Thursday, December 8, 2011

WASHINGTON: THE CAPITAL OF TITLES

WASHINGTON: THE CAPITAL OF TITLES
by Carol Joynt

The President, after leaving office, is “Mr. President” forever. The same goes for “Mr. Vice President.” But do most Americans know that even a one-term Congressman who didn’t do much more than work-out in the House gym, raise campaign funds and count the days until he could turn lobbyist, is accorded the salutation “The Honorable” to the grave? A lame duck Ambassador who serves on a speck of an island for one month during transitioning administrations will eternally be “Mr. Ambassador.”

Senators, in retirement, are called “Senator,” but members of Congress are not accorded the same privilege, unless they achieved the role of Speaker of the House. Newt Gingrich can be called “Mr. Speaker,” until he’s lucky enough – if he’s lucky enough – to become the “Republican nominee,” but offstage, unless he becomes President, lackeys, hostesses and maitre d’s will always call him “Mr. Speaker.”

From polkgop.com, actually titled "The Honorable Newt Gingrich."
Washington is many things, but where it excels is as a title town. They are a runaway train, with men and women clamoring to get aboard and get a good one. The right title can keep one preserved and profitable here for the entire arc of an adult career. Just look at the lobby shops, law firms, think tanks and financial institutions that fill their letterheads with legions of “formers.” All of them “the honorable,” of course.

A friend recently got a new job with a power title. It’s been like having fairy dust fall from the sky. We’ve traded stories about how the acquisition of the title has prompted a change in the behavior of others, as in “we have to have breakfast” or “we have to have lunch” or “let me give you my card.” Even an offer of free stuff. In other words, lots of new best friends. Titles do that.

Foreign ambassadors come to Washington and often get “Excellency” put before their title. Imagine. Sounds practically royal. With that sort of salutation who wouldn’t expect diplomatic immunity? It can go to the head.

Given that the city is ruled by bureaucracy, there’s virtually no government employee who doesn’t have a title, and they can get confusing. After the President and Vice President, at the highest level are Cabinet members, with the title of Secretary, but at CIA the top job is “Director,” while at the Federal Reserve and with the Joint Chiefs the boss is the “Chairman.” Then within those ranks are myriad other staff titles: Senior Advisor, Assistant, Counselor, Aide, Special Assistant, Associate Director, all kinds of deputies, assistants to the deputies, officers, and on and on until your eyes bang together and your hair stands on end. And, I believe, all are “the honorable.”

Ever since Walter Cronkite, anchors have liked to also have the title of “managing editor.
Within the corporate world, ever since the Jack Abramoff scandal, lobbyists now prefer to be called “advocates.”
From time to time a Washington official will be referred to as a “czar.” That’s a title bestowed only by the media. For example, “budget czar,” “drug czar,” and “energy czar.” Regardless, the U.S. government has yet to designate an official “czar” of anything.

The Green Book, Washington’s social register, prominently lists government officials and diplomats by title. So, those folks get to jump right into the social rankings without having to endure any of the tedious rights required of “civilians” – right schools, right clubs, right family (organically or by marriage).

The private sector is not immune from title mania. The media are fiends for titles. At the television news bureaus they like to make distinctions between “reporter” and “correspondent” and ever since Walter Cronkite, anchors have liked to also have the title of “managing editor.” Within the corporate world, ever since the Jack Abramoff scandal, lobbyists now prefer to be called “advocates.” But that’s more of a highfalutin job description than an actual title.

I’m not much into titles. In fact, breaking with the sisterhood, I’ve never liked “Ms.” It’s always felt like the prefix equivalent of when working women in the '80s adopted suits with bow ties to try to look like the guys.

"Fortunately that fashion trend passed fast, but we were left with the dreadful, neutered “Ms.” I was happy to be a “Miss,” and even happier to be a “Mrs.” As a widow, using my husband’s name, I’m still a “Mrs.” I toss any mail addressed to me as “Ms.”

The nasty little truth about titles is that they are often in lieu of more money. So think about that the next time you negotiate for a job. In Washington, or anywhere, ask for both. In the spirit of full disclosure, in my new job I do have a title. Editor-at-large. I’m hoping it is not a reference to my body.
Carol Joynt's memoir, Innocent Spouse, can be ordered from Amazon, HERE.