Home / Obama Not the First to be Informal in the Oval Office

Obama Not the First to be Informal in the Oval Office

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When former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card recently complained about President Obama's informal dress in the Oval Office it stirred up some peculiar criticisms of the president's low-key style. Card argued that it was disrespectful to the office of the president to appear in shirt sleeves, saying:

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 certainly comes off as a bit prissy with this concern and it has been the source of some humor, but some people do take the issue seriously.

Given some of the other things which have gone on in the Oval Office it seems a bit late to start worrying about propriety. Kennedy had kids playing under this desk, Nixon talked to the ghosts of dead presidents and we all know what Bill Clinton got up to in the sacred precincts. Given that context, stripping down to your dress shirt and slacks hardly seems like a great transgression.

The president is the representative of the people, and it might shock Andy Card to learn that most of the people don't wear formal dress when they're working. When the plumber comes to clear the line to my septic tank he doesn't wear a suit and tie. Multimillionaire CEOs in Silicon Valley go to work in Bermuda shorts and sandals. Tiger Woods makes more money than God and does it wearing a polo shirt. I haven't worn a tie to work on a regular basis since the 1980s and I don't even own a suit anymore.

American business is dominated by entrepreneurs and we're too busy actually working to worry about how we're dressed. If Obama wants to work in comfort or strip down because his orchids need the thermostat turned up, who can argue? Remember, we elected him to represent us, and it's his office while he's there. It's the work he's doing that matters, not how he's dressed.

But most importantly, there's a precedent for informal dress in the oval office which trumps everything else. Elvis appeared there in a rhinestone belt and an open-collared shirt with no tie, and if The King has given the informal look his stamp of approval, who are we to argue if Obama follows his lead?

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About Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle is Executive Director of the Texas Liberty Foundation, Chairman of the Center for Foreign and Defense Policy, South Central Regional Director for the Republican Liberty Caucus and an advisory board member at the Coalition to Reduce Spending. He was Texas State Director for the Gary Johnson Presidential campaign, an adviser to the Ted Cruz senatorial campaign, Communications Director for the Travis County Republican Party and National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. He has also consulted on many political campaigns, specializing in messaging. Before focusing on political activism, he owned or was a partner in several businesses in the publishing industry and taught college-level history for 20 years.
  • Hope and Change?

    Dave…you forget..Janet Wilson and Guy Rebarber…part of the Whitehous janitorial staff!

  • If Card believes the houses of Congress have a dress code because they have some sort of image to uphold, then perhaps we the people should distrust the competence of anyone wearing a tie.

  • Hope and Change?

    Well barry does dress a little better than your average government employee…er…um…you know…coffee and food stained shirts, tatered and soiled polyester pants, scuffed shoes….etc….

  • Wow, Dave. A non-bashing piece for a change. What gives?

  • Card is a buffoon, especially now that pics of his boss sans jacket have shown up on the Internet. Your 15 minutes are up. Move on.

  • It’s okay. His muscle tee has a flag pin.

  • Jonathan Scanlan

    I wonder what Washington would look like if they instituted casual Fridays. 🙂

  • Cindy

    Jonathan comes out to play. yay!

  • Cindy

    Card is an ignorant twit.

  • I wonder what Washington would look like if they instituted casual Fridays.

    The President would show up for work wearing a t-shirt that said ‘My other car is also bulletproof’.

  • Roger, if you think I’ve been writing “bash” pieces you’ve led a pretty sheltered existence.


  • Dave, take it easy. BC doesn’t exhaust my life.
    BTW, have you seen my comment on the “Socialism” thread?

  • Which of the various socialism threads?


  • Dave,

    The one when you cite from Newsweek. I provided a reference a site you might be interested in, as well as one article.


  • Cindy


    Do you admire David Solway? I noticed you read his article at some point earlier.

  • Admire? I don’t know. I was just referred to it today, so I don’t know the guy. But at least the level of analysis appears of high order and thoughtful – better than most debates I find in here.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    It’s the work he’s doing that matters, not how he’s dressed.

    ‘Bout fucking time somebody said what should have been blatantly obvious!! BUT, welcome to America, where the image is more important than the talent!

    If only he would’ve came to work in a tropical shirt… I think the tie was cutting off the circulation when he was putting together that stimulus bill.

  • I guess informal dress is better than taking the dress off your nearby intern.

  • At least it wasn’t like that old Monty Python sketch which started out as a historical documentary about Ramsay McDonald becoming the first Labour prime minister and then turned into a vintage porn film.

    Michael Palin, playing McDonald, walks into his office at 10 Downing Street for the first time, remarks, “Phew, it’s hot in here!” and starts stripping off his suit to reveal ladies’ lingerie underneath…

  • I think I remember that episodes. Are VCR tapes available?

  • Do they still make those? 🙂

    All of the series should be readily available on DVD over here. You can probably catch that sketch on YouTube as well.

  • I also miss the old Benny Hill program, as well as “Are you being served?” That was a gem.

  • Are You Being Served is still screened regularly on PBS over here in the Valley. Not where you are?

  • I don’t have cable. Can’t afford it. Besides, my TV watching is limited to playing DVDs. Don’t really miss it except the Turner Movie Channel and PBS on Saturday night for some movie classics.

  • Ah, those strange Kentucky customs…

    PBS is free-to-air in California, and just about everywhere else to the best of my knowledge. I see what you mean about it being a wasteland there!

  • I know that. Same here, except I can’t get any decent reception without installing cable. Rabbit ears won’t work because, as you know, they’ve re-engineered the TV sets to be unresponsive to aerials.

  • You need one of them there decoder boxes or a digital antenna.

  • And TMC is great. The best thing about it is that the movies run without com[spit! spit!]mercials.

  • You know, before TMC came up, the American Movie Channel was great. But since then, they have slipped. Even Bravo used to feature some great movies, but I think they discontinued the practice.