In the spirit of full disclosure I have to say that I find pretty much anything Senator Boxer says irratating. However, her recent disrespectful and condescending request to Brigadier General who had respectfully called her Ma’am, to call her Senator made me laugh.
Generally speaking, I will call someone whatever they want to be called as long as they are willing to return the courtesy. My given name is Jeffrey but you can call me just about any variation of that you want as long as you do it in friendly manner. However if your name is Charles and you insist on me calling you “Charles” and not “Charlie” or “Chuck” then you will only call me Jeffrey. If you are a Doctor or a Professor and insist I use your title when addressing you then you must address me as Mister.
I also have a few nicknames and if you know me well enough and long enough you can call me by one of those. My golf buddies can call me any number of names that are not printable here as long as they are also marveling at my shot making ability at the same time. I also try to treat everyone in meet in daily life with respect. I address everyone I do not know with the title “Sir” or “Ma’am.” The cop who pulls me over for speeding or the person who takes my money at the grocery store gets the same treatment.
I recently did a show at a military base where the commanding officer was a woman. I was unsure how to address this much decorated military person so I asked a tough looking guy with a bunch of stripes on his arm to guide me. He told me that “Ma’am” was the proper term of address, just as I would say “Sir” if the commander were a man. Then he added some information for which I had not asked.
“Don’t address her only by her rank.” He said, “That would tell her you think she is a substandard officer.” In the military it seems that insulting an officer to his or her face isn’t tolerated very well. Military people, being a resourceful bunch, have developed a system for letting an officer know that they don’t think too much of them. They use the term of address which least fulfills the requirement of military respect which is using only the person’s title.
Imagine, for example, you are an enlisted man and you are under the command of a Lieutenant Smith. If Lt. Smith is a competent leader you would address him as “Sir”, “LT” or “Lt. Smith.” If Lt. Smith is an arrogant moron you would always address him simply as “Lieutenant.”
So when General Walsh quickly came back with “Senator” and not “Senator Boxer” I laughed because I knew what he meant; this is a substandard person for whom I have no respect!