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March 23, 2012 11:39 AM Titles

By Jonathan Bernstein

Did you see that the airport in Little Rock is being named after Bill and Hillary Clinton?

Putting aside the obvious jokes (which I made on twitter yesterday, but it fell flat, which is why I feel compelled to mention it again here) about why Arkansas is naming something after a New York politician — perhaps this is a good excuse to push an idea that American politicians should, as Emily Yoffe argued in a terrific post earlier this week, act like Americans and stop using their titles after they leave office. See Paul Waldman’s follow-up, too. Hey, even Walt Disney knew this one: the theater on Main Street shows “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln,” after all. In a democracy, Mr. or Ms. is a good enough title for anyone.

Back in the 1990s, I used to think that Bill Clinton was the right guy to start the trend. If he insisted on being Mr. Clinton now, I think there’s a good chance it would catch on. But he didn’t. Perhaps impeachment made him a bit more title-insecure than he would have been otherwise; perhaps it just never occurred to him.

Why Clinton? Well, it would presumably take a populist president to think of doing it…I wouldn’t expect Ronald Reagan, for example, to have considered it. Nor would I expect it of anyone whose legitimacy as president was under fire: so not Nixon, or Ford, or Carter, or George W. Bush (and here’s one case where it surely matters that Obama is the first black president; it would be entirely inappropriate to ask him to give up the title in the future while the other members of the ex-presidents club are using it).

Well, I hope he reads Slate (or the Prospect…well, I hope he reads Plain Blog, too, for that matter) and starts thinking about it. Surely by now impeachment is long past and his reputation as a legitimate president is safe and secure. After all, he’s got an airport named after him! Maybe he could even get his buddy George H.W. Bush, surely secure in his reputation and with his own airport in Houston, to go along with it.

Yoffe is right: it’s downright unAmerican to give people titles once they’re done with their jobs. But she and I and you believing that isn’t going to do any good. You know what we need? A Cincinnatus-of-the-titles, to take the lead and return to being a nice, citizenly Mr.

What about it, Mr. Preside…er, Mr. Clinton?

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.