I’ll admit, the outcome of the election had caused me to worry just a little about what we could expect in the future from such vaunted phraseologists and thinkerers like Peggy Noonan. Would she lose her special derpapallooz charm and touch?
Well, I think I can safely report my fears of such developments were misplaced. For Ms. Noonan has carefully examined the signatures of our current president and compared them to the Greatest President Who Ever Lived. What she discovered may surprise you:
In general I think the bigger the ego the more indecipherable the signature. Modest people write their names, others give you swirls and squiggles you’re supposed to make out. The signer is so big he doesn’t have to be named, even by himself.
In my mind this connects to something about the signatures of those now in politics. I have on the wall of my office something that means a lot to me, a framed presidential commission from 1984 that named me a special assistant to President Reagan. It’s about 20 inches top to bottom, 24 inches wide, with black script on ivory colored paper. The commission bears the embossed seal of the president, and is signed by him and his secretary of state. Everyone who’s ever been an officer of a White House has one, and some old Washington hands have three, four or five of them, from different administrations, given pride of place on the office wall.
Underneath my Reagan commission is another, same size, almost identical, signed in 2011 by President Obama. That was the centennial year of Ronald Reagan’s birth, and the Obama White House graciously and generously appointed some old Reagan hands to be part of planning its celebration in the Capitol, and elsewhere.
The two commissioning documents, which haven’t changed in style over the years and are almost identical in script and format, are different in one big way. On the Reagan document, the president’s signature is small, clear, modest—rising about half an inch at its highest point. The signature of the secretary of state, George Shultz, is clear, and about the same size.
The Obama commission is startling in that the president’s signature is so big, more than an inch and a half high at the B, which is an inch and a half wide. Reagan’s first and last names could fit in the B alone. Obama’s signature is dramatic, even theatrical: The O is cut almost exactly in two by the elongated b of Obama. Even in his signature he starkly divides. The signature of the secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is clear, unslanted, and also big, an inch high and five inches long.
Almost always when people come into my office and look at the commissions they notice the signatures and note the change in size from one era to another.
To me it’s a metaphor for the growth in the power and size of the federal government the past quarter century and, frankly, the more flamboyant egos—or, a nicer way to say it would be the bigger personalities—that populate it today.
H/T to Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog for the find.