Sunday, January 3, 2010

Rethinking the Congressional Honorific

Tradition dictates that in writing a letter to a Senator or Congressman we use the appellation "Honorable". gives the standard method:

>"The Honorable (full name)
(Room #) (Name) House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

"Dear Representative:"

The reference to Congressmen as "honorable" has no legal standing. As HL Mencken wrote in his 1921 "American Language":

"...perhaps the greatest difference between English and American usage is presented by the Honorable. In the United States the title is applied loosely to all public officials of apparent respectability, from senators and ambassadors to the mayors of fifth-rate cities and the members of state legislatures, and with some show of official sanction to many of them, especially congressmen. But it is questionable whether this application has any actual legal standing...Congressmen themselves are not Honorables. True enough, the Congressional Record, in printing a set speech, calls it “Speech of Hon. John Jones” (without the the before the Hon.—a characteristic Americanism), but in reporting the ordinary remarks of a member it always calls him plain Mr. Nevertheless, a country congressman would be offended if his partisans, in announcing his appearance on the stump, did not prefix Hon. to his name. So would a state senator. So would a mayor or governor...."

The reference to a Congressman as honorable is evidence of faith in the character and integrity of the United States government. Election to the Congress of a great nation is honorable. But do we retain belief in the integrity of the United States government?

Congress has abused its trust by gerrymandering districts, reducing its legitimacy and representativeness. As well, it has failed to maintain proportional representation. In 1787 there was one Congressman for every 3,000 Americans. Today there is one Congressman for every 500,000 Americans. In 1776 the nation's 26 senators represented on average 115,000 Americans. Today, with over 300 million Americans, the 100 Senators represent three million each. The failure to retain proportionality of representation has been accompanied with escalation of corruption, especially in the post World War II period. The corruption associated with the Robber Barons of the late nineteenth century was miniscule in comparison with the magnitude of campaign contributions, donations to libraries, speakers' fees and the like today. Membership in Congress has become not an honor, but a form of legalized criminality.

Congress has manipulated the mass media to reflect its own and its clients' interests. It has permitted the subsidization of privileged sectors of the economy at the expense of productive sectors, damaging the nation's economic prospects. It has permitted but refused to take responsibility for wars, harming the nation's interests once it has approved the wars. Congress has failed to oversee the federal government's budget, insisting on renewing hundreds of failed government programs. It has lied to the public with respect to government operations, military operations, the operation of the Federal Reserve Bank, the productivity of government offices and virtually every endeavor in which it has engaged.

Congress has abused its trust by ignoring, violating and damning the Constitution of the United States. It has extended federal power in ways that warranted reassessment through Constitutional Amendment, but knowing that such amendment was impossible, violated its Constitutional mandate. It has effected one failed program after the next, and it puts the interests of the clients of those programs over the interests of the public.

Congress has become a racketeering scheme. Mencken's sarcasm was appropriate in his day. Today, in connection with this year's Congress, the title "honorable" has become offensive.

I call on all Americans to desist from using the appellation "Honorable" when referring to Congessmen.


Joan of Argghh! said...

How about we just add a syllable and "dis" them accordingly?

Richard said...

Nicely written. I like the suggestion by Joan of Argghh. However, I think that we, as voters, deserve everything we get from Congress. We keep voting for people who work primarily to keep their jobs (or should I say power). Working for their constituents is way down on the list. Voters have voted for thieves, sexual predators, and dead people.

Voters who don't pay attention deserve to be given the honorific "Your Most Humble Servant". When they write that letter, they can elevate their representative and disrespect their self at the same time.