‘Respecting’ the office

‘RESPECTING’ THE OFFICE…. Former Bush White House chief of staff Andrew Card complained to right-wing talk-show host Michael Medved that President Obama is insufficiently respectful of the presidency. Apparently, one demonstrates respect for the presidency by their choice of attire:

“…I found that Ronald Reagan and both President Bushes treated the Oval Office with tremendous respect. They treated the Office of the Presidency with tremendous respect. And some of that respect was reflected in how they expected people to behave, how they expected them to dress when they walked into the symbol of freedom for the world, the Oval Office. And yes, I’m disappointed to see the casual, laissez faire, short sleeves, no shirt and tie, no jacket, kind of locker room experience that seems to be taking place in this White House and the Oval Office.”

“Locker-room experience.” Card wasn’t kidding.

I think there are two general angles to this. The first is that Obama isn’t especially concerned about the formality of one’s clothing. He was photographed at his desk wearing a shirt and tie, and some of the political establishment gasped because he was seen sans jacket. (Obama, a Hawaii native, reportedly prefers a warm office. David Axelrod said, “You could grow orchids in there.”) Suits are common on weekdays, but the president issued an informal edict for “business casual” on weekends. That, apparently, means slacks and a buttoned-down shirt.

Traditionalists may not approve of Obama’s easy-going style, but we’re a long way from a “laissez faire locker-room experience.” A frat house it isn’t.

The other thing to consider here is exactly how one “respects” the presidency. For Card and others who served with Bush, it’s about choice of clothing. For those who serve with Obama, it’s about honoring institutional limits and the rule of law.

Or, put another way, where exactly does a loyal Bushie get off talking about “respecting” the presidency? Did George W. Bush always wear a coat and tie? Sure. Good for him. But while he was wearing nice clothes and demanding that his staff do the same, he also oversaw a scandal-plagued White House that trashed constitutional norms and routinely ignored the laws that the president twice swore to faithfully execute.

One respects the office by honoring its place in a constitutional system, not by wearing a suit.