One of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s frequently-cited qualifications for the office of president is her “service” as first lady, both to a governor and to a former president. This primary season has gotten nasty in some cases, but the media and the public seem to have afforded some spouses a bye. Do the voters deserve to know about the families of the candidates? If so, how much? If not, why not?
There are some “special” qualifications that Hillary Clinton, apparently, can claim. She was, indeed, the first and only first lady to occupy her own office in the West Wing, so the territory may be familiar. A recent article in The New York Times states: “No president ever had a partner quite like Hillary Rodham Clinton.” And, according to some reports, she was the “behind the scenes power” during her husband’s terms of office, both as governor and as president of the United States. But, the question remains, does that qualify her to be president?
If, as it seems, a “first spouse” holds an important and influential position, shouldn’t voters be afforded a better look at what makes an exemplary first spouse? Rather than focusing on hairstyles and smiles, maybe we ought to weigh previous accomplishments and qualifications, the ability to make an impression on the national and international stage, and the “package deal” that each candidate will bring to the White House.
It has been said often enough that children and families are off limits, but should that be so? Wives (and husbands) in this campaign have certainly been scrutinized. Except in some cases. There has been almost no mention of Mrs. Kasich; there was little press coverage of Mrs. Rubio, except to note that she was once a Miami Dolphins cheerleader. Other candidates’ families, early on, were hardly mentioned.
But, what of the frontrunner spouses?
They now include a former president, a former college president, a financial executive, and, of course, Melania Trump, with a highly visible former career as a model. Just how do this year’s spouses stack up?
Let’s consider each one:
The Former President: If Hillary Clinton does get her party’s nod, a former president will become first spouse. A first. And what that first First Husband will bring to the office we certainly can only imagine at this point. Enough said.
The Former College President: Jane Sanders is somewhat of an unknown. Certainly not a flashy lady, she has her own past that is rarely addressed. Baggage? She resigned from the presidency of Burlington College in 2011 for undisclosed reasons, receiving a reportedly large Golden Parachute settlement.
Although she has stood by her husband’s side on many occasions, she has certainly not been the target of much media coverage, nor has the couple’s “blended, extended family” been much in the news. She has lately starting speaking out on behalf of her husband, perhaps as a last ditch effort to sway voters to her husband’s side. Still she hasn’t had much of an impact, voters are almost completely in the dark about her and therefore don’t know whether to trust her.
Heidi Cruz became the target of Donald Trump’s slings and arrows because of her affiliation with Goldman Sachs as a private investment manager. She is by all accounts a talented professional, a competent financial executive, a loving mother and a supportive wife. In addition, she knows her way around Washington, having served as a member of the Bush campaign team and in policy-making positions for both the National Security Council and the U.S. Treasury Department. She lived in Africa as a child with her missionary parents, speaks Spanish, is well-spoken and highly educated, with a Harvard MBA as well as a Master’s of European Business. She might be expected to put her own distinctive stamp on the office of first lady.
In many ways, Melania Trump is as big a surprise as her iconoclastic husband. She would not be the first foreign-born first lady, but there has not been one since Jane Adams. She would be the first to have been featured nude on a magazine cover. But she is not only a pretty face. She studied architecture and design, has her own line of fashion jewelry and skin care products, speaks five languages, is apparently as comfortable on the world stage as in the company of elementary school children, is a devoted full-time mom, is dedicated to several volunteer causes, and once said that she would be a very traditional first lady. More recently, however, she noted, “I am my own person.” She continued, “I will be different than any other first ladies. I will help women. I will help children. They are the future.”
So, where does all this lead? We don’t know, exactly. But, we think the potential first spouses bear some examination, and some consideration — they do, after all, share a very visible job in our country, If not officially, then at least in the minds and hearts of voters.