Oval Office Dress Code Controversy

Obama without SuitI am very torn over the political issue that is taking Washington by storm. Not the Economic Stimulus Package, but the fact that President Obama has been photographed in the Oval Office without his suit jacket on

The uproar was instigated by former Chief-of-Staff to President Bush, Andrew Card, who likened the scene of President Obama without a suit jacket to a "locker room". He went on to say:

"The Oval Office symbolizes…the Constitution, the hopes and dreams,
and I’m going to say democracy. And when you have a dress code in the
Supreme Court and a dress code on the floor of the Senate, floor of the
House, I think it’s appropriate to have an expectation that there will
be a dress code that respects the office of the President."

Card was insistent that President Bush required a strict dress code
that included suit jackets while in the Oval Office. Of course, it only
took a day for someone to dig up a photo of Bush in the Oval Office without his suit jacket on. But this begs other questions: 

  1. Aren’t there far worse ways to disrespect our Constitution or our democracy than taking off your suit coat in the Oval Office?  Frankly, given the choice between having a President remove his suit coat in the Oval Office, and a President spying on my phone calls or emails without a warrant, I would choose the former. Call me crazy.
  2. What exactly are we trying to protect? Just the Oval Office? President GWB was frequently photographed with rolled-up sleeves or in cowboy gear outside of the Oval Office, but that seems to be ok.
  3. Is greeting a Head of State in casual attire "respectful" of a foreign leader? Or is the Oval Office, specifically, the only aspect of the Presidency that demands a jacket? 
  4. Must a President keep his jacket on every minute he’s in that one room? It’s not as though President Obama is not wearing a suit – he’s just occasionally removing his suit coat while working. We’ve all done that. In fact, so have previous Presidents…including GWB! You can see a whole slideshow of former Presidents…in the Oval Office…without their jackets on…here.

That being said, just two weeks ago, I lamented the decision by Manhattan’s 21 Club to eliminate their rule of gentlemen wearing ties in the dining room. I firmly believe in dressing for the occasion. I would not think of going to 21 Club without a tie even without the requirement. I wear a suit to the office most days because I feel more productive in a suit. I wear a bowling shirt when bowling; Hawaiian shirts in Hawaii; a tuxedo to any event that hints at formal wear being appropriate. I don’t wear shorts on the golf course because I believe that disrespects the game. So I can understand the desire to maintain a modicum of formality in the world’s most powerful office.

At the end of the day, Mr. Card, with all of the problems our country faces, it doesn’t seem productive to disparage the newly elected President over a minor sartorial infraction also committed by your former boss. Hit the showers!

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