Writing my previous post reminded me of something that has been bothering me a bit lately, and then on Sunday night, while watching a segment of 60 Minutes, there it was again:
Scott Pelley calling Mr. Clinton, “Mr. President.”
Mr. Clinton isn’t Mr. President. He’s “Mr. Clinton;” or “Mr. Clinton, the former President;” or, in an introduction, “the honorable William Jefferson Clinton.” (And I dare you to make that introduction without snickering.)
I have noticed that the news media in the last decade or so are increasingly referring to former presidents as “Mr. President.” (My Google search just now turned up headlines today referring to “President Clinton” and “President Bush.”) This is wrong for reasons of both protocol and manners, and it worries me because it seems to signify a growing fascination with a permanent elite class; or worse, a quasi-royal class: the Presidents.
There is only one President of the United States, and however much it may distress me that currently we are afflicted with President Barack Obama — still, he is our only President. When he is out of office in 2013, he too will return to being Mr. Obama.
We have no Royals (except of course in Kansas City). Not the Kennedys, not the Clintons, not the Bushes. The President of the United States is, first and foremost, a citizen of the United States. Upon leaving office, which precedent of Mr. Washington’s all presidents since have so far followed, the President, whoever he or she may be, returns to private life as a citizen.
We don’t want any royals, either. The great experiment of this Republic is one of citizen leadership, and in that experiment we Americans remain nearly if not completely alone in history. However much our “elite press,” “elite academics,” “Hollywood elite,” and (last and certainly least) “elite governing class” may wish it otherwise, all citizens of this nation are due equal respect.
(That some of those citizens no longer understand the duties attendant to citizenship, and therefore unthinkingly act in slavish, servile, or selfish ways, thus relinquishing our respect, could be the topic of another 10 gazillion posts; but it is not relevant here.)