R.E.S.P.E.C.T.?

I had a call where an elected official was chewing on my backside.

Did I write and ridicule his personal foibles? No. Did I expose the receipt of campaign funds from a questionable source? No. Did I sharpen my keyboard and just let fly with a harsh dose of personal indignation? Again, no.

What was the transgression that supposedly earned me this officeholder's wrath?

As I understand it, it wasn't any of those. Apparently, I authored something recently where this person was mentioned among a laundry list of others, and in writing something which I thought was complimentary, the crime I’m apparently guilty of was failing to show him sufficient respect equal to those he considers his peers.

What? Was he kidding?

It reminds me of a story when I was working in the State Republican office these many years ago. It was summer, and the party's Executive Director who has since gone on to much bigger and better things was speaking casually to a legislator of some rank over the telephone. After the ED addressed him by his first name, this legislator rebuffed him, and asked that he be addressed as "Representative."

Upon the retelling of the incident, as eyes rolled, the general consensus was that the legislator was a bit full of himself.

Another incident I had was at home, where my mom got a call in a demanding tone about something she was selling at auction from Senator "____." When she asked me about it, my reply was "Senator ____? She hasn’t held office for 6 years, and she’s still calling herself Senator? Give me a break."

So are elected officials forever entitled to respect for having achieved office?

Proper decorum in correspondence has us addressing elected officials with respect as "the honorable" which as far as I can tell is a holdover from how the children of barons, viscounts and earls were addressed in Great Britain. According to Wikipedia:
In the United Kingdom, all sons and daughters of viscounts and barons and the younger sons of earls are styled with this prefix. The style is only a courtesy one, however, and on legal documents they are described as, for instance, John Smith, Esq., commonly called The Honourable John Smith. As the wives of sons of peers share the titles of their husbands, the wives of the sons of viscounts and barons and the younger sons of earls are known as, e.g., The Hon. Mrs John Smith.
Since those days of yore, the term has evolved. In America, we use it for anyone who has been elected to public office at any level of government. So, technically, an elected member of the local water board is as worthy of the honorific as a legislator.

But that still doesn't answer the question whether or not they are automatically and permanently deserving of the respect such a term would imply.

In the rough and tumble world of partisan politics, we don't talk of respect very often. We talk much more of accountability to the people who put them in that office, the voters. It's probably because we’ve eschewed royalty in favor of our democratic system of government.

Demand respect? It’s always been my opinion that if such nonsense was tried in a public forum, they'd be chewed up mercilessly by an electorate who would treat such behavior with ridicule.

As a society, generally if we give respect, it is for noteworthy accomplishment. We give it for bravely facing challenges. We give it for contributing to scholarship and enriching the human condition. We give it for striving for truth, no matter the personal cost. We give it for facing great odds and winning.

And that begs a question - Is an election any of those? Is the accomplishment of achieving electoral victory over another the measure of a man, or is accomplishment based on what you do with the block of marble you're given (via the electoral process) to chisel your mark into?

I probably have a jaded view. I've worked with and I am friends with many candidates. And as such, I see their feet of clay. Before they're in office, and during, I see them in their sweat clothes, with messy houses, locking their keys in the car, with bad breath and frayed clothes, in and out of relationships, wrangling with kids, etc. So I've seen their humanity in its pure and rawest form. One pant leg at a time.

Is it possible that seeing that overly human side automatically makes me write off such requests for respect as unnecessary pomposity? Or should I take the criticism and consider myself justifiably rebuffed?

What say you, the reader? Am I too disrespectful towards those who have earned electoral office? Or is a dose of reality for those who sometimes lose touch with it a good thing?

With all due respect, the floor is yours.

Comments

Anonymous said…
The wisest man ever to walk the earth weighs in:

PRO 3:34 He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.

18:12 Before his downfall a man's heart is proud, but humility comes
before honor.

27:2 Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not
your own lips.

29:23 A man's pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.
Ben Nesselhuf said…
PP – I couldn’t agree more with you on this one. Outside of committee or floor proceedings, I still cringe for a second when someone refers to me as senator. My first term in the house I served on the Commerce Committee. I was the youngest representative in the house by a few years (I was 25) but I was the youngest member of the committee by 20 or more. The chairman was Claire Konold, a great guy and the best chairman I ever served with. He referred to every other person by Representative so and so but always called me BJ in committee. I really enjoyed that. I did not view this as a sign of disrespect but rather a sign that Claire was comfortable with me. Towards the end of my first year, someone must have corrected him because one day I became Representative Nesselhuf.
I won’t make a judgment about people who turn their title into their first name but, PP, if you see me on the street and feel inclined to say hello, you can just call me Ben.
Dusty said…
PP,

It is too easy for people to get arrogant and full of themselves if we treat them like royalty. I think that is part of the reason that ethical lapses seem to be a problem for so many national-level politicians and corporate execs. I think that most people start out in politics as humble, caring, and ethical folks. Twenty years of people caring your bags, running your errands, and calling you "Senator," starts to make a person feel that they are a little too special. That feeling of entitlement is not healthy for anyone.

We should treat our politicians with respect, of course, but no more or less than good people provide to their business colleagues, cousins, auto mechanics, waitresses, or anyone else. It is, after all, just a job.
Anonymous said…
We have the same problem with faculty at universities. Some go by first names and others don't. Some deserve the respect of the title of Dr. and others don't. Some will kindly remind you they prefer to be called Dr. ______ and others will belittle you as human scum in front of their class for failing to address them properly. All of them worked hard to get their title and deserve respect for that achievement but those that think of themselves as 'holier then thou' are the ones that get on your nerves
Todd Epp said…
Interesting discussion. I am guilty of calling Gov. Rounds "Mayor Rounds," but only on my blog. In person during the just completed campaign, I addressed him as either Mike (which he didn't seem to mind) or Gov. Rounds.

I face similar issues with judges. Definitely inside the courtroom or in chambers, it is "your honor" or "Judge" or "Judge X." It is all "Attorney X" or "Counsel" when referring to opposing lawyers. While grounded in British formality from the old days, it also forces everyone to not make their arguments personal and to respect each other, the law, and the court.

Outside of court and chambers, like some faculty, some judges expect to be called "Judge X," others make it a point to call them by their first name. It depends.

As a journalist, I tried to follow a similar approach when dealing with political leaders. If interviewing a political figure live or on tape or on the phone, I would refer to them by their title. Socially, if I knew them, I would call them by their first name. If not, I would call them by their title. In the Capitol, I would typically call them by their title, such as "Rep. X," largely because I didn't want the "civilians" to think I was disrepectful of their elected officials.

I did call Gov. Mickelson "George" once at an informal function at the governor's mansion. It felt weird. I don't think Gov. Mickelson liked it either. But I've had no trouble calling Gov. Janklow Bill in informa l situations while he was governor and the same with Gov. Rounds above.
I liked Gov. Mickelson a lot but apparently we were not going to be George and the Toddmeister to each other.

I've seen politicians, past and present, Democrat and Republican, use their title to help them get their way in small matters. It can work.

I guess my preference would be that we be able to call our political leaders by their first name if everyone concerned is ok with that outside of formal governmental and political settings and by their titles when in those situations.

As to calling Gov. Rounds "Mayor Rounds", I'm going to stop doing that. While perhaps funny and even true, it disrespects the office. Gov. Rounds earned the title fair and square, whether I like it or not. I wouldn't want Gov. Billion called something less than governor had he won. Consider it Todd's early resolution for 2007.

Todd Epp
http://thunewatch.squarespace.com
Mimi said…
I like the thought of a polite, decent, society where we give our elected officials the respect of addressing them by their title while in office. I always call John Thune "Senator" when I have seen him and I think that's appropriate. That may be different at the state level, but I'm not Emily Post. I must admit that I have lived in SD all my life and whenever I see Bill Janklow, I will always say and think, "Governor."
Anonymous said…
Ben and Dusty: did you write in so we wouldn't think it was you?

Don't worry Ben I don't think you are a high enough in the politisphere for pp comps.
Anonymous said…
Lee - at least have the decency to use your name when you insult another legislator.
Anonymous said…
I was always taught never to address anyone who had a position of authority or officialdom or who was just plain older than I by their first name unless they asked me to do so. It is just simple good manners. I am in my early 50s and I still do not call someone who is clearly much older than I by a first name at our first meeting.
Anonymous said…
PP - I'm sorry to here that Lee Schoenbeck treats you with such ill respect. Because seriously, who does this sound like...
Anonymous said…
I do believe that elected officials should be referred to as "senator" (or whatever) when serving in their official capacities. And people like the Governor, President, or a U.S. Senator should always be referred to by their title, out of respect for the office.

Unless you know the person and he is comfortable with using the first name. I have noticed that Rounds is perfectly happy to be called "Mike" all the time.
Dusty said…
I'll contradict myself a bit. After reading Todd, Mimi, and Anon 9:02 pm, I agree that we should address elected officials by their titles when appropriate.

I think my real problem is less what we call politicians and more how we treat them. I think a few more people need to "speak truth to power." Respectfully, of course, and with appropriate titles, but truthfully nonetheless. Yes-men (and -women) and overly-deferential staffers and advisors do little to ground politicians and much to inflate them.
PP said…
9:25, ha ha.

The point of all of this is not to name names and embarrass anyone, but more to discuss questions about the gap between unreasonable expectations and what should be considered civility, respect, and proper decorum with elected officials.

And I can assure everyone that despite the view of conspiracy theorists, this post has nothing to do with Senator Schoenbeck, who has always been more than decent to me (even when I was a much younger political hack).
PP said…
7:56 - be nice. I've written in a complimentary fashion on BJ... sorry.. Senator Nesselhuf more than once, as well as pointing out where I've disagreed with him on more than one occasion.

(and the worst part is I wrote this once, and then discovered I called him representative).
tim begalka said…
Hey BJ, a minor clarification. I was new to Commerce committee along with you and I was only 16 years older than you, not 20 plus!
betty olson said…
As a newly elected representative, I feel at least 30 years older every time someone calls me the Honorable Betty Olson. Maybe I'll get used to it, but I'd much rather be called Mom, Grandma, Auntie or just plain Bets, especially if you're not shouting when you are addressing me! If you're mad, I hope that the worst thing you'll call me will be Representative and I'll try real hard not to feel like Methuselah’s mother.
Anonymous said…
To answer your question,pp, I believe the ideal attitude is somewhere in the middle. To my knowledge you haven't been elected to anything, so you may be a little bit biased.
PP said…
11:44, I've only been appointed President of the SDWC.
Nicholas Nemec said…
I always use a persons title when addressing them unless I am on a very first name basis with them, and then only when we are in an informal situation.

In public such as a committee hearing where they are in their official capacity I always use the proper title to address elected officials, it just seems more appropriate. The use of the formal title adds dignity and shows respect for the process.

But an elected offical who corrects someone for not addressing them by their title is a little full of themselves and leaves a long lasting bad impression.
Anonymous said…
PP or is Your Supreme Excellency PP or is Mr. President or Dr. PP?

My opinion is that we must respect the office and should should show repsect to the person, especially in a public setting. However, it does seem a bit ironic that we the people elect th
Anonymous said…
Was it JP? She only let's her little toads call her JP, everyone else is chastised for not calling her Senator.
mjb said…
Anon, I thinkk PP already noted that "The point of all of this is not to name names and embarrass anyone, but more to discuss questions about the gap between unreasonable expectations and what should be considered civility, respect, and proper decorum with elected officials."

Besides. Everyone has seen JP in action and knows she had to demand respect, because she was unable to earn it.
Ben Nesselhuf said…
Tim – my apologies on ageing you another couple of years. It is great to see that you are still alive and kicking. Drop me a line. Sen.nesselhuf@state.sd.us I would love to hear what you have been up to.
Ike said…
I've found that only people who have not earned respect, demand to be addressed with a title.

Those that have earned the respect do not care about titles.

The exception being courtrooms or public hearings - where it is expected, whether respect is present or not.

I know a lot of Sen. & Rep. who could care less if they are addressed by a title or not ... those are the officials that know what they are talking about and have the respect of their peers and constituency. Those Leg.who HAVE to be addressed by Sen. or Rep. clearly have not earned respect, as they are still demanding it.
Brock said…
OK, I admit that I know of whom PP speaks when he mentions "candidates...locking keys in their cars." However, for the record, I brush my teeth regularly, although Guad does leave a distinct after-taste; I seldom wear sweat clothes; I don't have any frayed duds; and PP has never even seen my house! (It might be a mess, but it's my mess, and he has no way of knowing.) :P

To answer a couple of issues raised by PP, it is my belief that a person doesn't become "honorable" by virtue of the outcome of an election. A person must earn that distinction. (Now, there's a set up for my haters.) Further, I tend to err on the side of professionalism when in doubt as to how to address somebody, but it is my opinion that it is acceptable to call a person by his or her name. After all, it IS his or her name. As Senator Nesselhuf pointed out, calling somebody by name demonstrates that we feel comfortable with whomever we are speaking.

PP, although somebody disagrees, it is my feeling that generally you have been fair and appropriate in how you have addressed people in your writings. (Some of your anonymous commentators....well, not so much.) As it is, we learn from this post that it remains advisable to establish a rapport with somebody before becoming too "familiar" with him or her. If we do so, we never find it necessary to apologize for appearing to be less-than-respectful.

Have a great day, everybody!
Anonymous said…
I agree with Dusty. So not to make a long post I have to admit when knowing a newly elected official prior to them earning thier new title sometimes it is hard to address them with their new title.

Sometimes habits are hard to break in the mix of things. I have been working on this.

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