There have been a number of news and web articles discussing the role that Bill Clinton will play in the likely (but, sadly, not inevitable) event that Hillary becomes our next President.
One question is: what will we call Bill, if Hillary is in the White House? “First Gentleman” has been suggested, as has “First Spouse.” I prefer First Spouse to First Gentleman, because I believe that – now that just about anyone can marry anyone else – the word “spouse” is a convenient way to refer to one’s, uh, spouse.
However, I would like to suggest that we call Bill the Presidential Consort – just “the Consort,” for short. Like “spouse,” it too is a perfectly fine old word that fits the bill almost perfectly.
Consort: a wife, husband, or companion, in particular the spouse of a reigning monarch.
That silliness aside, let’s think about what role Bill can play in the new Clinton administration. Some commentators have suggested that Bill’s purview be foreign affairs – that he act as sort of a roving good-will ambassador. Hillary Clinton has said that Bill might be “in charge of revitalizing the economy, because, you know, he knows how to do it” especially “in places like coal country and inner cities.”
Whether as a roving ambassador or a czar for depressed economies, Bill inevitably would come into conflict with appointed cabinet members and – knowing Bill – the more enthusiastic his problem-solving, the more confusion he would cause.
A tradition has developed for Presidential Consorts (let’s try out the term and see how it sounds) to tackle social issues that the government, for one reason or another, has not yet gotten around to addressing. The most successful was Betty Ford who, almost singlehandedly, turned the public perception of alcoholism as a moral failing into one of a treatable disorder. Thanks to Betty Ford, we have reached the point where a public figure actually can boast about being an alcoholic.
Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity also has been a success. In the eight years that she has been Consort, the obesity rate of children in the U. S., which had been rising dramatically, has levelled off – unlike the childhood obesity rates of other countries.
Rosalynn Carter’s signature issue was mental health. A supporter of the deinstitutionalization movement, her efforts culminated in passage of the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980, which called for federal funding of community mental health centers. (It was promptly repealed by the Reagan administration.)
Nancy Reagan’s issue was drug addiction. She sensibly remarked, to a teenager who approached her at some sort of community center and asked what she should do if offered drugs, “Just say no.” Not so clever was the adoption of just say no into the slogan for her anti-drug campaign. Just say no as an anti-addiction precept might work in one case in a thousand – for the rare youth who, through naive audacity, or to forward a particular agenda, like funding for the community center, approaches the President’s wife for advice. For vast majority of those in the drug scene – which in the 1980’s was yuge!, ranging from the junkies sleeping under a bridge in Providence to at least three-quarters of Nancy’s old friends back in Hollywood – just say no became a standing joke, like a comical trope out of Monty Python.
Ladybird Johnson’s social advocacy was the beautification of highways. Fair enough, since her husband, with his vision of The Great Society, was the one crusading against poverty and racism (in this country, that is – not so much on the streets of Hanoi).
The character of Bill Clinton, his earnestness, his vivacity, his humor, his easy-going amiability, is just the thing to wring reform, enlightened change, out of a recalcitrant zeitgeist. There is a downtrodden minority, a large group of people undergoing difficult and debilitating stress in our rapidly evolving society, whose plight, so far, has gone pretty much unrecognized. Every once in a while, an academic will write a paper describing their difficulties, but no one – yet – has taken up their cause: boys.
Boys: transfixed by LCD screens, cowering in classrooms, frightened of their feelings, subject to adult disdain and discrimination in schools, in the information media, even in the movies they watch. In an era in which feminism has progressed to the stage of overcompensation, the stereotypical boy is no longer a Tom Sawyer, or a heroic sidekick, like Batman’s Robin, or even a winning troublemaker like Beaver Cleaver. Today's stereotypical boy is a crude, dirty-minded little jerk.
What better spokesperson for boys than Bill Clinton, our most boyish president? Who better, to raise their self-esteem and guide them through the straits of sexuality, between the Scylla of feminism on one side and the Charybdis of internet pornography on the other? Just as Betty Ford was the nation’s most beloved alcoholic, Bill Clinton is our most beloved sexual predator (reformed, presumably). A campaign to raise the public’s consciousness of the plight of boys, would be the ideal undertaking for President H. Clinton’s Consort. And its slogan stands right to hand: Boys will be boys.