What to call Bill if Hillary wins?
HILLARY Clinton’s possible election next week to America’s highest office has raised a sticky question: What’s the best way to refer to the president’s male spouse?
Bill Clinton poses a special dilemma – not only would he be the first male presidential spouse, but also the first former president to return to the White House as a spouse.
It is common to use the honorific “president” to anyone who has served in the post, even after they leave office.
But if the prognosticators are correct, and Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, then Bill Clinton can no longer be referred to as President Clinton after his wife’s inauguration without creating massive confusion.
Lisa Grotts, a certified etiquette expert, said the dilemma of how to address a male spouse has been dealt with at the state level, which may, or may not, provide a roadmap.
“In the US, we have six female governors, and their husbands unofficially go by First Gentleman. But there are no rules for presidential spouses,” she said, adding, “Once a president, always a president and that will always be his title for life.”
Allida Black, an expert on first ladies with the White House Historical Association, said there is no question that, in terms of protocol at least, Bill Clinton’s “title will stay the same” when the first couple are presented at formal events.
“It will be President Clinton and former president Clinton,” Ms Black said in explanation.
“If she was married to a person who had not been president, he would have been the First Gentleman, but because Bill Clinton had been president, he is former president, and not the First Gentleman.”
The first lady traditionally has her own staff and budget in the White House, and typically adopts causes that are more or less non-controversial.
Laura Bush took on the issues of reading and literacy; Michelle Obama tackled obesity and good nutrition via her White House garden. She also gave greater visibility to support for veterans and their families.
Another issue brewing in political circles is precisely what official role the First Gentleman – if that is what he’s called – will play.