His Name Is His Name

Some years ago, I was watching Silence of the Lambs with a friend who was then in medical school, and he pointed out that everyone kept calling the film's villain "Dr. Lecter." "Boy," my friend said. "Once you get that M.D., they have to call you 'Dr.' forever, even if you start killing and eating people."

I raise this because Emily Yoffe has done us a service and asked why in the world everyone has to continue to call Newt Gingrich "Mr. Speaker" when he hasn't been Speaker of the House in 15 years. In all, three of the four remaining Republican candidates for president get called by titles they no longer hold, with Governor Romney and Senator Santorum joining Speaker Gingrich.

This is a problem that seems to exist primarily in Washington, home to such fetishes of pompous self-importance as the "brag wall," the display of photos of an office's resident with even more famous and powerful people. There aren't very many other arenas in America where you get to make people call you by the most high-falutin title you were ever given, no matter how briefly you held the position or how many decades have passed since you did. I knew one person who insisted on being called "Ambassador" because a quarter-century before she had held that title for less than a year.

But what if you have more than one impressive title? When this question presented itself, I thought of John Ashcroft, who was an undistinguished governor, an undistinguished senator, and an undistinguished attorney general, any one of which would earn one a title-for-life. When I went to his bio page at The Ashcroft Group, the influence peddling firm (what else?) he founded after leaving government service, I found to my surprise that he is referred to only as "Mr. Ashcroft." Go figure.

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