The Corner

Politics & Policy

Re: ‘Hello, Mr. Register, Sir . . .’

From left: President-elect Barack Obama, then-president George W. Bush, and former President Bill Clinton during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., January 7, 2009. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In response to ‘Hello, Mr. Register, Sir . . .’

Dominic, agreeing with Tyler Cowen’s call against bestowing the honorary “professor” on people with that position, extends the sentiment to the titles of politicians:

We are obligated to treat politicians with respect in accordance with the authority they hold while they are serving in their particular offices. We should address them by their titles while they hold that authority. We should stop addressing them that way when they no longer do.

I agree. Indeed, I’ll go further than that. I am willing to entertain an argument that such titling is, in fact, unconstitutional. Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Constitution states that “no Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States.” As government’s size and scope have grown, and people invest more faith in politicians (despite their repeated inability to provide people what they expect out of them), the perpetual appending of a given individual’s title seems more and more to fit this definition. And even if it is not unconstitutional, then it certainly runs against the anti-aristocratic spirit of the American Revolution, which led to a wholesale abolition of such Old-World practices as primogeniture and entail that would have merely replicated Europe’s politically enshrined hierarchies on our shores. American politics is better off as a result of this unique inheritance (ha!); as a result, there is no duchy of Kennedy, for one thing. The persistence of post-office titling threatens the healthily anti-aristocratic nature of our politics.

On our shores, there is only one title of nobility I support: coach.

(Okay, maybe two.)

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