Obama’s Dress Code: America’s Shame/Lay off America’s Casual President

“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.” – Former Bush Chief of Staff Andrew Card, February 4, 2009

HOWARD MEGDAL: Though we now have the hindsight of four weeks to evaluate the failed Obama presidency, the disaster of the last few weeks (not to mention the next 47 months) were easily predicable once we saw Barack Obama, who was elected to bring continuity to the domestic and foreign successes enjoyed by our sadly term-limited George W. Bush-incredibly, without his suit jacket on.

The very idea that President Obama can build on our stunning successes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Noth Korea and Iran, Jacket-free, is laughable. Have we learned nothing from our recent spate of peace and triumph?

Think back to early in George W. Bush’s first term, when we had Osama bin Laden cornered at Tora Bora. A less-dressed man might have been questioned, even ridiculed for letting the perpetrator of 9/11 escape in order to fight a pointless war of choice. But not Bush-his leadership came not from his words, or his actions, but his cufflinks, his bowtie, even his waistcoat. George W. Bush was no empty suit- he was an empty tuxedo. Of leadership.

His disengagement from the Middle East has allowed increased fragmenting, multiple wars, and his one initiative, free elections, produced a Hamas government. Why are we so certain that his path was the path to take? Because who is going to criminally mismanage a volatile and strategically critical region in a top hat and tails? No one, that’s who.

George W. Bush’s state-of-the-art shirt studs, ties and patent leather shoes are the principal reason that the American economy enjoys the confidence and bullish stock market it does today. After all, not wearing a jacket and tie is the first step towards unemployment, when one isn’t required to wear pants. Barack Obama’s decision to stride toward the hobo life in the Oval Office can only lead to economic uncertainty. After all, the main reason people are currently bidding up the housing market is for the glamour of owning one. Seeing the most public American in ordinary clothes, inside, shatters that wealthy dream for the millions of Americans with tons of disposable income and easy access to credit.

The economy is also about confidence. And as I watched George W. Bush helplessly stumble over the basics of economic policy, I was seized with the urge to simultaneously spend on consumer goods and invest. The reason is no mystery-who doesn’t want to take economic advice from a man dressed like Monopoly’s Rich Uncle Pennybags? That’s how we as Americans knew the president was looking out for us. Just to restore that confidence, most people will blow their middle class tax cut on vintage 2008 calendars-to remind us of how great America used to be.

And of course, the final area America’s greatness has been squandered is in our image of ourselves. Who didn’t swell with pride as Americans upon hearing of the excesses at Abu Gharib prison, along with the evidence that such abuses came on orders from the highest levels of government, dressed to the nines? It was the classic American story-suited individual, representing America, shocks the genitals of lowly Iraqi. I needn’t point out that if those Iraqi prisoners had dressed as formally as George W. Bush, they’d never have had their genitals hooked up to a car battery- you can’t electrocute what you can’t reach beneath a cumberbund.

So go ahead, Barack Obama, and sign away our national pride by closing Guantanamo Bay while wearing an unbuttoned dress shirt made out of terrorist-coddling. Foolishly veer from the tried-and-true tax cuts in a pair of cutoffs and watch America stay as strong against you as those New Orleans levees your infrastructure spending will finally build. And watch helplessly in your wife-beater as your efforts to engage the trouble spots around the world diplomatically are rejected both abroad, and by the American people, who miss the golden days of the Bush Administration, where no problem was too big to be ignored by people who knew how to dress for failure.

DAVE TOMAR: In his first month as president, Barack Obama has issued executive orders, passed legislation or articulated public sentiment to close Guantanamo Bay, to reduce the undue influence of lobbying in Washington, to reduce federal energy waste and to bring Iran to a discussion at the world’s table.  And to the best of my understanding, he has done all of this in a pair of baggy dungarees and a blingy Rick James t-shirt with grape soda and fried chicken stains all over it.

According to former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, who deserves a great deal of credit for the accomplishments of the Bush Administration, our new president has significantly reduced the integrity of our most sacred office by altering its dress code.  At present, men are no longer required to wear a jacket and tie in the Oval Office, marking a policy break which Card believes will reduce the constitutionality and democracy implied by the presidency.  Indeed, he recalled a two-day period during which Bush had been unable to locate a jacket.  It was in that space of time, Card contends, that the war in Iraq transitioned from having already been won into a total quagmire, that the American economy suddenly collapsed and that New Orleans, a critically underdressed town, was buried beneath Lake Pontchartrain.  It turns out that Bush had accidentally put his jacket on under his shirt.

Once his handlers helped him dress himself again, Bush quickly restored order to the United States.

But is this really about clothing or is there something larger at stake here?  For the Bush Administration, it is nothing less than a slap in the face to see all that it had worked for eroded by a flurry of informality.  Card fears that the White House, once a bastion for blue blazers, double breasted power-suits and hooded robes, will soon more closely resemble the set of Yo! MTV Raps!  Card recalled driving up to the White House to pick up his last remaining personal effects but “saw so many dark people in Ocho Cinco jerseys and mesh bump-n-grind shirts that I was afraid to get out of the car.”  Ultimately, he decided to leave without his stuff.  Incidentally, if anybody ever finds a book called Ms. Manners on How to Dress More Like the Kind of Black Guy We Like in the White House lost and found, it’s his.

There is, no doubt, a degree of personal vitriol that enters into the discussion.  Andy Card did admit, when pressed on the issue, that he was a little jealous.  He explained that “my skin is horrible to look at.  It actually slides off of my skeleton on a hot day.  When I’m wearing shorts, people think I’m Mickey Rooney after Hiroshima.”  And indeed, there is something to the argument, at least historically, that most dudes in the White House are genuinely far too unsightly to be entitled the freedom to dress down.  Seeing Dick Cheney at a pool party must be like watching your parents apply the proper ointments in preparation for anal sex.

So the idea that Obama’s relaxation of the dress code might encourage future holders of the office to loosen up a bit is terrifying.  Truthfully, most presidents won’t be as easy on the eyes as this guy.  He looks something like Denzel Washington with Will Smith’s ears.  This differs from a long line of presidents that look like a fat white guy with a fat white guy’s ears.

Interestingly, only a day after Card’s scathing remarks, a photo appeared in The Huffington Post which showed the former president pretending to read while in the Oval Office.  Conspicuously absent is a sport-coat, a suit-jacket or even a cardigan.  Instead, the traditionally by-the-book Bush is shown here explicitly flouting what, prior to Obama’s inauguration, was a legally enforceable White House dress code.   Card, when questioned on this inconsistency, noted of George W. Bush, “yeah, but he’s white.”

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