First Gentleman? What Will We Call the Spouse of a Woman President?
We may have to sift through history for an idea.
The day may arrive - eventually - when America boasts a female President. (Possibly not before we elect men representing every minority in the country instead of someone representing the majority of Americans - women - but eventually.) When that day finally comes, several questions will have to be answered. Primary among them: what to call the President's spouse, and what role will he or should he play in American life?
But first, a woman has to get herself elected. Many a politician has either praised his spouse for her role in his success or paid tribute to her support in spite of his loss. The two women who have launched the most credible campaigns for the highest office in the land might not be quite so quick to praise the contributions their husbands made to their unsuccessful campaigns.
Former New York Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has come closest to occupying the Oval Office, Now the presumptive Democratic nominee, "The Bill Factor" has always been a concern within her camp. To some he was a shrewd politician, a president who presided over two administrations marked by relative peace and unquestioned prosperity. To others he was "Slick Willie," a known womanizer even as a former governor and presidential candidate, whose personal life marred much of his second term. Flashes of temper when his wife was the topic of negative questioning during her campaign reduced his influence as a former president. At other times, her influence was reduced as he appeared to be self-promoting at her expense. A recent example would be his impromptu visit with Attorney General Loretta Lynch at the Arizona airport.
"My guess is that Clinton doesn't truly get it yet—that he really will have to take a back seat," says a Bush family friend who asked to remain anonymous. "That happened to the Bushes ... It was hard for the father to recede completely to make way for the son. Bush Senior thinks Clinton had better be careful what he wishes for; her winning will be harder for him than he can imagine.” http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2007/05/27/his-new-role.html
The woman who came second-closest to being the nominee of her party for President was North Carolina Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole. She was married to both a presidential and vice presidential candidate, the well known Senator Bob Dole of Kansas. His television commercials during her campaign, one for the erectile dysfunction medication, Viagra, and one with then teen star Britney Spears for Pepsi-Cola, brought on many questions about not onlly his judgment but also his commitment to his wife's run for the presidency. He also did her no favors by reminding voters he could “impart valuable advice to his wife about the inner workings of the Senate.” He once even commented he was considering making a donation to another candidate, John McCain. Both Doles later downplayed the statement as a joke. http://www.realchange.org/dole.htm
Hillary and Elizabeth each suffered from the past financial scandals involving themselves and their husbands. The late Geraldine Ferraro, the only woman ever on the Democratic ticket as vice president, also felt the impact of negative press as her husband's financial dealings were vetted during her unsuccessful campaign.
America's first First Gentleman, First Spouse, First Consort, First Hubby, or whatever he eventually is called, might wish he could call up spirits from the past to seek advice from, such as Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. He became the husband of Queen Victoria of England only after, by law, she proposed to him. He was known as the Prince Consort and fathered their nine children, including the future King of England, Edward VII. Albert began his marriage with no official title or duties, but made himself useful by economizing the Queen's household, to include her estates, turning them into profitable enterprises. He eventually was a champion of educational reform and, though slavery was already outlawed in England, lent his voice to a worldwide abolition of slavery. Some would say modern Britain's constituional monarcy owes this mere husband a debt of gratitue for persuading his wife to show less partisanship in her dealings with Parliament. World reknown Royal Albert Hall is a lasting monument to a man who started his marriage with nothing to do officially other than procreate.
Among the living, the U.S. First Whatever would be wise interview Prince Phillip, husband to the reigning British monarch, Elizabeth II. After renouncing his birthright to Greek royalty, Phillip's father in law, King George VI, bestowed him with the title of Philip Duke of Edinburgh on the day before the wedding. This gesture opened the door for him to become the patron of organizations such as The Duke of Edinburgh's Award and the World Wide Fund for Nature. He is currently the Chancellor of both the University of Cambridge (as was Prince Albert) and the University of Edinburgh
Elizabeth was a princess (though heir apparent) when she married Phillip. He reportedly proposed to her. He was not under law to wait for her to offer marriage as Albert was in the case of Queen Victoria, both Elizabeth and Phillip's great grandparents. But in order to position himself for marriage to his second cousin, he became a naturalized British subject and converted from Greek Orthodox to the Anglican religion. Upon renouncing his ties to Greek royalty, Phillip took the surname of Mountbatten, the anglicized version of his mother's name, Battenberg.
Elizabeth came to the throne upon her father's death in 1952 because of her Uncle Edward's abdication in December 1936. As the King's only grandchild, she was born third in line to the throne. Edward's abdication without a child of his own changed the course of her life. It was reminicent of Victoria who became Queen because her uncles, ahead of her in linage, produced no legitimate heirs. As fate would have it, Edward went on to marry the woman he gave up the throne for, but still had no children. So Elizabeth would have become Queen eventually even if Edward had not abdicated. It just would have happened twenty years later.
(Apologies. I really chased that rabbit down a hole, which is easy to do when you attempt to write about the British monarchy)
When the day eventually does arrive and the United States has a female President, the role of her spouse will need to be defined. It is fair to speculate the woman who attains that position will certainly have the ability to choose as her mate a person equal to the task of defining the role for himself. We've come a long way from the days when the First Lady redecorated the White House and selected a new china pattern. A First Gentleman, the first of possibly many, will no doubt chart his own course within whatever limits the American people - and his wife - set. And, based on the experience of the women who have made the attempt in the past, in order to make it all the way to the White House, future female contenders might find it helpful to choose a husband who was not previously in politics himself.