And there have been first ladies other than Mrs. Clinton who have wielded great power while in the White House. After her husband, Woodrow Wilson, suffered a debilitating stroke, Edith Wilson assumed many of the day-to-day responsibilities of president. While doing so, Mrs. Wilson had the good sense to not attempt a retooling of a massive chunk of the American economy or to launch any other significant policy adventures. She was a caretaker for the office of the president just as she was a caretaker for the president himself.
More importantly, the scale of Mrs. Wilson's role was at the time largely unknown. She operated behind the scenes. If the American people had known the scope of Mrs. Wilson's role, they likely wouldn't have tolerated it. President Wilson's eager vice president, Thomas Riley Marshall, certainly wouldn't have tolerated it.
Where the Giulianis truly stumbled was in assuming that the Clintons had established a new norm. Quite the contrary, the Clintons' dalliance with monarchial privilege was not only disastrous but widely unpopular. Bill Clinton's appointment of his wife to a role of such import was a moment of historic arrogance.
The Clintons did have the defense, however, that candidate Clinton was quite explicit that America would be getting "two Clintons for the price of one" if they voted for him. In other words, America had fair warning.
Still, when Mrs. Clinton became health-care czarina, the common sentiment was that the first couple had gone too far. If the Giulianis anticipate a similarly sweeping role for Mrs. Giuliani, they might want to keep the lessons of the Clintons' missteps in mind. Besides, if Mrs. Giuliani truly wants a prominent voice on policy, there are avenues available that will give her the kind of legitimacy that a royal decree from her husband will lack.
She can always run for senator.
Dean Barnett is a columnist for Townhall.com and blogs daily at http://HughHewitt.townhall.com. The day the Red Sox won the World Series was the happiest day of his life.