In the summer of 1975, then sitting United States President Gerald Ford came to Traverse City, played a round of golf at the local country club and walked down Front Street as Grand Marshall of the Cherry Festival Parade.
Accompanied by a phalanx of Secret Service agents and dressed in a plaid polyester sports coat and dark colored slacks, Ford, enjoying the parade both on foot and from the back seat of a convertible, did what politicians of that day did; shake hands, kiss babies, and actively connect with their constituents.
Coincidentally, I should have been there to greet him as an alto saxophone player in the Glen Lake High School marching band but a chance to make a few bucks pulling a shift at a summer job seemed more important to me at the time.
Last weekend, Vice President Mike Pence visited Mackinac Island to speak before the Michigan Republican Leadership Conference. Pence was only on the island to deliver a speech to the gathering, arrived and left as part of an eight-vehicle motorcade with darkly tinted windows that was also escorted by four officials on bicycles. Anyone wishing to shake hands with him or check out the color of his jacket along the way was out of luck.
Coincidentally, almost exactly one year ago, I played a round of golf on The Jewel, a beautiful golf course located on Mackinac Island. The front nine holes of The Jewel begins and ends across the street from the Grand Hotel where Pence spoke. The back nine holes are located out by the airport and is accessed via horse drawn carriage and I’m assuming that my carriage ride traversed some of the same roads as the Vice President’s motorcade.
Now stay with me here, I promise I’m not about to make a political statement but I would like to ask a question.
Since the summer of 1975, which I remind you was less than 12 years after another U.S. President had been assassinated riding down a city street in a convertible, what has changed with our society? Or another way, since 1975, why have we gone from the casual “unplugged” style of public relations to outsized armored and tinted windowed motorcades?
My guess is that spending a day walking hot city streets exchanging germs with the parade-viewing public has a romantic sort of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” appeal to some, but has been replaced by modern electronics. At least that’s my hope.
I’d hate to think that the change is because too many public officials have been treated rudely at public forums, too many officials have been threatened with violence or that most politicians simply don’t want to touch, hear or even see or be seen by their constituents, except those that can afford tickets to their events.
And I’m not picking sides here. My guess is that a combination of all of the above plus many other societal changes have caused our leaders to control their public appearances.
Coincidentally, I serve as the public address announcer for the Elk Rapids Harbor Days Grand Parade and welcome anyone with a manageable motorcade, including sitting Vice Presidents and Presidents to bring those motorcades and enter them into next year’s parade — so long as you please roll your windows down and wave as you pass my announcing table.