One thing that gives Washington its special charm is its obsession with title and rank. Those are seen as proof of how extraordinarily important everyone is. It's why we have all those people called "special assistant to the acting principal assistant deputy undersecretary" running about giving orders to adults.
And protocol deviancy will not be tolerated.
So we got an e-mail recently sent out by Carol Chernish, confidential assistant secretary to U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, warning us there has been serious backsliding at headquarters.
"Subject: Our Boss," the e-mail began. "We all work for
a Cabinet Member named AMBASSADOR Charlene Barshefsky, not for a woman named CHARLENE.
"It's grown and grown and now even Interns seem to be referring to her as that," Chernish continued. (What kind of parents, anyway, would name a kid "AMBASSADOR"?)
"I truly believe [she] deserves to be referred to as `Ambassador Barshefsky' in conversations with other staffers and ESPECIALLY when you're talking with other agencies and the public," Chernish wrote. And she assured staffers that "you will know if you're in the category and feel comfortable with just `Charlene.' " Maybe there's some special glow or something. A bounce in your step. Or another e-mail just to you.
In case anyone was unconvinced, Chernish put forward the cases of Madeleine Albright and Al Gore. "Don't think State folks chat with you about MADELEINE," she said, "or the VP's folks refer to AL. Same here, pleasssssseeee."
On the other hand, Albright used to be Ms. Albright but, at her request, one New York newspaper is now calling her "Dr. Albright," because she has a doctorate from Columbia.
Maybe if Madame Ambassador Barshefsky were a real Cabinet member, with position in that august body officially established by law, and not just a Cabinet member by presidential designation, we wouldn't have this terrible problem?
The Buddy System
Barshefsky's case aside, real Washington insiders know that titles, academic degrees, experience and such count for naught in this town. It's all in who you know. Certainly John M. "Jack" Albertine must believe that.
Albertine is chairman and CEO of Albertine Enterprises, which calls itself "a public policy analysis and advocacy firm." He was also vice chairman of Fruit of the Loom, worked for former senator Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.) and was executive director of the congressional Joint Economic Committee. President Reagan appointed Albertine chairman of a presidential commission on aviation safety.
Albertine, who has a doctorate in economics from the University of Virginia, is on the board of several corporations, according to a "biographical information" sheet provided by the firm, is "frequently heard on National Public Radio's Marketplace" and on television and has been quoted in The Washington Post and several other fine publications.
But the most interesting tidbit comes at the end: "In recent years, Dr. Albertine has been on several Outward Bound excursions headed by [Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman] Arthur Levitt Jr. Dr. Albertine is also a very close personal friend of Dr. Larry Summers, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury."
No doubt even closer now that Summers has moved up to secretary. Virtually brothers.
White House Sloganeering
The White House is trying to trademark its official motto for the millennium, "Honor the Past -- Imagine the Future," as well as several other similarly catchy phrases. The goal is to prevent some slick capitalists who might want to profit by slapping the slogans on T-shirts, tote bags, videos, bowling balls and such.
ABC News's Josh Gerstein recently uncovered seven applications filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by the White House Millennium Council, which is in charge of the country's official 2000 celebrations.
President Clinton uses the "Honor the Past" motto all the time, crediting first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton for coining it. The administration wants anyone who uses it or the other official slogans to get written approval from the director of the Millennium Council and to "support positive health, social, cultural, educational, economic or environmental objectives."
It's hard to see a frenzy to use some of the great phrases the council wants to trademark: "Millennium Communities," "Gifts to the Future," "Millennium Trails," "Saving America's Treasures" and "Save America's Treasures."
But maybe the Clintonites want to one-up Pat Buchanan by going after this slogan: "New Masters for the New Millennium."
Tips and comments for Al Kamen's column are welcomed at: In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or by e-mail at Loop@washpost.com. Please include home and work phone numbers.