It was said that Americans did not pay much attention to the coronation of King Charles. We Americans think of ourselves as meritocrats—immune to the inheritance of titles. Does the conceit hold up. Yes and no.
I can recall an interesting moment when I worked for Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige in President Ronald Reagan’s administration. While that was a lot of years back, not much has changed; humans stubbornly hold on to their conceits.
Baldrige, often a man of few words, got caught up in the subject du jour, Washington titles. Washington is populated with what my friend Jerry Jana laughingly called PIPs (Previously Important Persons). In Washington PIPs are everywhere and unlike the life cycle of cicadas, who spend 99.5% of their time underground, they are in full plumage until death.
If you were a Senator or Governor or Ambassador or Judge or just a Congressman you were addressed as such. Retirement be damned.
Secretary Baldrige found this ego-stroking charade perplexing and amusing. Perhaps in retirement he didn’t want to be called Secretary. Anyway he ended his discourse saying the ultimate title was Founder. By the way Baldrige was one-of-one; he was a rodeo calf-roper until his death in a New Mexico rodeo.
America has millions of founders. Inventive people, decisive dreamers. Often passionate and necessarily tenacious. Yet we don’t call people Founder Smith or whatever. Their accomplishments and disappointments are the knowledge of the communities and neighborhoods. They have all tried and when they sing our national anthem they have an innate understanding of freedom.
Good for Americans. Now if those with titles would leave Washington, go back home, then their neighbors could decide what to call them.
And then we all might more lustily sing the final lines of our national anthem: “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.