There is only one thing for certain about this year’s presidential election. Come January, the White House will be thrown into a conundrum about the position of the First Lady.
The role of First Lady is one we take for granted. We live in a patriarchal nation (that poses as an enlightened one) and, for two centuries everyone didn’t even bother to assume the candidates would be straight married men, they just knew it. So, since straight men have to be married and have kids to be valid human beings in this country (did I mention that we only pose at being enlightened?), we knew that his wife would be the First Lady, the most important job in the country that gets no pay.
But when women finally said, “Enough, already!” we saw the rise of women governors, most of whom were married, and whose husbands became—and this is an actual title—First Gentleman. The first First Gentleman was James E. Ferguson, the husband of Texas governor Miriam A. Ferguson, who served two separate terms in 1925-27, and 1933-35.
Let that sink in. Texas, the “everything is bigger” state, which espouses a brand of machismo that, if bottled, could probably outsell iPhones or even Chia Pets, had the first elected woman governor! And during the Depression, when we know a lot of men were already looking for work. Suck on that, Vermont!
But wait, there’s more, an incredible synchronicity, in fact. You see, James Ferguson was a governor of Texas before his wife served, but…he was impeached. That means if Hillary Clinton is elected president, both First Gentlemen at the gubernatorial and presidential levels will have formerly held the titles their wives filled, and both were impeached. In Ferguson’s case, he was removed from office for misapplication of funds, and in Clinton’s case, he stayed in office despite a besmirched reputation and befouled blue dress.
Of course, no such coincidence exists between Martha Washington and Donald Trump’s wife, Melania. Martha was born in Virginia and, as far as we know, she never posed for anyone semi-naked in a captain’s hat, though if she did, I am betting it was for Alexander Hamilton. Even more conversely, it was Martha who brought the money to her marriage, so in every category she and Melania seem to be opposites. Martha was far from perfect, though. She not only owned slaves, but brought over one hundred of them into the marriage. There’s no argument that as First Ladies go, that’s a pretty low low point.
I am not one of those people who enjoys bashing Melania Trump. We all know who her husband is, so hasn’t she suffered enough? Also, I’ve never had to work to become an American citizen as she did, and if posing for risqué pictures gave me the money to further that arduous process, then I’d probably have gone commando for Cosmo faster than you can say Scott Brown. Still, First Lady is a role like that of your local chairperson of United Way; seeing him or her naked wouldn’t lessen the impact of their work, but it would definitely weird you out when you’re around them at the charity 5K race.
So, while Americans aren’t thrilled with their choices for president, I am going to posit that we should be even less thrilled with the First Spouse situation. We can’t, or don’t want to conceive Melania hosting a dinner for the Queen. Any queen, be it Elizabeth of England, Margarethe of Denmark, or Harvey Fierstein of Hairspray. And is Bill really the person we want giving a tour of Washington to the President of Italy’s wife? Or anyone’s wife? He would give literal meaning to Carly Simon’s famous line about being “with some underground spy or the wife of a close friend.”
Regardless of who gets elected and what kind of job he or she does, the role of First Spouse is in a state of flux. Therefore, I propose that we make arrangements to keep the woman who has inhabited the role most beautifully in that position: Michelle Obama.
Everyone can make arguments for their favorite First Lady but I will say with sincerity that Michelle is best of them all. She has all the qualities of the former first ladies rolled into one. Like Eleanor Roosevelt, she is an activist for the disenfranchised; like Jacqueline Kennedy, she glams up like a Russian princess; like Pat Nixon, she knows how to weigh her words; like Betty Ford, she has a keen sense of humor that endears her to others; like Rosalyn Carter, she has a great sense of ethics and fairness; like Nancy Reagan, her husband is her brand and she’s popular with the Hollywood crowd; and like Laura Bush, she knows when to speak up or forever hold her peace.
A sad truth for Michelle Obama, though, and our nation as a whole, is that she has never been given the breadth these other women were given because she is black. All First Ladies have been self-possessed and cautious with their words and actions, but Obama had to double down on such behavior. She has championed causes against which there could be no decent opposition, such as aiding the families of our soldiers and military veterans, and encouraging children to eat healthier.
Nonetheless, detractors of all things Obama, liberal, Democrat, or African American came at Michelle with mockery and derision, because they think the action of helping those who serve our country so well, or preparing our children for healthy futures, flies in the face of American freedom. The argument against Michelle’s causes seems to be that homeless veterans and obese children with heart conditions would be preferable to genuine advocacy from one of the world’s most admired and respected women, only because she is one or all of the things they dislike.
That is exactly why Michelle Obama should remain First Lady in the next term. Among her many gifts, her greatest talent is knowing how make the First Couple’s opponents come out of hiding and into the clear light of reason, to be exposed for all they are. Like a Greek myth singing to ocean sailors, she lures them in with her siren song, and then they crash and break on the rocks below. She tidies the world of all the useless personalities that inhabit the inner beltway and right-wing media.
What’s even more perfect, the Obamas have already stated they are staying in Washington to let Sasha finish school with her classmates. Michelle will need something to do, and she could continue being the proud, beautiful face of our nation. Naturally, she should get a salary since her husband will no longer be President, so we could solve that problem through crowd funding. We could pool our resources and pay the woman who won the heart of the world to continue greeting dignitaries and wowing guests at the White House and on trips abroad, but, more importantly, helping us to avoid embarrassment.
Otherwise, our current First Spouse alternatives have “international incident” written all over them, and even a bottle of Texas Machismo couldn’t ward off those problems.