Chief executive, commander-in-chief, talk-show host

By Stephen W. Stromberg
Published August 10, 2004 10:22PM (EDT)

USA Today reports that President Bush's "talk-show" style campaign rallies are almost as scripted as contemporary presidential debates. The president's audiences are packed with supporters and local participants are rarely chosen at random. From the article:

"When President Bush picks up a microphone, bounds onto a stage and engages his cheering audience in a rambling discussion of topics from Iraq to the economy, it comes off as relaxed, informal and largely spontaneous.

"'I feel like a talk show host,' Bush often says as he roams the platform in the center of the arena."

"But these 'Ask President Bush' campaign forums, the eighth of which was held at Northern Virginia Community College here Monday, leave little to chance.

"The national Bush campaign staff works through a local Republican office to assemble an audience of 1,000 to 2,500 people, depending on the site. The party offers registered party volunteers two tickets -- and says more are available if volunteers want to bring open-minded friends.

"Depending on the message Bush wants to put across, the local office also lines up some carefully chosen locals to take the stage with him and explain how Bush's policies are helping them afford college, buy a home, save money on health insurance or expand a business. They are given 'talking points' ahead of time.

"The people chosen to tell their stories sometimes have to be prodded to hit the right notes. The president takes it all in good humor.

"On Monday, he turned to Sharon Rainey and coached her to begin. 'Sharon started her own business. True or false?' Bush asked. 'True,' she answered.

"'I'm not even a lawyer, and here I am leading the witness,' Bush said, chuckling. Rainey then told how Bush's tax breaks allowed her to expand her business." Don't quit your day job, Mr. President.

Stephen W. Stromberg

Stephen W. Stromberg is a former editorial fellow at Salon.

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