In his book “Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America’s Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership,” veteran journalist Kenneth Walsh writes that presidential isolation is getting worse. Its effects are pernicious: The isolation exalts the role of experts who encourage their client to rely on polls and focus groups to decide what the people think.
Our chief executives are too often surrounded by a “cadre of idolizers,” he writes, who insulate them from criticism and questions. For all the talk in recent decades of the imperial presidency, nothing is more monarchical than the increasing physical separation between the man who holds the office and the people on whose behalf he serves.
An obvious solution is for our presidents to follow the example of Pope Francis and actually meet their public — not at staged events with carefully vetted crowds asking carefully vetted questions but at times and moments when anybody can have a chance.
Perhaps we should revive a great American tradition that was practiced, unbroken, from the time of George Washington through the administration of Herbert Hoover: Once a year, on Jan. 1, the president would make himself available to shake hands with as many people as waited in line. (Some presidents also held a public reception on the Fourth of July or on Inauguration Day.)