Walter Russell Mead is an articulate, insightful, and prolific blogger. His Via Meadia is a must-read for me.
Now for the “but.” In a post about Michelle Bachmann, Mead refers to her as “Congressman Bachmann.” Perhaps Mead simply intends to use “Congressman” for the reasons that I use “he” and “him.” The latter are clear, simple, and traditional forms that should not be displaced by awkward, politically correct locutions such as “he or she,” “him or her,” and the egregious “they” and “their.”
Nevertheless, “Congressman Bachmann” is jarring phrase, and unnecessarily so.
I have long avoided the use of “Congressman,” “Congresswoman,” and “Congressperson” because such terms are applied exclusively — and wrongly — to members of the U.S. House of Representatives. There is another chamber to be reckoned with: the U.S. Senate.
Senators are members of Congress; a senator could properly be called “Congressman.” But “senator” has a long history and a connotation of distinction. A senator would be offended if someone were to refer to him as “Congressman.” “Senator” also has the advantage of being a correct and precise designator.
“Representative,” on the other hand, is not a word that connotes distinction. Salesmen, for example, often are called representatives. My guess is that “Congressman” and its ilk came to the fore because members of the House of Representatives did not want to be classed with salesmen.
Well, that’s too bad. Members of the House of Representatives are (or are supposed to be) representatives, whether they like it or not. And that is what I insist on calling them.
P.S. “Representative,” like “senator,” has the advantage of being gender-neutral. A representative is a representative, regardless of gender, and need not be called a “representativewoman” or “representativeperson.”