Whatever his merits as a potential treasury secretary, Jack Lew is an embarrassment to penmanship and about to become a national poster boy for its decline. If President Obama announces his appointment today, as expected, Lew’s illegible signature may soon become one of the most printed in the world, gracing the lower right-hand corner of the billions of American banknotes produced every year.
Lew, who is currently Obama’s chief of staff, may be able to come up with a cleaner version of his signature, which in samples online is more evocative of the marks once used by illiterates to sign contracts than John Hancock’s regal scrawl. There is precedent: While the outgoing secretary, Timothy Geithner, has a normal signature that is far more legible than Lew’s, Geithner still produced a cleaned-up version for use on currency.
Geithner and Lew, however, probably represent the wave of the future as cursive writing falls even further into disuse. Though still taught through third grade in some schools, cursive writing skills atrophy without practice. By the time future President Jenna Bush names her first treasury secretary, look for block letters on dollar bills — or, preferably, redesigned currency that ends the tradition of including the signatures of treasury secretaries before it becomes a national embarrassment.