Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Mr. President, meet Miss Manners

If you've been following 24 this season, you know that former president David Palmer has returned and is helping out the current commander in chief in an advisory role. In last night's episode, the two of them put on a little act designed to let the ambitious secretary of state know who was in charge. It went more or less like this:

Secretary of State: Mr. Palmer, with all due respect, this is up to the Cabinet.
Palmer: That's Mr. President.
President: With all due respect, that's a courtesy title, not a functional one.

And with that, their point was proved and the president got to look like a big man in front of the secretary of state.

However, this brings up one of my many pet peeves: "Mr. President" is not, in fact, the correct courtesy title for an ex-president of the United States. Although the proper etiquette has been increasingly ignored in recent times by the general public, by the writers of 24 -- even by presidents themselves -- it was established long ago, in the early days of the Republic.

Quoth Miss Manners:

... we suffer from title inflation. Our Founding Fathers, including the ones to whom this question applied, established American protocol to be simple and unpretentious -- and thus antithetical to the modern taste.

Nevertheless, the rule is that titles pertaining to an office that only one person occupies at a time are not used after retirement. A former president can use a previously held, non-unique title, as the first one did by reverting to Gen. Washington in retirement, or the plain citizen's title of "Mr." The third president preferred to be known as Mr. Jefferson rather than Gov. Jefferson.

So it was in fact entirely correct for the secretary of state to call our hero "Mr. Palmer". If that didn't do it for him, "Senator Palmer" would have been fine as well. He's not entitled to be called "Mr. President", though. If he really wanted that -- assuming if wasn't all part of his act of being an overweening prig -- he should have sought re-election at the end of last season.


Anonymous Matt said...

Why do you insist on ruining everything?

5/19/2005 02:34:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Lynn said...

I think we can both agree that neither of us wants to call Dubya "Mr. President" longer than we have to. Go with me on this one.

5/19/2005 08:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Matt said...

...Once again, I concede to your logic and foresight.

5/20/2005 11:41:00 AM  

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