding public question and answer sessions? Are Bush's handlers just afraid that he'll make a mistake, or is there something more to it? Is Bush really in control in the White House, or is he just a figurehead? If he isn't in control, who is - the Vice President, or some other unknown person or organization? If Bush's wealthy campaign contributors can have personal access to the White House, how come ordinary Americans can't even see the President on television in a live press conference once a month? How will the American people ever know what's really going on in the White House if the President won't hold a press conference?
If you want to find out the answers to any of these questions, don't hold your breath. Now that the President is in hiding from the press, there's no way to find out the truth about what's going on behind the White House's very tightly closed doors.
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