Let's Say Hilary Won the Presidential Election. Would Bill Be Called FLOTUS?
April 29, 2011 9:34 PM   Subscribe

If Hilary Clinton had become President of the United States, how would Bill Clinton have been referred to? He would obviously not be called The First Lady, so how would he be styled? And would he still be addressed as 'Mr. President' in the company of his wife, who would presumably be 'Madam President'? Are there any clearly set out protocols for address in this situation?
posted by gerls to Law & Government (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
First Gentleman sounds like it would do.
posted by Theloupgarou at 9:36 PM on April 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why wouldn't Bill Clinton still be called Mr. President? Don't all the former presidents still get called Mr. President in any situation? Similarly, if two Secretaries (as in Defense, State, Homeland Security, etc.) are in the same room together, they could be called Mr. Secretary and Madame Secretary (or both Madame Secretary, or both Mr.). The Clintons would specifically not be confusing since it's obvious who's "Madame" and who's "Mr."

And I agree with First Gentleman. It might sound a little silly, but then, I think First Lady is rather silly too. I think it's silly that the president's spouse is considered a distinct position rather than an incidental aspect of the president's social life like anyone else in the family. But as long as we're stuck with the First Lady title, I imagine we'd go with the "ladies and gentlemen" parallelism.
posted by John Cohen at 9:44 PM on April 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I believe he is and always would be "Mr. President" regardless of anything else.
posted by tristeza at 9:44 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Two issues:
1. What to call male spouse of president.
2. What to call presidential spouse if they have themselves previously been president.

Answer to 1: First Gentleman. (currently used for male spouses of state governors in the US)
Wikipedia on First Lady

Answer to 2:
Emily Post on addressing a former president:
"When addressing a former President of the United States in a formal setting, the correct form is “Mr. LastName.” (“President LastName” or “Mr. President” are terms reserved for the current head of state.) This is true for other ex-officials, as well.

When talking about the person to a third party, on the other hand, it’s appropriate to say, “former President LastName.” This holds for introductions, as well: A current state governor is introduced as “Governor Tom Smith,” while you’d introduce an ex-governor as “former Governor Jim Bell.”"
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:45 PM on April 29, 2011


Emily Post on addressing a former president:
"When addressing a former President of the United States in a formal setting, the correct form is “Mr. LastName.” (“President LastName” or “Mr. President” are terms reserved for the current head of state.)


I think Emily Post is just wrong about that. People address Bill Clinton "Mr. President" in formal settings; I think "Mr. Clinton" would be awkward. For example, the very beginning of this 2006 interview with Bill Clinton.

Also, I guess my answer above should have no "e" on Madame. Too much French class.
posted by John Cohen at 9:52 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Miss Manners on forms of address for former presidents, and she answers the OP's question at the very end. (worth reading the whole thing for her wonderful writing and humor):

"when the first president left office, he made a concession to the American taste for simplicity by decreeing that he would henceforth no longer carry the title of president, not even as a mere courtesy. There could only be one president of the United States at a time, he reasoned, as our newest president also observed during the transition period. But there could be more than one American general, so he let it be known that he would revert to his previous title of General Washington."

She notes that there is no such official title as First Lady, by law, although the president's spouse "is given precedence by courtesy."
Here, then, is a brief Protocol Primer.

The sitting president should be addressed as Mr. President. His wife is addressed, both in writing and in speaking, as Mrs. Obama. No first name, neither his nor hers, is used.

The former president is correctly addressed as Gov. Bush. His wife, who was the Mrs. Bush when he was president, reverts to being Mrs. George W. Bush, as her mother-in-law became again Mrs. George H.W. Bush after her husband's administration. (Miss Manners has nothing against their using Ms. and their first names if they wish, but is assuming the more conventional style.)

Similarly, the sitting vice president is the only Mr. Vice President, and his wife is simply Mrs. (or Dr.) Biden.

See how easy that is? And for another famous couple: In direct address, it would be "Madam Secretary" and "Governor Clinton."


But note that this and the Emily Post quote above concern formal official etiquette, and they don't dictate how people would actually address Bill Clinton in person or what title newsreaders would give him.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:00 PM on April 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


To clarify further: these etiquette books concern the etiquette of what title would be put on his placecard at a state dinner, or how he would be introduced at a state dinner, that kind of "formal" occasion.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:02 PM on April 29, 2011


I live a few towns over from the Clintons. Not long ago I had the pleasure to speak with Bill Clinton at a local restaurant in his town, he picking up his takeout order (seriously) and me waiting to be seated. I can tell you I addressed him as Mr. President and he knew exactly to whom I was speaking.

Me: "Good evening Mr. President, how are you?"
Former POTUS: "Hi, how are you?"
Me: "What time is your reservation for? I guess without Madam Secretary they even make you wait like the rest of us."
Former POTUS: (Laughing) "I called my order in . Too tired to stay. Try the salmon, you'll love it."
Me: "Thank you sir."

Person I am with: "I cannot believe you just said that to him. I am so embarrassed."
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:56 PM on April 29, 2011 [46 favorites]


I agree that "First Gentleman" is closest to "First Lady" and more appropriate, but I predict the news people would choose "First Husband" and it would stick.

And for Bill especially, I think the style "Prince Consort" might be more appropriate.
posted by gjc at 4:40 AM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bill Clinton discussed this issue with Oprah and told her, "My Scottish friends say I should be called 'first laddie' because it's the closest thing to 'first lady'."
posted by Noumenon at 5:19 AM on April 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why it's First Hubby of course. Great book btw.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 7:07 AM on April 30, 2011


Why would leaving the office of the president deserve a demotion? Calling Clinton or Bush as Governor just seems wrong.
posted by Gungho at 9:18 AM on April 30, 2011


I don't know why I think this but I'm pretty sure I remember seeing it when reading something about Andrew Johnson who served, briefly, in the Senate after being President.

You use their current honorific, if they don't currently hold an office, you use their highest honorific. So while Hilary was president, Bill should be referred to as First Gentleman but after she was out of office he would be referred to as Former President.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:28 AM on April 30, 2011


Why would leaving the office of the president deserve a demotion?

Well, leaving office is a demotion. It involves no longer being President. The real question is why do people like governors (where there are more than one of them, per Miss Manners' explanation) get to keep their titles afterward.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:50 AM on April 30, 2011


The real question is why do people like governors (where there are more than one of them, per Miss Manners' explanation) get to keep their titles afterward.

It is like emeritus status. These people aren't "The" governor or president, but they are A president. It is a recognition of someone having held an office and a recognition of their service to the community.
posted by gjc at 7:40 PM on April 30, 2011


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