The Titles of Offices or Offices of Titles?

It’s light fare, I’ll admit, but I’m unusually busy, it’s going to be a long day and night, and an exchange about monarchy in National Review’s “The Corner” has struck a chord with me.  Here, Kevin Williamson says, of national politics, something that I’ve been feeling with local:

Political job descriptions are in the process of being transformed into semi-aristocratic titles. It is to my ear ridiculous when politicos refer to Mitch McConnell as “Leader McConnell” or Nancy Pelosi as “Leader Pelosi.” It is even worse when politicians refer to themselves that way, as Nancy Pelosi does. Long-out-of-office functionaries continue to be known as Governor Palin or Governor Sununu or President Bush (or President Bush) until death. It is part of the American way that we do not invest people with titles. Elected officials are not our rulers; they are our employees, a condition about which they need constant reminding. I think we ought to refer to them by their surnames, with no Mr. or Mrs., with just a hint of condescension in the voice, the way English people refer to their servants in Merchant Ivory movies or Montgomery Burns addresses Smithers. …

And referring to members (not Members) of Congress as “honorable”? Prove it first.

Such entitlement is most jarring on the floor of Rhode Island’s House, with Speaker Gordon Fox calling on members of the chamber as “Chairman” this or “Chairwoman” that — “leader,” even “whip.”  A couple of weeks ago, he accidentally referred to Rep. Bob Watson as “leader,” unknowingly affirming the awkwardness of applying temporary political job descriptions as honorifics.

Outside of the chamber, callers in to the Buddy Cianci Show seem more often than not to refer to him as “mayor,” and those testifying before the various legislative committees sometimes seem at pains to call the members “honorable.”  I’ve met more legislators in the past few months than I have throughout my life, I’d say, and most of them are nice enough, but “honorable”? That’s a bit of a stretch.

In my final year as a teenager, discounts through my mother’s workplace, accumulated credit card bonus points, and (as a college drop-out) full-time work enabled me to buy a to-order, fully loaded Pontiac Grand Am.  I recall the bustling salesman’s demeanor as he scraped stickers off the window with a razor blade, running here and there, dripping sweat in the hot sun.  Frankly, I was uncomfortable with his profligate subservience.

Still, when we address our local politicians — especially in light of our state’s sputtering civic failure — it would seem more appropriate to see them as something closer to that salesman than to royalty.  That way, when things slip into law that shouldn’t, when elected officials take inappropriate advantage of their power, we’ll have a proper perspective on what they’ve done.



  • Patrick

    I've never understood why people still keep their title even when no longer in office. Or even worse, then they held multiple offices, they get the highest title. When Chafee is gone from office, which one will he be referred to? Governor or Senator?

    How about simply "Linc"?

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