Keyed Up:

So it looks like Barack Obama (disclaimer I’ve disclaimed before: my state Senator as well as a University of Chicago faculty colleague) will have a Republican opponent after all; Alan Keyes is reportedly going to run. An out-of-stater who denounced Hillary Clinton’s carpetbag run as an assault on federalism, a very, very religiously conservative black Catholic, and the banner-carrier for an Illinois GOP that has been shattered by corruption, electoral collapse, and 7-of-9, Keyes starts with a smaller natural base of voters than any major-party candidate I’ve ever heard of. Moreover, he shores up one of Obama’s great strengths: his appeal to white ethnic working-class voters who wouldn’t vote for a candidate who they think is really black. Keyes’ Catholicism and his party make him unappealing to black voters, but he looks all too really black to those white voters.

As everyone knows, Keyes also comes with two major assets: his mind and his voice. When he doesn’t go off the deep end (which he does with some frequency, and has done more as time goes on– his 2000 run for the presidency sounded loonier more often than his 1996 run), Keyes is is very smart, a great speaker, and one of the best debaters around. Of course, all of that’s true of Obama too. There’s a chance that Keyes-Obama debates could make for the political television of the year, with Lincoln-Douglas parallels getting drawn by the media: the two best debaters in the country are running for Illinois Senate, and this time, instead of debating slavery, they’re both black! You get the idea. Hype notwithstanding, they could be really marvelous debates– again, assuming Keyes doesn’t go off the deep end and start screaming at Obama for being a baby-killer or moshing or something.

Anyway, I dug around and found out that Keyes (who has of course never won an election, and has lost by progressively bigger and bigger margins as his campaigns become extended ads for his radio show instead of real campaigns) actually is entitled to call himself “ambassador.” It’s the title he uses, but it’s been noted that

Though Keyes is sometimes called “Ambassador Keyes,” the title can be a bit misleading: he served as the American ambassador to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, not as ambassador to the U.N. as a whole or to any individual nation.

This struck me as odd. People who are diplomats (and can you imagine Keyes as a ddiplomat?) but not ambassadors don’t just get to call themselves ambassadors. If you’re the US representative on a UN committee, that’s what you are, right?

It turns out that a variety of diplomats who aren’t ambassador to “the U.N. as a whole or to any particular nation” are appointed “with the rank of Ambassador.” Reagan so nominated Keyes on August 22, 1983. Appointments with “the rank of ambassador” require Senate confirmation. It’s apparently a pretty common honor to extend to high-level diplomats, including representatives to UN bodies Clinton appointed some 40 people with the rank of ambassador. (I couldn’t find similar lists for prior presidents, but there are a lot of Republicans with “rank of ambassador” on their resume. In the 70s, prior to the full normalization of relations with mainland China, U.S. liaisons to Beijing including George H.W. Bush were appointed with the rank of ambassador. Richard Haass currently has the rank of ambassador for his service as Director of Policy Planning at State, Robert Zoellick for being US Trade Representative, and Randall Tobias does for being Global AIDS Coordinator. Richard Armitage held it for a year of coordinating aid efforts to the then-newly independent post-Societ states. And John Negroponte was “Deputy Assistant Secretary of State with the rank of Ambassador for Oceans and Fisheries Affairs” under Carter. I assume that, for many of these posts (like USTR), appointment with the rank of ambassador is a matter of course. Who knew?

Well, lots of people, I suppose, but I didn’t.

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