Carl Sferrazza Anthony: If Hillary wins the White House, Bill becomes 'First Gentleman'





[Anthony is the author of 10 books on First Ladies and First Families.]

Hillary Clinton gets asked the same thing over and over: if she is elected president, what will Bill do? Obviously, we've never had a woman president. But we've also never had a male First ... Lady. So let's start there. What would he be called? As the president's husband, Bill Clinton would most likely have the formal title "First Gentleman." But he would be addressed directly by his other, loftier title: Mr. President. Likewise, when he walks into a room, with or without Hillary, he'll still have the option of being greeted with the sweet strains of "Hail to the Chief."

As for the rest of the details, they are, at this point, still up in the air. The Constitution is silent about the role of a president's spouse. The position has traditionally been more symbolic than substantive. It is true that more than a few First Ladies—among them Hillary Clinton herself—have exerted power in front of and behind the scenes. But our national image of the First Spouse is still that of the quiet, coiffed wife beaming adoringly at her husband.

Decades ago, Hollywood was already having fun with the idea of a man cast in this role. In the 1964 comedy "Kisses for My President," Polly Bergen played the nation's first woman chief executive. In the movie's promo posters, Fred MacMurray, who played Bergen's husband, poses glumly beside her in the Oval Office, an enormous flowered hat atop his head.

Don't expect Bill Clinton—a formidable political strategist and policy wonk—to hover quietly in the background. Some in D.C. have speculated that he might take on a powerful post, perhaps secretary of State. But he can't. Ever since John F. Kennedy appointed his brother Bobby to be his attorney general, nepotism laws have forbidden the president to hire relatives....


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