If Hillary Clinton enters the White House, just what will they call Bill?

When Australia was governed by a woman for the first time, they called Julia Gillard’s partner the First Bloke, but that is not very American

Andy McSmith
Wednesday 15 April 2015 08:34 BST
Behind every great woman: the Clintons – Chelsea, Bill and Hillary – at a rally in New York
Behind every great woman: the Clintons – Chelsea, Bill and Hillary – at a rally in New York (KEITH BEDFORD/Reuters)

The prospect of Hillary Rodham Clinton entering the White House as the 45th President of the United States raises the intriguing question: what will they call Bill? Since Eleanor Roosevelt’s day, the president’s wife has had the official title, First Lady, with her own team, working in the Office of the First Lady.

Unofficially, the title goes back further. Martha Washington, wife of George, was called the First Lady. So, in a sense, the title is as old as the American Constitution. But, say what you will about Bill Clinton, he ain’t no lady.

He has an eye for the ladies, of course, so calling him the First Lady’s Man would be apt and descriptive, but President Hillary might not like it. When Australia was governed by a woman for the first time, they called Julia Gillard’s partner the First Bloke, but that is not very American. Perhaps First Gentleman would fit the Bill.

Once his title is sorted, Bill will have to make a strategic decision about what the role of a President’s husband should be. He will be unique among the list of 45 First Ladies, not only because of his gender, but also because he will know more about being President than the President. Sooner or later, he might set off a confrontation like the scene in the current series of House of Cards in which President Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) brutally reminds his wife Claire (Robin Wright): “This office has one chair… And if you suddenly can’t stomach that, well then I’m a fool for having married you.”

As he tries to learn the right mix of helpfulness and humility that his role requires, Bill might cast around the world to see how other husbands of other powerful women have fared, in search of a suitable role model. But if he does, he will be disappointed.

Tim Mathieson, partner of Julia Gillard, is a hairdresser. Some Australians do not think hairdressing is a suitable job for a heterosexual male. A low point of Ms Gillard’s premiership was when a shock jock asked her, on air, whether Tim was gay. Uniquely, there will be a prime minister’s husband among the new batch of MPs elected in the UK next month, who has had to deal with similar innuendo. Stephen Kinnock, Labour candidate in the safe Labour seat of Aberavon, is married to Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Denmark’s first woman prime minister. He did not hang around in Copenhagen being the First Gentleman: he carried on working for the British Council, a job that seemed to take him anywhere but Denmark. That set off speculation, and Thorning-Schmidt, like Gillard, had to issue a public denial of a “very unpleasant” rumour that he was gay.

But despite the many foreseen and unforeseen problems that may lie in Hillary Clinton’s way, having to deny that Bill is gay is probably not one she need worry about.

The most powerful woman in the world is the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. But Germany’s First Gentleman is not Ulrich Merkel. She divorced him in 1982, but kept his name, and is now married to Professor Joachim Sauer, a quantum chemist. He is said to be pleasant and down to earth enough in private, he very rarely shows his face in public and never speaks to the media – not an example likely to appeal to Bill Clinton.

Feroze Gandhi, husband of India’s Indira Gandhi, might have made a very effective First Gentleman, but he died before she became Prime Minister. Morris Meyerson, husband of Israel’s Golda Meir, was so unsuited to public life that she dumped him, though they remained technically married.

Denis Thatcher, husband of Margaret, would occasionally address a few curt words to journalists – sometimes after a couple of gins – but never gave a formal interview. It was therefore known that he held political opinions somewhere to the right of hers, but the public never saw the evidence.

Sorry, Bill – there is no template for how to be a First Gentleman. You’ll have to make it up as you go along.

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