Are there other firsts for Hillary besides First Lady?

ALICE STEINBACH

November 12, 1992|By ALICE STEINBACH

Finally, I've found something on which Dan Quayle and I agree. It took me a while to decipher the following remark but once I did, I realized the vice president and I were on the same wavelength: "What a waste it is," he said, "to lose one's mind, or not to have a mind is very wasteful."

Which means, when translated from Quaylespeak into English: "A mind is a terrible thing to waste."

Assuming you agree with me that there is much truth in this observation, we are now faced with the following dilemma: If a mind is indeed a terrible thing to waste, what are we going to do about Hillary Clinton when she becomes First Lady?

Let's face it: Although we have had many fine First Ladies in the White House, they have all been Un-Hillaries.

Women, in other words, who did not enter the White House after having enjoyed a substantial career outside the home and who seemed content -- or resigned -- to the traditional First Lady role. A role which, loosely stated, consists of functioning as a goodwill ambassador for her husband while pursuing causes and charities that interest her.

That's the tradition. But, as G. K. Chesterton once pointed out, tradition represents the democracy of the dead.

So, here we are, waiting for Hillary. And wondering what exactly to expect of this woman who represents the new woman; the woman from a generation that includes more women working outside the home than ever before; the woman who is accomplished in the work she has chosen; the woman who is not ill at ease with the idea of making decisions and having strong opinions.

Already the great image-making machinery to redesign Hillary is rolling. Already fashion designers are restyling Hillary in their own image -- including one design that has Hillary dressed in a man-tailored pantsuit, her hair slicked back. It is described as a cross "between Marlene Dietrich and Grace Jones."

And already hairstylists are coming out of the woodwork, eager to recut, recolor, redo Hillary's hair.

And already there are loud objections being made to any hint that Hillary might be offered a substantial role in the White House or the Cabinet. The message is: Why can't Hillary abandon her former life and be more like a woman? In this case, more like a First Woman?

So. Does tradition demand that once Hillary passes through the portals of the White House she immediately become an Un-Hillary?

Must she abandon her interests and accomplishments in the service of the traditional First Lady role?

Which brings us to the Department of Second Thoughts: In this day and age, do we really need a "First Lady"? A First Lady, that is, who is assigned to embody all the old expectations assigned to the "wife of the president."

Or should we be thinking about what a terrible waste of a mind it would be to turn Hillary into an Un-Hillary?

I'm reminded here of something Barbara Bush said in a recent interview, one in which the interviewer was trashing Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Bush quickly stepped in and cut him short, saying: "I'm jealous of Hillary. It's great she got to do all that."

Is it just me, or is there a wishful note in Barbara Bush's remark: the regret, perhaps, of a capable woman born into a generation )) that did not foster or support a woman's accomplishments outside the home?

For her part, Hillary Clinton has been silent on her ideas of what the First Lady's role should be. But here are a few things we know: In interviews, she has said over and over again, "I want to be a voice for children." And certainly, hers is a voice that countless numbers of neglected and forgotten children need to have on their side.

Hillary Clinton has also talked about people she's admired, naming Marie Curie because she did things "that hadn't been done before," and Abraham Lincoln because he "stood for a bigger sense of what was possible." Among former first ladies, she is said to admire Eleanor Roosevelt, a woman known for her passionate commitment to social justice.

Of course, there are those who predict that however Hillary Clinton fashions her role in the White House, she will be criticized.

Still, there's evidence the times are changing: A recent Vanity Fair survey found that 84 percent of the people they polled had no objection to a First Lady maintaining a career.

As for me, I will go to bed at night secure in the knowledge there is a capable, caring person in the White House; one to whom the president turns at bedtime and says: 'Night, Hillary.

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