On the concept of the First Lady of the United States of America

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by yaxomoxay, Aug 16, 2016.

  1. yaxomoxay macrumors 68000

    yaxomoxay

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    #1
    As many have of you have gathered, I love American politics. I am involved in it, I read about it, I study it.
    There is only one question I can't get around:

    Where the f- this messed up concept of the First Lady (*) comes from?

    I don't want to disrespect Eleanor Roosevelt, or Nancy Reagan, or even Michelle Obama. As far as I know they are all good people, smart, and they probably do really care about many issues. However, I think that the attention they get is disproportionate, and their political power is even more disproportionate.
    There is no mention of the FLOTUS in the Constitution. There is no governmental role for the FLOTUS. Yet, she gives speeches, she flies governmental airplanes, and she even has a fully staffed office at the White House that she uses to start initiatives (often commendable). It seems to me that her role is para-governmental, a sort of bureaucratic institution that was born out of tradition (and probably a reflex of the monarchy) and is getting increasingly powerful. If you look at other republics and/or democracies around the globe you will notice that the US is alone in this. May's husband is not going to do anything. Italy's Renzi's wife? Less. Merkel's husband? I don't even know if she's married!


    (*) I talk of First Lady because historically that's what we had so far, not because a man shouldn't be the First Gentleman. And of course I recognize that a security detail is necessary.
     
  2. thermodynamic Suspended

    thermodynamic

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    #2
    They seem to be figureheads, given special entitlements because they are tied to the actual leader via form of religious/legal contract (marriage).

    And I agree, Eleanor, Nancy, and Michelle have all made some great statements and helped start good initiatives. It isn't a partisan issue at all.
     
  3. LizKat, Aug 16, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2016

    LizKat macrumors 68040

    LizKat

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    #3
    I hope Hillary will just let Bill be the First Gentleman or whatever (is that it?) and not make the terrible mistake of giving him some official post in her government. They are both so capable of being so tone deaf sometimes, and their usual coterie of advisors is no help there; they all seem to live in a bubble all these many years.

    Can never get too far when I try to think about these two being in White House again but with roles switched around. I hope they and some advisors with some common sense --and at least one foot planted firmly in the politics of reality as constituents' perception-- will have given this a lot of thought before she is sworn into office.

    Do both Clintons have to step away from the Clinton Family Foundation? What about the Clinton Foundation? The two foundations have assorted connections. All this seems not as complicated as Trump's adventures that he would have to step away from, maybe. Stroke of pen and someone else, or a bunch of someone elses, run the two foundations. It's that simple?

    But the circles of people involved, one wonders. "Everyone" who is "anyone" seems to have wanted to get in on giving something to the Clinton Foundation over the years. Which is great as a presidential legacy charity action goes, but the likely expectation of access to policy making does trouble me. That and the penchant for privacy of Secretary Clinton don't add up to the level of transparency people will want to see.

    "And now let me introduce Bill Clinton, America's First Gentleman!" FGOTUS? Oy, even the acronym is unmanageable. Well they'll figure something out by January, I'm sure...
     
  4. Scepticalscribe, Aug 16, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2016

    Scepticalscribe Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

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    #5
    Hm.

    Camelot......a dream.


    You write about Mr Renzi, Chancellor Merkel (who is married by the way), and Mrs May and ask about their respective spouses. Their spouses are irrelevant, because - while they hold executive power in their respective countries, - they hold executive power as in their capacity as Prime Ministers in parliamentary democracies - that is, democracies where parliament elects the prime minister.

    These countries all have a head of state with varying degrees of power, most of whom (the Queen of England is something of an exception for a variety of reasons) are essentially figure heads, with a ceremonial role representing the State.

    In the European context, the closest analogy to the position of President of the US - in terms of power, presence, and prestige - is the President of France, as France is the only country in western Europe where the President of the country is more powerful and more important than the prime minister.

    This is because France is considered to be a hybrid system: In the text books - the country is classed as having a 'semi-presidential' system.

    The US, of course, is a Presidential system, although one built on the concept of the separation of powers and a Head of State that is responsible to (and accountable to, and elected by) the people, rather than ruling them.

    Thus, the true cultural, and constitutional and political ancestor of the post of President of the US is the King or Queen (of England) and not the Prime Minister of any country. And in this context, it is worth noting that the spouses of the monarch were always people deemed to merit interest in the wider country and society, not least because the role meant that the person who filled it - inevitably - wielded influence and exercised considerable power, sometimes quite a lot of political power.

    Therefore, there is a distinction to be drawn between the Constitution (of the US) and the optics of how the role of POTUS - which is a constantly evolving one - plays out, because, in confining yourself to a constitutional reading, you miss the cultural and historical context.

    And that means, that while the Constitution is relevant, @yaxomoxay it is not relevant in quite in the way you think.
     
  5. yaxomoxay, Aug 16, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2016

    yaxomoxay thread starter macrumors 68000

    yaxomoxay

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    #6
    You certainly rise quite a few interesting points. There is no denial that the European system is not similar to that of the US, however where the executive power resides is often pretty clear. Obviously in many European countries it is the Parliament that decides who gets such power, while in the US it is the States (through the Electoral college, which reflects a popular vote). However, the Prime Minister has duties that are separate to those of the Parliament in a way similar, yet less strict, than that of the President of the United States. England is slightly different (they only have one legislative chamber after all, and the higher chamber is composed of non elected Lords) I recognize.

    In all of this, the consort does not appear in any official function whatsoever. This is true both in the US and in most European states.
    Now, I certainly recognize that the Presidency can be seen a little bit as the replacement of the monarchy, and I have no problem with that. I have no problem with some minor gossip about the First Lady. My problem arises when the consort has an active role in government. As of today, Michelle Obama is outside of any constitutional scope, yet she acts in the name of the White House. Before Michelle it was Laura Bush, and so on. In her role, she gets an office, she gets some staff, she gets to talk and discuss policy with policy makers, mainly as a voice from the White House.
    This shouldn't be.

    Futhermore, you claim that "the role of POTUS - which is a constantly evolving one - plays out, because, in confining yourself to a constitutional reading, you miss the cultural and historical context."
    I find that very disturbing. First of all, cultural or historical context the Constitution is what binds a President/Congress/Justice. There is no historical context that can change that. It is clear that you're for the "living constitution," while I am more for the "Constitution is just a legal document, and it's boring" a-la Justice Scalia. The Presidency can't get off the Constitution because history or culture demand it. Yes, I can read some behavior, and some facts according to cultural factors (like international police operations by the President that don't require Congressional approval) but those happen only in very extreme circumstances in which the Constitution can be read in different ways. What evolves is not the role of the POTUS, but the action that the POTUS takes; subtle but fundamental difference.

    The other thing that I find disturbing is that by claiming that the FLOTUS has the power she has - which is extra constitutional - due to cultural factors. This is extremely dangerous; again, by recognizing her role in government, be it due to cultural factors, you also recognize that she is part of the bureaucracy. At the same time, you recognize that her bureaucracy is not constitutionally limited. What are the limits of the FLOTUS?
    --- Post Merged, Aug 16, 2016 ---
    Let me add another layer.
    If I accept your premise of cultural factors then having a former President as first Lady/Gentleman is more complex.
    A former President receives security briefings, and it keeps an active role in the decision-making process. Heck, it might even be called in resolving diplomatic crises as demonstrated by President Clinton going to North Korea to rescue Americans.
    If HRC gets elected (*) then we have a First Gentleman (a non-position) that for "cultural factors" is active, that also has all the duties required of a former President. How would that work? Would Bill Clinton talk as a former president or as a FGOTUS? If it is the former, diplomatic issues can arise, if it is the latter then bureaucratic issues might arise.

    (*) I talk about HRC because she would be the first case of its kinds; I don't want to make this a post about HRC or DJT, but only on the role of the First Consort.
     
  6. Huntn macrumors G5

    Huntn

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    #7
    It's people looking up the President and First Lady, it's the FL setting an example just like her husband should, and finding a nitch where she can make a difference. Yes, in some cases it's for show, but in other cases the FL is in a unique position where she can push pet social projects like school lunches. The last thing I'd do is call it a messed up concept. And it's not that complicated to wrap you head around... And who cares what they do in Europe? :)
     
  7. yaxomoxay thread starter macrumors 68000

    yaxomoxay

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    #8
    She has government staff at her political service, including a spokesperson paid for by US taxes, and political analysts, secretaries, interns, and I think a person in charge of her relations with Congress; if she spoke as a personal citizen just exploiting her role as "wife" just giving interviews and speeches, then I would agree with you. But she has a full government bureaucracy at her service, which makes things totally different.

    One step further (from wiki, sorry!):

    Hillary Clinton broke tradition even further: the President gave her an office on the second floor of the West Wing itself; her staff of 20 (plus another 15 interns and volunteers) was divided between a suite in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and the traditional locus of the East Wing.

    First Lady Laura Bush had her office in the East Wing, and delivered the President's radio address to the nation on November 17, 2001. She had a staff of at least 24. [3] She undertook many foreign trips on her own, meeting and talking with several foreign chiefs of state.[4]

    Key staff, current (Michelle Obama)[edit]
    • Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady: Tina Tchen
      • Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor to the First Lady: Melissa Winter[5]
      • Special Assistant to the President and Director of Communications for the First Lady: Maria Cristina “MC” González Noguera [6]
      • Special Assistant to the President and Director of Strategic Planning for the First Lady: MacKenzie Smith
      • Special Assistant and Director of Special Projects for the First Lady: Kristin Jones
      • Special Assistant to the President and White House Social Secretary: Deesha Dyer
        • Deputy Social Secretary: Lauren Kelly
     
  8. Scepticalscribe, Aug 16, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2016

    Scepticalscribe Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

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    #9
    Er, @yaxomoxay - I'm a European, and an historian and political analyst by profession.

    However, I am not from the US, and I don't have a dog in this fight.

    For what it is worth, I merely offer arguments, ideas - food for thought.

    Philosophically, to be honest, I don't really care one way or the other.

    Actually, I am not 'for' the idea of a 'living constitution'; I just think it unsurprising that in the context of an evolving society that the constitution is able to develop, or evolve or exhibit a degree of flexibility to deal with the challenges of a changing society. If it cannot, strains will emerge, and somehow the system must find a way of accommodating them.

    However, on 'cultural' imperatives and the role of FLOTUS: I think that whenever changes come about as a result of cultural imperatives, there is a 'pull/push' dynamic - the thing wouldn't be so deeply rooted otherwise.

    Of course, this does beg the question of whether such concerns are prompted by the possibility that Bill Clinton might yet return to the White House as the First Gentleman, an even more undefined role.

    In other words, it isn't just ambitious women (until now) such as, say, Eleanor Roosevelt, - and/or dare one say it - Michelle Obama who have crafted and created some such role: I would argue that they couldn't have done so unless the host society (the US) at some fundamental level demanded and welcomed this.

    In essence, you have replaced an unelected monarch with an elected Head of State. And that Head of State is the Head of Government. Thus, the fascination with the spouse of the elected monarch continues. And it is a fascination that has deep historical roots - monarchs often made marriages for dynastic and political reasons, and the people they married were often pretty powerful in their own right.

    Actually, it is even more than that because in most of the west of Europe the post of Prime Minister (where political power - but a power answerable to an elected parliament lies) differs from that of the president - who is the ceremonial head of state, the visible and physical expression of what the state represents, but - who also lacks visible political power. In Europe - with Head of Government usually separate from Head of State, the spouse of neither is of any interest.

    Of course, France is the usual peculiar exception because of its semi-presidnetial system. Here, I will make the argument that it is not solely French culture - l'amour, romance and so on, which makes the love life - and the partner - of the President a topic of abiding fascination - but the very fact that the President of the Republic is both a powerful head of State, and is sort of symbiotically linked to the Government and governance of the country, makes this matter in a way it doesn't anywhere else in Europe.

    In the context of the US, you have a powerful president who replaced a monarch (not a prime minister, and this occurred at the very time when the position of prime minister had begun to become more powerful vis.a.vis the monarch in the UK), and who is also - because he is head of state - is seen as the embodiment of the country, and its values, the physical expression of what the country stands for - in a way that no prime minister ever is.

    In fact, this precise physical expression of a proto-monarchy - this notion of the 'First Family' buys into - and crafts and sculpts, and moulds, - twee myths of what the physical embodiment of a 'perfect family' is supposed to look like. And the attention paid to FLOTUS grew, I suspect, out of this - the longing - in US popular culture for a 'first family' - almost akin to, or like a royal family - to serve as the receptacle for dreams, ideals, aspirations, and myths and narratives of just what it meant to be a perfect embodiment of what America (the US) stood for.

    Yet, that, too, begs inevitable questions: Is the position of FLOTUS only of concern when occupied by an energetic woman with an articulated (political) vision? Or, ought the equally unsettling mythology and narrative of a silently supportive spouse, rictus smile in place, a comforting tale of gender certainties that the society is supposed to emulate if possible not also raise a question or two?
     
  9. vrDrew macrumors 65816

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    #10


    We ask a tremendous amount of our Presidents and, by extension, their families.

    We ask them to give up virtually every facet of normal family life and of privacy. And in return, the U.S. President makes a salary considerably less than that earned by a junior partner at a Kansas City law firm. The First Lady is expected to host literally hundreds of political and social functions. To hold hundreds of meetings, make speeches, tour military facilities. To go tv talk shows and sit for magazine photographs.

    It costs approximately $1.4 billion per year to run the White House, and to handle the President's travel arrangements. So I don't begrudge the salaries of whoever it is that helps the spouse of the President (who herself receives no remuneration) navigate this incredibly demanding schedule.

    From a purely Constitutional standpoint, we give our Chief Executive relatively little power. He can make no laws. And can theoretically spend no Government money, other than those amounts allocated to his discretion. One of those areas concerns the White House budget. And I'm quite sure that if we were to have an unmarried President, whatever funds were normally allocated to the First Lady's office would be spent elsewhere.

    With few exceptions, Americans have gotten good value out of our First Ladies. Jackie Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt served as symbols of our nation's mourning when their husbands died in Office. Modern First Ladies have acted as advocates for the poor, for America's culture, for our military families. Edith Wilson, by many accounts, served as a de facto President while her husband lay incapacitated by a stroke. Mary Todd Lincoln, one possible exception to this rule, was by most accounts a sad trial on a husband who had quite a few other cares during his Presidency.

    We will very probably soon have a new precedent to deal with: The Husband of a female President. And a man who himself is a former Chief Executive. It will be interesting, to say the least, to observe how this plays out. But one way or another, I don't expect that the mere existence of a "First Gentleman' will, by itself, be the cause of a Constitutional crisis.
     
  10. SusanK macrumors 68000

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    #11

    First Dude
     
  11. yaxomoxay thread starter macrumors 68000

    yaxomoxay

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    #12

    I am originally from Europe (Italy), and I read your posts with extreme interests. I did not mean to imply that you had a secret agenda or anything.



    Well, technically speaking that’s why the American constitution is so generic and short if compared to many others, and that’s why we have amendments. The constitution is flexible in itself, however it does not allow for exceptions.



    As you might have gathered, I have absolutely no problem with the fascination, and some gossip-level news about the spouse. The problem I see is when the consort is part of the bureaucracy, and most especially when it carries political weight. As I wrote above, the FLOTUS even meets in private with Head of States, which is clearly a diplomatic mission. I don’t expect the FLOTUS to start or end a war, but on what basis is she qualified to do that? And on what basis does she represents the government of the United States?



    This is a fair assessment.



    Certainly the perfect family narrative is a useful tool both for electoral purposes and for “nationalistic” intent, however I find dangerous that in the age of fast communication, and the age in which some things are amplified many problems might arise. If Michelle says something bad about the Chinese, it becomes a political problem; a government problem. As of today the FLOTUS has enormous political power, which is dangerous for a non-elected official. As we said the Clintons might bring it to the other level, especially because potentially now the words of a FOTUS will be weighted more as a viable future candidate for the Presidency (someone is already asking Michelle to run for office). The day that HRC becomes president, the role of the FLOTUS will be even more important.



    For me the problem is not the energetic woman (or man), and I hope that I made it clear. The problem is that she holds an official role within the White House that:

    - It is not an elected office

    - It is not a nominated office

    - It is not subject to congressional approval

    - It is not subject to removal in case of ethical violations

    - It is not based on merits, educations, or qualifications

    - The selection for the job is highly discriminatory (you get the office only if you’re married to a specific person)

    - Technically speaking you can get the office by marrying a POTUS who’s already in charge.
    --- Post Merged, Aug 16, 2016 ---
    I don't deny that, but at the same time we don't force them.

    And they sign for it. I honestly admire anyone who runs for office, but I don't feel sorry for them.

    She shouldn't. There is no request for that, no job offer, no selection.

    I don't think anyone complained about the salaries. My complaint is about the role.

    Constitutional crisis, no. Bureaucratic crisis? yes.
     
  12. bradl macrumors 68040

    bradl

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    #13
    You're missing the point here.

    FLOTUS is not an official role. It is as unofficial as the White House Chief of Staff. not elected, not nominated, etc. etc.

    There is no office for FLOTUS as well, in any official capacity, just like there is no 'official' office for children of the POTUS and FLOTUS. However, they are under just as much public scrutiny as the POTUS is. Case in point: The Bush sisters' run-in with the law for underage drinking; JFK Jr.'s salute during the funeral procession for JFK; Lynda Carter's legs during all 3 seasons of her show. Oh, wait.. wrong Carter there. ;)

    Tend to think about it this way; it is more of a ceremonial role than any official role. Again for example, Carla Bruni with Nicolas Sarkozy, Camilla to Prince Charles, or Malcolm Turnbull's wife, with being PM of Australia. Ceremonial, with her own staff, but nothing in any official government capacity outside of being the spouse of the POTUS.

    I will say that the USA has been incredibly lucky since its creation. Only 3 presidents have married while in office, with 2 of those presidents having remarried due to the FLOTUS dying. Cleveland was a bachelor when elected to office.

    BL.
     
  13. yaxomoxay thread starter macrumors 68000

    yaxomoxay

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    #14
    The office of the First Lady is an official entity of the Executive. That's why I keep saying that it's part of the bureaucracy.
     
  14. bradl macrumors 68040

    bradl

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    #15
    It is not an official office of the United States Government. It is an entity within the office of the POTUS, but not one of the US Government.

    BL.
     
  15. yaxomoxay thread starter macrumors 68000

    yaxomoxay

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    #16
    I thought that the office of the POTUS was part of the US Government. Is the National Security Advisor part of the US Government?
     
  16. bradl macrumors 68040

    bradl

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    #17
    Part of the staff of the White House, yes. electable office of US Government no. But I should clarify one thing.

    FLOTUS has no means of being able to dictate any policy or in turn act as POTUS. In that vein, she is not directly involved in the operations of US Government in any official capacity. Her office is confined to operations in the White House, and nothing more.

    BL.
     
  17. yaxomoxay thread starter macrumors 68000

    yaxomoxay

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    #18
    It doesn't matter if you're elected or not. If she sits at a government desk, she's part of the government which comprises of both elected and non-elected officials. It's not different than an FBI agent or a Postal worker.

    She can influence policy having an official role, and her role is highly influential. She has the power to begin government initiatives, and she speaks in meetings with heads of state (=diplomatic relations).
    HRC was given an office in the West Wing, and if you've ready any book on the topic you know what it means.

    That's not correct. She operates outside of the White House.
     
  18. bradl macrumors 68040

    bradl

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    #19
    Then if you know this, why are you questioning her role in US government, especially since she's part of an office within an office? By that reckoning, as you mentioned, a USPS worker is a non-elected official of the US Government, yet you're not wondering about that..?

    Influential =/= able to dictate. big difference there.

    And HRC and her staff were divided between the East and West Wings, as was L. Bush.

    you asked about her office, not her role.

    BL.
     
  19. LizKat macrumors 68040

    LizKat

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    #20
    First Dude interviews in the west wing, how unseemly... ;)
     
  20. SusanK macrumors 68000

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    #21
  21. yaxomoxay thread starter macrumors 68000

    yaxomoxay

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    #22
    Very interesting reading @SusanK ! Thank you for sharing it.
    This disturbs me:
    "The First Lady and the Second Lady assist the President and the Vice President in their duties. The assistance serves the public so much that public funds are warranted to assist them in their enterprise. The First Lady and the Second Lady are Government insiders, members of the Government who perform true public services in the operation of our Government."
     
  22. SusanK macrumors 68000

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    #23
    You're welcome.
     
  23. yaxomoxay, Aug 16, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2016

    yaxomoxay thread starter macrumors 68000

    yaxomoxay

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    #24
    You are confusing the various roles.
    A postal worker has to comply to many federal requirements, and Administrative law. Work history, criminal record, credit score, ability to perform the job, pass a test, and a job interview gives you the job.
    A First Lady gets the office only, and only if, she's married to the President. Her "appointment" to the office is solely based on marital status (which as you know it is a federal discrimination in all other cases; the federal government can't give or refuse to give a job based on marital status, actually they can't even ask about it during a job interview). She gets a non-elected position only through marriage, and Congress can't touch her because of this. She does't have to pass any job interview, she doesn't have to pass any test, she doesn't even need to be fit for the task. A marriage license will do and she can't be fired or impeached. See the difference?
    The only thing I give them point for is that being with all the egomaniacs that want to become president must not be easy!!!!
     
  24. MadeTheSwitch macrumors 6502a

    MadeTheSwitch

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    #25
    So to answer the original question of how this all came about, I have a few ideas:

    1. Americans seem to need a royal family of some sorts. Maybe it is our historical roots, I don't know. But the country as a whole does seem to get fixated on the families of Presidents as much as the President themselves. Even first dogs are not immune to the attention.
    2. First Ladies needed something to do. Are they supposed to just stay under house arrest for four or eight years never leaving the castle? One can talk about the decorations for a party only so much, and it's not like there is a big ol' shindig to prepare for each week. So what is a First Lady to do? Got to fill up all that time somehow!
    3. I'm sure at some point a member of the media asked a First Lady an opinion on something and there you have it...precedence was set.
     

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