Feature

Bursting the president’s bubble

Perhaps it’s time to revive the presidential levee.

Stephen L. CarterBloomberg.com

President Obama lives in a bubble, said Stephen L. Carter, and it’s high time we burst it. Isolated from the public, our chief executives spend too much time surrounded by fawning staffers and “carefully vetted crowds,” and too little time meeting ordinary people. Perhaps it’s time to revive a tradition practiced by presidents from the early days of our Republic up to Herbert Hoover: the levee. Once a year, on Jan. 1, the president would open up the White House to the American public, greeting and talking to as many people who waited in line. Abraham Lincoln called these receptions “my public-opinion baths,” and while conceding they weren’t always pleasant, said they were “renovating and invigorating to my perceptions.” In 1864, four black Americans came to the levee to meet Lincoln—a momentous assertion of their right to citizenship. Unfortunately, the tradition came to an end when Hoover, exhausted from all that hand-shaking, decided to spend New Year’s Day in Florida instead. Next Jan. 1 marks the 150th anniversary of the day Lincoln showed that the White House was “truly open to all comers.” What better time to renew a great American tradition?

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