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If Hillary Clinton Becomes President, Who Will Be the First Lady?

By definition, the First Lady is "the wife or hostess of the chief executive of a country or jurisdiction." Would Bill take the job? Or would Hillary look for a more suitable candidate?

by Gabriela Herstik
Mar 3 2016, 4:35pm

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Now that it looks like the general election has finally become a two person race, between Hillary Clinton and a sentient angry orange, there's one major question that looms large over the presidential race: If Hillary Clinton wins, who will become the first lady?

By definition, the First Lady is "the wife or hostess of the chief executive of a country or jurisdiction." The term was first used to describe the first-first lady, Martha Washington, and her responsibilities were typically seeing to the comfort of visiting politicians and dignitaries. Even though the title of "First Lady" is an optional one—meaning Michelle Obama could have called herself Boss Woman, First Mate, or DJ fLoTuS. However, no woman who has held the unofficial position has broken with the traditional title.

Read More: The Most Famous Person You Don't Know: A Cultural History of Hillary Clinton

There have been several non-wives who served as "first ladies." Presidents Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, and John Tyler all had wives who died either before they were elected or while they were in office. In these cases, a close female relative, like a daughter or a niece, took on the position. James Buchanan was the only president to enter and leave the White House as a bachelor. He adopted his orphan niece, Harriet Lane, and appointed her to handle the First Lady's business.

If Hillary were to get elected, there would technically be two presidents living in the White House. It's hard to imagine, then, President Bill Clinton eagerly strutting around in a double breasted suit showing guests around the President Hillary Clinton's White House.

Even if Hillary does bring on a female family member to take on First Lady duties, there's another semantic wrinkle for Clinton White House Part Two. When you are president once, your official title will always be "President X." So if Hillary were to get elected, there would technically be two presidents living in the White House. It's hard to imagine, then, President Bill Clinton eagerly strutting around in a double breasted suit showing guests around the President Hillary Clinton's White House.

It's possible Bill may take a cue from the husbands of female governors. In an interview with CBS, Dan Mulhern, husband of Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, said, "My role is different less because I am a man than because I am the particular person I am. Each first spouse gets to mold the role, and that's one of the best things about this role. There is perhaps one difference due to gender. As the first First Gentleman, I can celebrate the election of my wife as Michigan's first female governor, and help claim that victory of equality and opportunity for all of us – women and men included. And I can show that men can do this with pride, intelligence, and love."

Other countries have already experienced the innovation that comes with a female head of state—including one who succeeds her husband's former position. Cristina Elizabet Fernández de Kirchner, the former president of Argentina (2007-2015) took office after her husband, former President Néstor Kirchner's five-year stint. The Argentine press used the phrase the "presidential marriage" to refer to both of them at once (they were also referred to less charitably as a "diarchy"). What linguistic wonders the Washington press corp will come up for the Clintons, one can only imagine.

The growing list of female presidents around the world is impressive in its own right, especially considering many held the position in the previous century. What's even more impressive is the women who have succeeded their husbands or fathers as president, including Megawati Sukarnoputri, the first female president of Indonesia, and the daughter of the country's first president.

It's more than likely that the role with fall to Chelsea Clinton. If Chelsea does become First Lady, would she get paid? The answer: not likely. The position of First Lady, when it comes to spouses, is an unpaid gig, which is pretty irksome given that first ladies like Michelle Obama and Laura Bush led very active campaigns against childhood obesity and illiteracy, respectively.

So where does this leave Bill and Hill? If he were to take on the role of the First Lady, would be called the First Spouse? First Gentleman? First Man? First Man does conjure an image of a furry, loin-clothed ancestor hunched over a Cenozoic fire. Best Man? Or will he be just First "Bill."

There's only one way to find out the answers to these very pressing questions: don't vote for Donald Trump.

Ask-Hole is a regular column in which Broadly investigates questions you probably already knew the answers to, but we didn't, so here it is. Do you have a question about honestly anything at all? Ask us about it.

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