'First Gentleman' Might Be Mrs. President's Better Half or Worst Enemy

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's late husband Denis was often lampooned as a scotch-guzzling slug throughout the "Iron Lady's" career.

The late Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi's husband, Feroze Khan, changed his name to Ghandi before the marriage fell apart under the pressure of Indian political life.

Golda Meir, the late Israeli Prime Minister and her husband Morris Meyerson, separated when she emerged as a political leader in Israel. Although they never divorced, they would never live together again.

Behind every powerful woman waits a man in the wings. With Sen. Hillary Clinton running for president and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi two heartbeats away from the presidency, would America's "first gentleman" be a better half or a worst enemy?

Would he take a leading role with Mrs. President or merely select the White House china?

When Sen. Clinton , a New York Democrat, declared her presidential run, husband Bill told the media he would be delighted to serve in a supporting role. As speaker of the house, California Democrat Nancy Pelosi is now No. 2 in the succession line to the presidency, but her millionaire husband, Paul Pelosi, distances himself from her Washington affairs.

There is no precedent for how the husband of an American female president would behave in the White House. But given the traditional first lady role -- public expectations are high and the compensation is zero.

"Any first gentleman is going to have to watch his step," said Letitia Baldrige, who served as Jackie Kennedy's chief of staff and has advised other first ladies on social etiquette. "He will no longer have a private life. He must be experienced, not a debutante coming in like Lady Thatcher's Denis. He will be carefully watched for a misstep to create the newest scandal in the press."

"You make a public appearance when it's comfortable to do so and keep the spouse away when it's uncomfortable," she said of a female president's role.

Protocol demands that the first lady -- or in this case, the first gentleman -- be visible at important occasions like the annual Christmas festival and state banquets, according to Baldrige, who at 81 has published 22 books on the subject of manners, etiquette, interior design and entertaining.

There are no rules preventing a presidential husband from leading an independent life, but he would be expected to be "a good husband and a good host," she said.

The presidential husband could relax, said Baldrige, and pursue his own interests. The domestic side of the job should not be a concern, and when it comes to being charming, a husband could share the role.

"It's tough being charming all the time," she said. "It's a lot of work being gracious and the public doesn't understand it's a big job."

"The first gentleman would be a host of importance and be expected to be there around cocktail time, though he could gracefully skip tea time and coffee time," Baldrige said.

But in terms of role reversal, the public "has to get ready for anything," said Baldrige.

"They have to grow up and simply go along with whoever is in power. Look how they handled Lady Thatcher when she swept in -- the British public adjusted. They gave Denis a hard time. They'll give any first gentleman a hard time. That's their job."

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