Do We Want Jack Lew's Signature on Our Dollar Bills?

When you're treasury secretary, your signature actually means something.

By + More
FE_PR_101124science.dollarbill.jpg
Macro image of a dollar bill.

Of all the ways to evaluate a cabinet nominee, is handwriting really worth examining?

Well, maybe, if the person's signature is going to end up on our currency, as treasury secretary nominee Jack Lew's would be if he is confirmed. Lew's signature isn't a signature at all—it's a series of loops that look, as late-night comedians have universally noted, like he was testing out a pen to see if it had any ink in it. This isn't just sloppy penmanship—this is the signature of someone who doesn't want someone to know who he really is, as if he were checking into a motel with an illicit lover, or attempting to avoid a paper trail when signing in to enter a building.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

Or maybe it's just a sign of the times. Now that everyone is typing on laptops and so-called smartphones and tablets, actually taking pen to paper seems not only anachronistic, but irritatingly slow. It just seems like too much bother to actually spell out the letters of one's name. But when you're treasury secretary, your signature actually means something—not just on government checks, but on a currency seen the world over.

You'd think the public humiliation of dispensing dollar bills with a bunch of scribbles at the bottom would be reason enough to improve the signature. (Public humiliation is perhaps our most powerful motivator. Think about watching those CNN stories on obesity, the ones that depict the wide backsides and jiggly midriffs of anonymous overweight people. You look, and then you say to yourself, "Hey, I have a pair of pants like tha….oh, my GOD!" The fear of being an anonymous ass on CNN is what gets many of us to the gym.)

[See 2012: The Year in Cartoons.]

But if our signature has become a metaphor (and even legal identification) for who we are, can Lew change it now? When I was in the fifth grade, a girl I knew who is also named Susan—someone I found impossibly hip and stylish—signed her name by bringing the bottom part of the "S" to a point. I copied her, hoping to acquire some of her general coolness. Now I'm tired of it, but I'm stuck with it, since it's my signature. So maybe Lew—and the rest of us— have to be stuck with his.

The Senate should, however, reject any nominee who dots his or her "i"s with a little heart, or even a circle. We have to draw the line somewhere.

  • Read Anson Kaye: On Debt Ceiling, House GOP Puts Principle Over Responsibility
  • Read Peter Roff: Obama, Boehner, and the Coming Fight Over the Debt Ceiling
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad.