There is not much that is amusing about this election. The candidates have been chosen by a small minority of voters and the winner will be effectively elected by a combination of the ‘my party for life‘ and the ‘anyone but …‘ crowd. Issues affecting our future have had little attention and I don’t expect that to change. It is mindless and, in my opinion, dangerous. Still, I am sure we will somehow survive, and there is still some entertainment to be had.
For instance, suppose Hillary wins, as is most likely barring federal indictment. (Now there’s a proviso I never expected to write!) In this case, Bill Clinton causes a few awkward issues, and I don’t only mean the necessity to carefully brief White House interns about their conduct.
First, he is properly addressed as President Clinton for the rest of his life. In many contexts that would be ambiguous and hence wouldn’t work. Of course the practice could be always to include their first names. However there are contexts where even that could cause uncertainty, particularly in international settings where our presidential history is less well known. Perhaps always referring to Bill as Former President Clinton might suffice, although then I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the shocked response, “Do you mean she resigned?”
This general issue has already been informally resolved in a case that was even more complicated. The two Presidents Bush also shared a first name. The solution was to refer to them as Bush 41 and Bush 43, referring to their positions in the sequence of our Presidents. That would work for the Clintons too. They could become Clinton 42 and Clinton 45.
A little trickier is the fact that the President’s spouse has an official government office, and its name is Office of the First Lady. The title ‘First Lady’ is unofficial and only came into common parlance in the late 19th century. This title appears on the office door and personal stationery, which are easily fixed, but it also shows up in legal records, appropriation legislation and other official documents. Changing it will require legislation. And then there is the matter of what alternative name is appropriate. Office of the First Gentlemen seems obvious, but Bill is on record opposing this as stilted and archaic. He went on to suggest facetiously that perhaps Adam (the First Man) might work, whence we might have Office of Adam. I suggest Office of the President’s Spouse. This works now and it anticipates the possibility of future Presidents with less orthodox relationships, since current usage of the term ‘spouse’ encompasses an unmarried partner.
Then there is the matter of code words. POTUS (President of the United States) began as a telegraphic code word in the late 19th century. FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States) didn’t arise until it was used as a code word for Nancy Reagan. These are generic codes and they are standard, but unofficial, jargon to refer to the President and First Lady, as in “POTUS and FLOTUS are on the move!” This has widespread use throughout the government, but especially within the Secret Service security detail assigned to Presidential protection.
Clearly FLOTUS would hardly remain appropriate. In seeking an alternative there is a restriction that it must be pronounceable so that it can be used in communication between agents. That seems to exclude FGOTUS, FSOTUS and FPOTUS, for Gentleman, Spouse and Partner respectively. In fact, if we only change the second letter in the code word, this seems to restrict it to a vowel or the letters L and R. Nothing comes readily to mind, but I am sure that the Secret Service is up to the challenge notwithstanding its recent spate of maladroit misadventures.