This morning at the breakfast table my wife made an astute observation. On the Today Show Matt Lauer was interviewing former vice president Dan Quayle whom he addressed as 'Mr. Vice President'. "Why is he calling him that?" she said. "He's not the vice president. I told her that I thought it was out of respect for having been vice president. But my answer, in a way, begged the question. Her real question, I think, is why should anyone be addressed as the vice president who is not holding the office at the moment. This is more than a subtle bit of nit-picking. It goes to the core of our identity as Americans.
Article I Section 9 of the Constitution is crystal-clear about this: "No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States." Of course it is eminently fitting to address a serving elected official with the proper title. But the title should end when the term of service ends. Respect for the office dictates that Mr. Biden be addressed as 'Mr. Vice President'. But only while he holds the office.
This may not be a burning Constitutional issue, but it is a distinction worth observing. There is no royalty in America. All Americans are equal in this negative sense too. We might forgive John Adams who--- in the very early stages of our nation---wanted the title of 'Your High Mightiness ' for an incumbent president. But Harry Truman our 33rd president knew better. When he left office he returned a private citizen to his hometown of Independence, Missouri. No longer president. No different from the rest of us.