From NASCAR Drivers to William Faulkner: A Brief History of Snubbing the President

Four out of twelve NASCAR drivers who were invited to meet President Obama at the White House this evening have declined to attend, citing scheduling conflicts—and sparking a nationwide gossip-fest. Refusing an invitation to visit the most powerful man in the world at his giant white mansion in the middle of the nation’s capital is, after all, not the same thing as, you know, missing your second cousin’s garden party. Saying “no” to the President is widely considered a major snub, a political rebuff and, depending on who you are, an insult of international proportions.

The thing is, it’s happened way more often than you’d think.

It's a Political Protest

Some honored invitees, like Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Lowell, have refused to visit the White House as a gesture of political protest. In Lowell’s case, he wrote a letter to then-President Lyndon Johnson explaining that he deeply disagreed with the president’s Cold War foreign policy: “We are in danger of imperceptibly becoming an explosive and suddenly chauvinistic nation, and we may even be drifting on our way to the last nuclear ruin,” he wrote.

Winners of the National Design Awards—the Oscars of the design world—pulled a similar stunt in 2006, refusing an invitation to attend an awards breakfast at the White House on the grounds that “the administration of George W. Bush has used the mass communications of words and images in ways that have seriously harmed the political discourse in America,” according to a public letter.

It's Just Too Far

Other illustrious would-be guests have refused to visit the president’s home for somewhat hazier reasons. Take for example Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner, who refused a dinner invitation at the Kennedy White House saying, “Why that’s a hundred miles away,” according to an interview in LIFE magazine. “That’s a long way to go just to eat.”

Decades earlier, President Calvin Coolidge’s father refused a direct invitation to come to the White House, but not for any scandalous reason. In 1923, after the premature death of President Warren Harding, the elder Coolridge swore-in President Coolidge at his Vermont farmhouse, and then sent his son packing to D.C. When the president asked his father to come with him, he refused: “There’ll be a funeral down there,” he said, according to the New York Times. “I think that my place is here to take care of the farm.”

Hollywood luminary Angelia Jolie and operatic reality TV star Susan Boyle both reportedly refused invitations to Obama’s White House this year for unspecified reasons. According to gossip rags, Jolie was saving herself for “more important” things, while Boyle was “too nervous” to meet the president.

It's Just Politics

The most popular reason for snubbing a White House invitation is, of course, a matter of straight politics. In 1982, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s son—no friend of Reagan’s policies—refused to attend a White House function in honor of his father, saying he was “tied up” all day.

A few years later, Senator Jesse Helms also snubbed Reagan’s White House, saying he didn’t want to attend a dinner that would require him to “socialize” with Mikhail Gorbachev.

More recently, Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has set the modern bar for White House snubs. In the last year, Boehner has refused to attend three different functions at Obama’s pad, including a bipartisan service for Representative Gabrielle Giffords and a fancy state dinner for Chinese president Hu Jintao.

© Bettmann/CORBIS

But perhaps that’s nothing compared to former-President Herbert Hoover's no-show at President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration. According to news reports, Hoover’s plane circled D.C. a few times and then gave up, citing weather issues, and flew to Miami instead. The former president whipped off a note to Kennedy—“I made a hard try to attend your inauguration”—and then winged off on an impromptu fishing vacation in the Florida Keys.

If Kennedy was insulted by Hoover’s snub, he could have looked for advice to Abraham Lincoln, who was an expert in the matter. A hundred years earlier, during the Civil War, Union General George McClellan didn’t exactly refuse to attend a White House function (Lincoln didn’t live at the White House for much of the Civil War), but did one worse: he refused to meet the President himself, who had been waiting in the general’s parlor for more than an hour. According to the story, McClellan got home, went directly upstairs without greeting Lincoln, and told his servant to tell the President of the United States he’d gone to bed. Lincoln, who McClellan later called a “well-meaning baboon,” shrugged off the insult, saying “better at this time not to be making points of etiquette and personal dignity.”

It's Gotten Ugly

As for those NASCAR drivers, their choice to decline a White House function tonight in their honor has precedent. Well, kind of. Nearly two decades ago, a group of golfers representing the U.S. in the international Ryder Cup threatened to boycott an event in their honor at Clinton’s White House. The media, which got itself into a tizzy over the threatened snub, quoted the golfers saying all manner of nasty things about the Democratic agenda, including one celebrated player in particular who reportedly called the president a “draft-dodging baby-killer.”

Unlike the NASCAR drivers, all the golfers eventually agreed to show up at the White House, at which point everyone smiled, sipped drinks and talked about anything but politics.

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College Board Wants to Erase Thousands of Years From AP World History, and Teachers Aren't Happy
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One would be forgiven for thinking that the Ides of March are upon us, because Julius Caesar is being taken out once again—this time from the Advanced Placement World History exam. The College Board in charge of the AP program is planning to remove the Roman leader, and every other historical figure who lived and died prior to 1450, from high school students’ tests, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit board recently announced that it would revise the test, beginning in 2019, to make it more manageable for teachers and students alike. The current exam covers over 10,000 years of world history, and according to the board, “no other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year.”

As an alternative, the board suggested that schools offer two separate year-long courses to cover the entirety of world history, including a Pre-AP World History and Geography class focusing on the Ancient Period (before 600 BCE) up through the Postclassical Period (ending around 1450). However, as Politico points out, a pre-course for which the College Board would charge a fee "isn’t likely to be picked up by cash-strapped public schools," and high school students wouldn't be as inclined to take the pre-AP course since there would be no exam or college credit for it.

Many teachers and historians are pushing back against the proposed changes and asking the board to leave the course untouched. Much of the controversy surrounds the 1450 start date and the fact that no pre-colonial history would be tested.

“They couldn’t have picked a more Eurocentric date,” Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, who previously helped develop AP History exams and courses, told The New York Times. “If you start in 1450, the first thing you’ll talk about in terms of Africa is the slave trade. The first thing you’ll talk about in terms of the Americas is people dying from smallpox and other things. It’s not a start date that encourages looking at the agency and creativity of people outside Europe.”

A group of teachers who attended an AP open forum in Salt Lake City also protested the changes. One Michigan educator, Tyler George, told Politico, “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

The board is now reportedly reconsidering its decision and may push the start date of the course back some several hundred years. Their decision will be announced in July.

[h/t The New York Times]

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North America: East or West Coast?
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