For example, if I'm using the rotate tool, I cannot select anything without first selecting the select tool, select what I want, THEN select the rotate tool to rotate it. I always have to switch back to the select tool to select something before I can use any other tool on it.
How do I change this setting?
I think the main problem is the entire rotate tool manipulator is a hotspot for the rotation transformation. You can't select "through" the manipulator. The other manipulators are the same way, they just don't have as large of a screen footprint. So short answer is you can't turn it off because you'll lose the functionality of the manipulator