Bill Clinton: ‘First Husband’ or ‘First Gentleman’?

-Professor MA Simpson

If Hillary Clinton became America’s first woman president she would be called President Clinton. CyberShrink wonders what her husband Bill Clinton’s ‘title’ should be.

America, and indeed the whole world, is looking with horror at the possibility of a Trump presidency – fearful of the oldest toddler in the world bringing the subtlety of the schoolyard and the language of the perennial bully to international politics. The other more likely, and more palatable, alternative is however no less interesting: the first woman president of America, with an ex-president by her side.

‘President Lite’

The first question that springs to mind is what he should be called. “First Mate” has a nice ring to it, but it may be too nautical. I personally quite like “President Lite”.

There’s precedent in the Philippines (and in the USA with the husbands of female governors), for First Husband, but that’s not exactly analogous to First Lady. First Gentleman, also used in such situations, would perhaps be the equivalent, though Bill hasn’t always excelled as a gentleman.  It would definitely be more dignified, and suggests that his role is intended to be genteel, rather than merely confirming his status as husband. First Husband also sounds as if he’s the first of a number of husbands.

He himself has jokingly suggested First Laddie, but he’s not even Scottish, so that’s just silly and juvenile. He’s also suggested Adam, as in the First Man. Sarah Palin when briefly Governor of Alaska referred to her mate as First Dude, apparently at his request, but why would anyone want to follow their horrid example?

In Australia, I read that Julia Gillard’s partner was called First Bloke, which is fine for Australia . . . Nowadays a head of state may, like France’s Hollande, have a long-term woman partner without being married, which can become awkward in terms of a title if the partner is replaced.

Any title for the spouse of a head of state is unofficial as such a person acquires prominence merely by virtue of being attached to a prominent figure. Their role is often only vaguely defined, and the general expectation is that they remain quiet and well-behaved. A good example is Margaret Thatcher’s husband Denis – she might have been the Iron Lady, but he was certainly not the Iron Man.

Some interesting manoeuvring

The Americans have also used the terms First Couple, and First Family. This “firstness” indicates prominence, importance and social status, which makes one wonder what kind of “first” our very own President Zuma should be. Deciding the order of prominence of his wives could also make for some interesting maneuvering.

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