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

ByABC News
February 1, 2007, 8:00 AM

Feb. 1, 2007 — -- 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.