For a conservative president, George W. Bush is certainly very far from traditional. A revealing example is his choice in fashion – something you might think is trivial and not worthy of critique, but actually says a lot about why there is so much animus and supposed misunderstanding about him.

The presidency, if I remember correctly from high school civics, is a job that is in many key aspects – symbolic. Co-equal to the duties of a president as Commander-in-Chief and the primary Executive Officer, in fact, is his role as figurehead for the nation – the foremost face of America abroad.

The United States of America, theoretically – and I thought largely in practice – is not supposed to have one supreme leader.

True, the presidency is a position of immense power, but the position has always meant to be, and has always been, a co-equal branch of government, nothing more than any other cog in our constitution. We did, after all, make the choice to become a republic and not a monarchy, and our presidents have, traditionally, always accentuated the fact that their authority was civilian in nature, not based in militarism or in their role as Commander of armed forces.

Military leadership is inimical to our traditional concept of a free society, and as such, the president, as figurehead of the United States, has always refrained from wearing military uniform as president. Presidents Lincoln and Roosevelt surely did not wear military uniform in office, nor did President Grant once he became president. President Eisenhower, a former general himself of some distinction, never wore uniform in office.

In the middle of a Cold War, and even in the midst of an American conflict overseas in Korea, he did not wear military dress once he assumed office because he understood the great contrast his civilian dress had with Stalin and other Soviet leaders. He knew, without reminding from anyone, that it would be inappropriate and a break with the great free traditions of the United States of America for him as president and a civilian to galumph about in military dress.

True, George Washington did wear military uniform in office, but he did so leading an army to actual battle at the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794. I can think of no other example of a president breaking with this precedent of keeping civilian clothing and in any way confusing civilian leadership of the armed forces with elected military leadership.

To do so, I assume, would be akin to Caesar crossing the Rubicon or Augustus Caesar actually anointing himself king – he much preferred the title “First Citizen.”

What of it then? What of it that our president decided to don a couple epaulets in a sign of patriotic solidarity with the boys and girls overseas? That is what makes Bush’s little fashion faux pas so disturbing and troubling to me – the lack of attention.

Addressing troops in Iraq, Bush decided to break with this important and well-understood tradition of emphasizing the civilian nature of the presidency over that as military commander by making a quasi-militaristic jacket for himself to wear.

Nothing fancy, granted, just a standard tanker jacket with a little presidential seal sewn on, but the fascist overtones are not something a president ought to be seen in at any time between inaugurations. It’s the sort of behavior usually exhibited by South American generalissimos or other authoritative leaders like President Musharraf.

Now, I am not saying that Bush is a dictator. He is still an elected official. I am not going to point out that Napoleon Bonaparte was first elected fairly as First Consul for life before taking the crown of France from the hands of the Pope, and I am certainly not going to make the mistake of perpetuating any outrageous and slanderous liberal libel as to point out that dictators in Cuba, North Korea and Libya oftentimes fancy the same sort of clothing.

But I do hope the next time someone is angered that “leftists” make this sort of outlandish, disloyal accusations about America’s president, they receive the retort – “Then why does he dress like one?”

Ellis can be reached at wellis@campustimes.org.



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