“…I may slit my throat…”
That was former President Bill Clinton’s joking response - - or at least part of his joking response - - when asked how me might cope with going from being the leader of the free world, to being the spouse of another president.
He made this statement on a recent episode of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” on the Comedy Central cable television channel. While being interviewed about his new book “Giving: How Each Of Us Can Change The World,” Clinton commented on a range of issues in a mostly light-hearted, yet poignant show segment.
For Stewart’s part, he was being the smart host that he is - - and asking the question that is probably on the minds of millions.
It may not be the first question that comes to mind for those of us who are paying attention to this unprecedented election cycle. But after the questions of “who do I like?” and “who do I want?,” the “what if?” questions quickly come in to play.
“What if she gets elected President?” “What if he becomes the first male presidential spouse?” Some may not want to think about these questions, but intuitively most thoughtful Americans realize that the questions are real and need to be contemplated.
And it’s difficult to imagine that, if this comes to pass, it will do nothing short of changing the dynamic of the presidency itself.
I’m not suggesting that the presidency will be forever changed. But I am saying that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be unlike any presidency we have known. And this is true not merely because of who Hillary is, herself.
For most of our nation’s history, the role of “presidential spouse” has largely involved being a social coordinator and interior designer. Our nation’s First Ladies have almost always been involved in the details of state visits, and maintaining the “elegance” of The White House.
But certain of them stand out as having done things differently. For example, FDR’s wife Eleanor Roosevelt was a very high-profile First Lady, writing her own syndicated newspaper column and presenting her own regular radio broadcasts from The White House.
Years later, Patricia Nixon would accompany her husband President Richard Nixon on historic trips to China and the Soviet Union, and went on to visit Africa and South America herself as a “Personal Representative” of the President.
Betty Ford, while burdened with the tasks of “damage control” after the resignation of President Nixon, remained an outspoken advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment during Gerald Ford’s brief presidency. She also changed America’s thinking about cancer, and drug addiction, by speaking candidly and publicly of her struggles with both.
And Rosalyn Carter was known to not only attend, but to take an active role in President Jimmy Carter’s cabinet meetings.
But we’ve never had a First Lady who took such an active role in policy making, as did First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton during Bill Clinton’s first term as President. Combine this with the reality that we’ve never had a former President play the role of “First Spouse,” and it’s difficult to deny that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be like none other that we’ve known.
We’ve already seen a pattern of former President Bill Clinton gradually emerging into a more prominent role in Hillary’s campaign. As recently as February of this year, the talk was that Hillary may need to distance herself from Bill so as to avoid being plagued with questions about his impeachment.
But by April, Hillary was telling audiences that, when she becomes President, she will appoint Bill to be “Ambassador To The World” (her choice of words, not mine). And think about this for a moment: if we are to take Hillary seriously about this proposed title for her husband, it could, at the very least, re-define the job of Secretary Of State.
Ultimately, we have a very unique former First Lady running for the presidency, and a very unique former President “running,” if you will, to be “First Spouse.” Add to this the reality that Hillary Rodham Clinton is far more partisan, more ideologically driven, more polarizing, and far less charming than her former President husband - - and it’s not difficult to imagine how Bill could easily overshadow his wife, and most everyone else in her administration.
This is not shaping-up to potentially be another “co-presidency,” as was promised in 1992.
This is looking more like the makings of Bill’s third term.