Should an Athlete Meet with the President?

Everyone has weighed in on the subject by now — was it right for Tim Thomas not to meet the president at the White House? I didn’t comment on it because I assumed the answer was obvious: the president is guilty of countless moral and constitutional outrages to which a decent person may not wish even by appearances to lend his endorsement.

There is, moreover, no need for a private citizen to honor “the office of the presidency.” Since when does a free people honor an office?

Yet some conservatives are evidently appalled at Thomas’s behavior; I inadvertently encountered one on Facebook who insisted that “Mr. Thomas should have attended out of a basic respect for the office of the President…. As a conservative Republican it would be an honor and pleasure to meet any President, especially one who wants to meet me specifically to honor me.”

A commenter agreed: “Regardless of our personal feelings about the President, we should always honor and respect the office of the Presidency…. I’m appalled to think that an American citizen would think we should show no respect to the highest office of the greatest, mo[st] generous nation on this earth.”

Here is one of the classic neoconservative errors: whether or not the U.S. is the “greatest, most generous nation on this earth,” why would agreement with this statement obligate one to show obeisance to the U.S. presidency? Is the presidency responsible for the greatness and generosity of America? If not, why the superstitious demand for reverence?

Long gone is the chief executive who sees his role as the humble execution of the laws. Now he is to impart “vision” and meaning to our lives, engaging in grandiose programs at home and abroad. He must touch all aspects of civil society. His person must be the focus of our aspirations.

When Theodore Roosevelt convened a superficially innocuous meeting of coaches and athletes to discuss rough play in college football over one hundred years ago, he was personifying this new presidency. All the cares of civil society must be referred to him — or, at least, we must be deeply interested in his opinion.

An athlete visiting the White House is lending further legitimacy to this kind of superstitious reverence, as is anyone who demands he do so.

No surprise that the person who wrote the initial comment is a Gingrich supporter. Gingrich, of course, regularly congratulates himself for his “visionary” speeches. No conservative of the old school would have spoken like this. (Newt’s next visionary speech is going to be about the space program — evidently it’s now conservative to respond to an impossible fiscal crisis by putting a trip to Mars at the top of the priority list.) A conservative seeks to preserve and defend the finite things of hearth and home. It is not for him to remake society, or propose a “New Frontier,” “New Freedom,” or “New Covenant.” Neither would he consider remaking the political culture of the Middle East, or any of the other fantasies of the oxymoronic “national greatness conservatism” of Gingrich, Bill Kristol, and David Brooks.

Conservatives do not think or speak this way. Moreover, conservatives do not want to see civil society overawed by the political class, much less for people to speak of “my president” or to genuflect before his office. When Jefferson chose not to deliver the State of the Union address in person, thereby inaugurating a tradition that would last a century, he reflected this important principle of a healthy society.

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  • LeoXIII

    Always a cool,collected and methodical approach to matters. Thanks Dr. Woods.

  • anarchristian

    Goes to Ron Paul’s point last night, in response to Brian Williams’ clueless query, that he doesn’t “daydream” about being President, as the other candidates almost surely do. (The subtext of the question was that unless you salivate at the thought of holding that office, you can’t be taken seriously as a candidate for it . . . So when are you going to drop out?) Ron sees the presidency as a secular job, not a species of holy orders.

  • David Bardallis

    Thanks, Tom. I’m going to repost this. The Emperor is coming to Ann Arbor this Friday, and the peasants are already all atwitter with joy and excitement. Naturally when I express distaste, the reaction I get is something akin to what this heroic goalie is getting (to a much lesser extent though, since I’m just some dude).

    You explain it all very well, and even work in some references to Kirkean conservatism, which I’ve always had at least some affinity for, versus the many other crazed strands of same. I never knew Russell Kirk, but I did spend some time in the company of his widow, Annette, and other conservatives of that tradition in their home in Mecosta. Very kind and gracious people, Annette especially.

  • Brutus

    I might have been offended by it before reading the Federalist and the Anti-Federalist and it was one of those so-called “conservatives” who blab endlessly about how bad Democrats are. As I see it now, part of the problem is that people do go to see the president. The awe that surrounds the president leads to hero worship, whcih is unsuitable for a Republic. In short, Tim Thomas is right on, and he would be right on if it was a republican in office as well, even were it Thomas Jefferson or George Washinton. It is a basic excersise of citizenship to do this, and the Constitution says that we are citizens, not subjects. The reason that “conservatives” are upset about this happening is because, in addition to worshipping power, they have forgotten or do not care about the differences between a citizen and a subject.

  • Tgatsby7

    I thought we were citizens, not subjects. People who bow down to the president legitimize this idea that he/she is the supreme power in our country. Nation as leader thinkers.

  • Ta Zorek

    I wouldn’t have gone either. I envy Tim Thomas.

  • Tommy Foppiano

    I agree, Dr. Woods. It is infantile to show blind respect for, “The Office of the Presidency.” What does that even mean?

  • Anonymous

    “…evidently it’s now conservative to respond to an impossible fiscal crisis by putting a trip to Mars….”

    Really? A *trip* to Mars? Come on Tom, are you forgetting yourself? What kinda ‘murican are you, boya? You mean a “War on Mars!” Why be stupid tourists when we can conquer Mars for democracy? Besides, I have it from a very reliable source (wink, wink) that Martians have been stockpilin’ WMD’s for a while now. Haven’t you seen “When Mars Attacks?”… or geezus, what about “Independence Day?!?” We must fight Martians over there before we are fighting them in our malls and our car washes.

    Except as you know, we neocons think really BIG, so maybe a “War on the Milky Way” is the ticket. Just think of all those juicy military contracts as we embark on spreading our seed of Exceptionalism just like that Mexican boy Columbus did in the year of 1492 but throughout the stars. Makes me swell with pride just thinkin’ about it… *sniff*

    And who cares how much it’ll cost. It’s supposed to cost. In fact, that is the whole point. It’s called economic *simulation*… don’t you know nothin’? But ‘muricans are prepared to do their duty and sacrifice for the cause of defeating those evil baby-killin’ Martians. But we musn’t let this “War on Mars” distract us from our other great causes; the “War on Freedom”… err, I mean “Terror,” the “War on Hippies,” the “War on Brown People Who Talk Funny” and the “War on those Queers” (that’s one, right?)…

  • TJ

    I remember in college I had a political discussion with someone and at some point they told me that I needed to “honor the President,” as though it’s requirement in order to enjoy our First Amendment rights. 

    I told them that I didn’t recall taking an oath to support and defend the President, but I did recall that the President took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, yet he clearly has no respect for it, so why should I have to show reverence for a man who doesn’t keep his word just because he was able to fool enough people into voting for him? 

  • Joel Poindexter

    I hate to admit it, especially in the company I’m in here, but similar nonsense was normal when I was in the army. It was common to hear some petty tyrant junior non-commissioned officer scream at some soldier that they didn’t have to “respect the man, but they did have to respect the rank!” Almost as if to excuse whatever immoral or unjustified aggression the the NCO was dishing out to the poor guy because he was the one in charge. The blind obedience and worship of power is sickening.

  • nofiatmoney

    As a decent American, I might have chosen to post this in the “discussion”:

  • Victoria

    Romans 13:7 says, “Give […] respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” 
    There is certainly no respect or honor owed here.  I say, “Bravo, Tim!”

  • Christopher Tuthill

    “Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth” – Albert Einstein

  • William Leggett

    There’s a great book that details this cult-like mentality towards the presidency.  It’s called
    “The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power” by Gene Healy of the Cato Institute.

  • Politicalpony

    All I have to say on the subject is that, We don’t have a King to drop on one knee for. I would love to go to the White House and meet with the POTUS. But this guy isn’t the President, he is a usurper. He not only is a Socialist who has infiltrated and occupying but over throwing the government from within. Yes I said he IS NOT the POTUS. He is not “Natural Born” and if we could ever get the people of this country to understand this, everything this intruder has done would be considered “Null & Void”. Tim Thomas is a Patriot. He has his beliefs and his knowledge of what is wrong in our time of tyranny. This should send a message to all Americans. But unfortunately many aren’t paying enough attention yet.

    Thomas Woods, please continue to deliver the message. I try my best to do so everyday, even if it’s just one person at a time.

  • Dennis

    Is this an attempt at trolling to make it look like libertarians endorse trutherism?

  • Dennis

    or shall I say birtherism (just as crazy)

  • P_drummer3

    Not the mention that these guys don’t deserve to be in office.

  • P_drummer3

    I conclusion it’s undeserved reverence

  • P_drummer3


  • Dave

    I remember seeing Jimma Carter IN PERSON in ’79 when he stepped off the paddlewheeler and onto Dubuque’s muddy shore. He was smaller than life.

  • David

    Out of curiosity, how long ago were you in college? Who was president at the time?

  • Bruno Tata

    The office is “President”, not “Emperor”.  

  • TJ

    I attended college from 2006-2009 during the end of President Bush’s second term and President Obama’s first year. I didn’t quite mature politically, however, until early 2007, just in time to vote for Ron Paul in the Washington state Republican presidential caucus. 

  • Dale Holmgren

    I am livid at all of you. While you bandy about making comments about whether or not we should honor the office of the Presidency, you’re all missing the most important point of the evening.  Ron Paul had a perfect opportunity to correct a misconception that he was not interested in becoming the president, AND HE FAILED MISERABLY.  He could have easily reframed the question himself: “Why do I want to become president?  Am I in this to win it?  The answer is YES, and I want to tell the citizens of the United States exactly why.  The only oath that any President is ever asked is to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, and I have no doubt that from what I have heard in all these debates is that I am the only man here that even understands the Constitution, let alone is capable of defending it.  This country has for generations allowed all of the Presidents it has elected for generations to stand weak-kneed before a Congress that has abused its power to spend and tax and chip away at the rights of every person in this room.  If elected, I will use every power the presidency has to end this right now, and I defy anyone to name a more qualified candidate of the four of us left. That is the president America deserves, and if you elect me, that is the president I will be.”  If Ron Paul isn’t willing to fight for the job to help us, and not be ashamed to say it, then we need another libertarian to argue the case.  His answer was talking about “straw votes” and delegates. Come on guys, we love RP, but his answers are weakly constructed and drift, and we have to admit it.  He writes beautifully, but this was a totally wasted opportunity to galvanize voters.

  • Tom Woods

    Dale, the top-commented blog post on this site (see “Popular Posts” in the right-hand column) is about Ron Paul and the debates. So I assure you, we’re on it. That’s why we also discuss other issues once in a while.

  • Anonymous

    I find the idea of honouring and respecting the president or his office regardless of the man’s actual worthiness disturbing.  Neither the president nor the office are the personification of the United States.  The entire idea is fascistic.  ‘One nation, one people, one leader’ as a political ideal has been completely discredited.  But apparently some have not figured that out.

    Further it’s inconsistent.  There is no shortage of criticism for either the president or the office.  Why is it permissible to outright insult the president in words or print but if he should deign to invite you to his office be obligated to present yourself out of respect? 

  • Lou Bjostad

    Ron Paul does not daydream about being President because Ron Paul is among the few politicians who does not have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (  Not a new observation, of course, but it’s easy to forget that these disorders are very real.  The psychological underpinnings of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid crowd are the actual foundation of Austrian Business Cycle Theory.  Mises and Rothbard were absolutely correct that government intervention in the economy leads to boom-and-bust, but the larger question is why individual government officials would ever engage in such intervention in the first place.  I wouldn’t do it.  Most of you wouldn’t do it either.  So why do they do it?  Because the same mental disorders that lead some people to seek government posts so aggressively also cause them to go forward with plans that the rest of us easily see as plainly indecent.

  • Scruitinizer

    If one chooses not to meet the president it is there right to do so.  There is no law nor edict that states if you are chosen to meet the president you must do so.  Until they declare officialy that they have done away with the constitution and we are now living in a police state no one must meet anyone in any political office. So until then the fascists can kiss our arse.  Down with the corpocracy already.  As far as being the most generous we are when it comes to trading our childrens blood for oil.

  • Sowell Man

    Here’s my snarky response to the outcry over Thomas’ decision, which I posted elsewhere:

    How dare TT baffle the press and others. What gall to make a decision that conflicts with their vision of how he should live. Doesn’t he know that third parties know what’s best for him in every aspect of his life?

    Freedom is not simply the right of intellectuals to circulate their merchandise. It is, above all, the right of ordinary people to find elbow room for themselves and a refuge from the rampaging presumptions of their “betters.”

    –Thomas Sowell

  • Dale Holmgren

    Tom, my RH column does not say Popular Posts, but I think I remember the critique you were referring to (walk on broken glass for RP, etc?) Let me take one more crack at this.  Yes, agreed, faulting a guy for passing on meeting the president is ridiculous.  My larger point is this:  whether or not Jefferson was so refined as to not place the presidency in a place of rock star exhaltation that we get with the likes of the SOTU address the other night is one thing. 

    But we can go too far, and I think we have.  Like it or not, the hopes of the vast majority of Americans is tied to our desire to vote for one man that can fix ‘injustices’, however that person perceives it.  No one goes to see High Noon and thinks “well, he’s just a sheriff, an appointed official who is no better than the rest of us”.  The left thought the injustices were income inequality, and voted for Obama.  The Newt whoopers think the injustice is bias in the media. 

    But libertarians cleave to the belief that the president, while having few powers, has two above all others – the power to veto, and the power to speak on behalf of an entire branch of government.  We vest our dearest hopes that that man we choose will be one who articulates for us best what it means to defend liberty, and one who hungers to do so.  So with all respect to your point, and a fine one it is, we cannot be too flip to those who, for whatever reason, silly or not, say they honor “the office of the presidency”, for I do, too.  More importantly, to those who are undecided as to who to vote for, must first know that we libertarians all do.

    Which is why we fight so hard.

  • Scott

    Here! Here! Mr. Tom Woods…..simply excellent!

  • Ben

    I agree with most of your opinions but not this one.  Christ respected the authority of the Roman empire even though they were incredibly oppressive and would make President Obama’s camp look like a bunch of fairies.  It is possible to resist authority that isn’t doing things the right way like Ghandi or Christ turning the other cheek without losing respect for the fact that they are in authority.  In my opinion Tim Thomas comes out of this looking like the loser having accomplished not nearly as much as he could have if he had resisted authority the right way.