Head of State
In addition to being the chief executive, the president also serves as the head of state. Most nations split the head of state and chief executive powers between two or more individuals. In countries like Great Britain, Sweden, Denmark, and Belgium, the king or queen serves as the head of state, while an elected prime minister or president discharges the chief executive functions. Other countries, such as France, Italy, and Germany, have an elected head of state (usually a president) who works alongside an elected chief executive (usually a prime minster). In the United States, the president serves both of these functions — a rarity among Western democracies.
As the head of state, the president fulfills certain ceremonial and symbolic obligations, such as throwing out the first pitch to open a new baseball season, greeting foreign dignitaries with formal White House dinners, lighting the national Christmas tree, dedicating monuments and landmarks, and so on. It has become customary for the president to invite championship athletes and teams to the White House for a public reception. There is no constitutional basis for this ceremonial aspect of the presidency — it has simply evolved as a part of the office over the years.
The president is a symbol of our government and the nation. He represents the majesty and dignity of the office both at home and abroad, and provides our national voice. His gestures — no matter how big or small — carry special meaning and importance. It was reported that the sale of hats dropped dramatically following John F. Kennedy's inauguration, because the president broke with tradition and failed to don one during the parade. When Jimmy Carter turned the White House thermostat down to sixty-five degrees in the winter to save energy, the nation followed suit.
George Washington used the head-of-state aspect of the presidency to help legitimize the office and the federal government itself. He paid particularly close attention to the seemingly trivial details of protocol and the pomp and circumstance of the office because he knew it would establish important precedents for future officeholders.