In this, the Age of Disclosure, when it is incumbent upon each and every public official to disclose each and every thing about him or her self, there remains one public official who is bucking the trend. That could not be Geraldine Ferraro, who disclosed herself to a fare-thee-well, not even Walter F. Mondale, about whom there is nothing you do not know.
No, the non-disclosee is none other than Ronald Reagan. He will not disclose who and what he is.
You would not know this if you limited your reading to page one of the newspapers or only watched the nightly news. But almost daily on the inside pages unfolds a saga about how almost no one gets close to Reagan anymore. By no one I mean members of the press, who, for better or worse, are your representatives -- the ones who are supposed to ask the questions that you would if you could.
The trouble is, though, that now they can't ask either. Slowly, the apparatchiks of the White House have put Reagan in a contemporary version of the old "$64,000 Question" isolation booth. The press is kept back from the president when he makes public appearances so that he cannot be asked questions. Sometimes the White House helicopter is revved up so that even shouted questions are drowned out.
And the other day in California, the "pool" of reporters that always is with the president was reduced. Wire-service reporters were eliminated, leaving just one television correspondent, two television technicians and two photographers. For political reasons, the White House subscribes to the dictum that one picture is worth a thousand words.
None of this would matter much if Reagan met with the press fairly often. But he does not. Since the first of the year, he has had only five press conferences, and his informal meetings with selected reporters are invariably held on an off-the-record basis -- meaning that nothing about them can be reported. A lot of good that does you.
And none of this would matter much, if Reagan were . . . well, not Reagan. But he is. And that means that he is a president who does not work at the job, who is cavalier about both facts and policies, who is, as they say, disengaged -- a polite term meaning something more than disengaged.
It would have been both interesting and a public service to have asked the president whether the people he says want to rid the armed sevices of chaplains are not in fact like the storied welfare queen of Chicago -- hardly typical and almost nonexistent. Certainly they are not who he says they are: critics of his attempting to mix politics with religion.
Such a question cannot be asked, though. The president is like some sort of child monarch of old, surrounded by advisers, cut off from the people. His spokesman steps between him and the press like a referee breaking a clinch -- and he "breaks" when told. He governs within a bubble of aides, protected from both legitimate questions and, possibly, his own ignorance. He is the personification of the presidency, but maybe not really the president. If he were, he would step out of the bubble and hold himself accountable to the people.
I know there are few institutions less popular than the press. And I know, too, that it is an easy thing for the White House to portray complaints about Reagan's isolation as yet another yelp from that un-American collection of complainers and elitists: the national press corps.
But for better or worse, the press represents the people -- the very ones who will elect a president in November. The decision will be based on a number of factors, but one of them ought to be whether Ronald Reagan at age 73 has what it takes to be president for four more years. There is no real evidence that he doesn't; but then, he's been so isolated that there's no real evidence that he does.
It's fine and dandy for the people, through the press, to demand disclosure, and no apologies should be made for that. But if Ferraro and others are compelled to disclose their taxes and their sources of income, then the least we can expect of the president is that he disclose what he knows and how he knows it.
We know that Ronald Reagan pays his taxes. What we don't know is if he pays attention.