Public Opinion and Foreign Policy

By Lester Markel; Council on Foreign Relations. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE THE NUMBER ONE VOICE

By James Reston

THE PRESIDENT of the United States influences opinion by every public act. The soldiers and the diplomats may or may not command the attention of the people by what they say or do, but the electorate is never indifferent to the slightest activity in the White House. No matter who he is, the President is a symbol of his office and his country. Even the least competent chief executive is the successor of Washington and Lincoln. Consequently, when he speaks, he speaks for America, he influences the lives of Americans, he represents or misrepresents the ideal every man has in his mind of what the President should say or do, and for these reasons, men listen when he speaks.

Moreover, the whole apparatus of the most modern and extensive system of rapid communications ever gathered together in one country is constantly at his disposal. Everything he says or does is news. If he goes to Congress to address the federal legislature, the major radio networks record every word and the television cameras transmit every flicker and expression of his face. If he goes to the country for the week end, he is followed by a battery of reporters and cameramen. If he gets a new dog, or expresses a preference for a picture, or has a daughter who sings, or acquires a new gadget for his desk, the object of his interest is subjected to the same careful scrutiny as a new policy sent to Congress.

The fierce competition of the private agencies gathering

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