Bush Remains a Bubble Boy at Thanksgiving: Holiday Speech is by “Invitation-Only”

Little Bubble Boy Bush

Thanksgiving Talk to “Invitation-Only” Guests at Berkeley Plantation

In his first six years in office, the president has made little mention of Thanksgiving, beyond the ceremonial turkey pardons, but yesterday Bush traveled to Charles City, Virginia, for his first speech devoted specifically to the holiday. “[O]ur nation’s greatest strength is the decency and compassion of our people,” he said. “As we count our many blessings, I encourage all Americans to show their thanks by giving back.”

The New York Times reported that this was part of a White House initiative “to show a more contemplative side of Mr. Bush.” The Times added that yesterday’s message stood in contrast to the “go shopping” message in the aftermath of 9/11. Now, Bush asked Americans to consider the “many ways to spread hope this holiday: volunteer in a shelter, mentor a child, help an elderly neighbor, say thanks to one who wears the nation’s uniform.”

The problem, in this case, wasn’t with the president’s inoffensive message, but rather with his audience. You might think that a presidential speech on Thanksgiving would be open to all comers. But no, even when President Bush is talking about something as uncontroversial and inclusive as the essential goodness of our country, he wants his audience pre-screened for obsequiousness. In the event carefully calibrated to emphasize his compassionate side, as usual he wasn’t talking to all Americans. At least not in person. Admission to the event was tightly controlled by White House and Republican party officials.

Tyler Whitley and Mark Bowes wrote in the Richmond Times-Dispatch: “President Bush found something to be thankful for yesterday — a friendly, invitation-only Virginia audience. . . . ” “We love you!” one woman yelled as Bush prepared to deliver a 16-minute Thanksgiving message to a standing-room-only crowd of about 800 people standing at Berkeley under a tent facing the James River. Yes, it appears Bush can’t even wish Americans a happy Thanksgiving without the comfort of his ever-present Bubble.

Dan Froomkin points to some helpful historical analysis from University of Texas political science professor Jeffrey K. Tulis:

The tradition of presidents traveling the country — “seeing and being seen” — dates back to George Washington. Washington felt that public appearances were important for the president — and his appearances were indeed open to the public. . . . Washington was intent on establishing the precedent that the president was chosen to represent the whole country, not just his partisan supporters.

Certainly, in the past, presidential advance teams have on occasion taken steps to assure friendly audiences. It has not been uncommon for presidents to seek invitations to speak at friendly venues. But systematically screening audiences for an array of speaking tours . . . may be a new phenomenon, and one that the president should be asked to defend and justify in terms of his constitutional obligations. Well, we’re probably far too late to ask Bush to “defend and justify” this nonsense, but we can probably get started urging his would-be successors not to follow his ridiculous example.

On a related note, it’s probably worth mentioning that professors at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania have started a project called the Soapbox Alliance that seeks to “ban politicians from holding closed meetings restricted to supporters on all campuses in the nation.” It sounds like a very good idea that received a positive write-up in USA Today. Responding to the idea, Trent Duffy, Bush’s former deputy press secretary, said, “It’s a nice concept, but people tend to misbehave.” Well, here’s a radical idea in response to that: if audience members become disruptive from a presidential event, remove them (preferably without tazing them). If they heckle or refuse to allow the president to speak, escort the trouble-makers from the room.

The notion that some people might “misbehave,” and that this justifies seven years of shielding the president from being in the same room as Americans who disagree with him, is demonstrably ridiculous.

Bubble Boy Bush Gives Thanksgiving Speech

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