DEAR MISS MANNERS: How should we address President Bill Clinton if his wife wins the title of president? Some have suggested First Gentleman. Some have stated that he would still be known as president. Who makes these decisions?
GENTLE READER: It is one thing to make protocol decisions, which come under the Department of State, and quite another thing to enforce them -- especially if the most prominent scofflaws are former presidents themselves.
Miss Manners knows that they mean to flatter one another, but it is at the cost of the dignity of the office they each have held. "President of the United States" is a unique title that should not be diluted.
Surely the prospect of a White House where people are perpetually asking "Which President Clinton do you mean?" should put a stop to that.
"First Lady" is a nickname, rather than an official title, although it is so thoroughly used that "First Gentleman" might also be, especially by those who find it amusing.
The correct protocol is that a former president reverts to the highest non-exclusive title he held. Thus George Washington was again known as "General Washington," and Mr. Clinton -- the title "Mr." is never insulting -- would be properly styled "Governor Clinton."