What about Bill?

tumblr_o75swmc9lI1s1xn0oo1_1280There is not much that is amusing about this election. The candidates have been chosen by a small minority of voters and the winner will be effectively elected by a combination of the ‘my party for life‘ and the ‘anyone but …‘ crowd. Issues affecting our future have had little attention and I don’t expect that to change. It is mindless and, in my opinion, dangerous. Still, I am sure we will somehow survive, and there is still some entertainment to be had.

For instance, suppose Hillary wins, as is most likely barring federal indictment. (Now there’s a proviso I never expected to write!) In this case, Bill Clinton causes a few awkward issues, and I don’t only mean the necessity to carefully brief White House interns about their conduct.

First, he is properly addressed as President Clinton for the rest of his life. In many contexts that would be ambiguous and hence wouldn’t work. Of course the practice could be always to include their first names. However there are contexts where even that could cause uncertainty, particularly in international settings where our presidential history is less well known. Perhaps always referring to Bill as Former President Clinton might suffice, although then I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the shocked response, “Do you mean she resigned?

This general issue has already been informally resolved in a case that was even more complicated. The two Presidents Bush also shared a first name. The solution was to refer to them as Bush 41 and Bush 43, referring to their positions in the sequence of our Presidents. That would work for the Clintons too. They could become Clinton 42 and Clinton 45.

BT62021A little trickier is the fact that the President’s spouse has an official government office, and its name is Office of the First Lady. The title ‘First Lady’ is unofficial and only came into common parlance in the late 19th century. This title appears on the office door and personal stationery, which are easily fixed, but it also shows up in legal records, appropriation legislation and other official documents. Changing it will require legislation. And then there is the matter of what alternative name is appropriate. Office of the First Gentlemen seems obvious, but Bill is on record opposing this as stilted and archaic. He went on to suggest facetiously that perhaps Adam (the First Man) might work, whence we might have Office of Adam. I suggest Office of the President’s Spouse. This works now and it anticipates the possibility of future Presidents with less orthodox relationships, since current usage of the term ‘spouse’ encompasses an unmarried partner.

Then there is the matter of code words. POTUS (President of the United States) began as a telegraphic code word in the late 19th century. FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States) didn’t arise until it was used as a code word for Nancy Reagan. These are generic codes and they are standard, but unofficial, jargon to refer to the President and First Lady, as in “POTUS and FLOTUS are on the move!” This has widespread use throughout the government, but especially within the Secret Service security detail assigned to Presidential protection.

Clearly FLOTUS would hardly remain appropriate. In seeking an alternative there is a restriction that it must be pronounceable so that it can be used in communication between agents. That seems to exclude FGOTUS, FSOTUS and FPOTUS, for Gentleman, Spouse and Partner respectively. In fact, if we only change the second letter in the code word, this seems to restrict it to a vowel or the letters L and R. Nothing comes readily to mind, but I am sure that the Secret Service is up to the challenge notwithstanding its recent spate of maladroit misadventures.

Running for President

Recently Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) made a brief pass at running for President in 2016. He has as good a resume as other likely candidates and better than many. After careful consideration and advice from experts, he determined that a run would take too much of his time and conflict with his executive responsibilities. What an amazing epiphany!

Anyone who has made a serious run in the past, even if unsuccessful, could have easily told him how many of his waking hours would go into the effort. The answer is all of them! Running for President is either a full-time job or it is just an exercise in self-aggrandizement. I am guessing that The Donald will have time to hawk time-shares while he toys with another run.

Even if you believe it is too early to get personally invested in the coming election, this fact has important implications for you. Has your Governor or Senator announced his candidacy, or is he making moves that indicate that he will? If so, he is effectively going on a long, paid sabbatical. He will no longer serve the interests of his constituents, focusing solely on his ambitions for higher office. A principled public servant would offer his resignation upon announcing his candidacy, or perhaps even a bit earlier when he departs to drum up support and money for the run. (Yes, I am aware that I seem to be ignoring female candidates, but it is burdensome to maintain gender neutrality in the text. If  you wish, just think “he or she” wherever appropriate.)

Governors really matter in the lives of their constituents. And irrespective of Mark Twain’s sardonic remark about the dangers of a sitting legislature, each Senator also matters. The Senate makes many important decisions and often the vote margin is small. So if your Governor or Senator is mounting his political steed without dismounting from office, I suggest you think about whether he is someone you can really trust to look out for your interests.

I am directing these remarks at those of you in Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. So, wake up!

As a historical aside, you probably noticed that I restricted this discussion to Governors and Senators, although candidates have sometimes had different backgrounds. In the early days of our history, the office of Secretary of State was a stepping stone to the presidency. And that is also an office with heavy responsibilities that affect everyone. However, since the Hatch Act of 1939, no sitting Secretary of State can run for President, so this is now moot. The other frequent source of candidates is the office of Vice-President. But aside from such outliers as Dick Cheney, they are usually inconsequential and no one would even notice if they just went fishing. As John Nance Garner put it succinctly, “the vice presidency is not worth a bucket of warm spit (expurgated version).”

Presidential Crises

Presidents-in-CrisisTo borrow a Monty Python trope, and now for something entirely different. Usually this blog briefly records my personal observations on current events, but this time I want to discuss those of someone else. Michael K. Bohn has written an insightful and riveting book entitled “Presidents in Crisis: Tough Decisions inside the White House from Truman to Obama.” This is a well-researched insider’s view of how Presidents deal with their inevitable crises. I recommend it unreservedly to anyone interested in our history and how the Presidency actually operates under duress.

Mr. Bohn served as Director of the Situation Room under Ronald Reagan so he knows first-hand how this really works. And make no mistake, what we in the public see is mostly just the results not the difficult and often confusing process by which they are produced. Presidents have to make decisions in the face of conflicting advice and limited or unreliable information. Events usually don’t permit leisurely review. How each President handles this reveals a great deal about them both personally and professionally.

SitRoom

Every President since WWII has endured challenging crises, and of course also before then. However, Mr. Bohn confines his study to the post-war administrations. Truman had the Korean War, Eisenhower faced the 1956 Suez War and the U-2 Incident, Kennedy reaped the whirlwind of the Cuban Missile Crisis that brought us close to nuclear Armageddon, and so on. No President was spared a crisis where his decisions — and his alone — were critical to our nation’s future. Nothing truly prepares one for it. Presidents must draw upon inner resources that hopefully we correctly discern when we elect them.

I want to quote a brief anecdote from the book’s introduction, not because it is representative of the contents but because it illustrates how differently things appear from the inside. These may be important events but after all these are human beings dealing with them.

None of these crises offered much more than an isolated moment or gesture that brought a smile to a participant. However, Henry Kissinger told me one of these rare incidents, which occurred late in the 1973 October War. Washington and Moscow had exchanged serious messages on the Hot Line on October 23 when Israel ignored United Nations cease-fire resolutions in an attempt to capture or neutralize the Egyptian Third Field Army on the Sinai Peninsula. Kissinger called Israeli Ambassador Simcha Dinitz from the White House Situation Room and demanded that Dinitz urge Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir to immediately stop the hostilities.

Henry momentarily lost his composure. “Jesus Christ!” he yelled, “Don’t you realize how important this is?” Kissinger quietly listened to Dinitz’s deadpan reply, “Henry, my government might be more persuaded if you invoke the name of a different prophet.”

After reading this book I had two epiphanies. The first is that knowing a great deal about what transpires in world events, as I do as an avid history buff, is not enough to properly evaluate a President’s actions. It is also necessary to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the process too. As a result I have somewhat altered my perception of more than one President. The second is that perhaps anyone who aspires to the Presidency either doesn’t understand the job or has delusions about it that should probably disqualify him. That’s something to consider as we enter the new election cycle, isn’t it?