First-Lady Expectations

BETWEEN the election and the inauguration stretches a long nonevent that drives journalists into dangerous bouts of punditry.

Second only to the favorite speculation - What kind of president will Bill Clinton make? - is the matching question: What kind of first lady will Hillary Clinton make?

Should she be assigned an official position? What White House meetings may she be allowed to attend? Endless hypothetical situations are invented, all tending to lead to a final question phrased by the New York Times: Can Hillary "be Hillary without meddling with the nation's myths?"

Wasn't there enough of this in the campaign?

A morning television news program recently ran a feature titled, "How should Hillary Clinton dress?" - with much fretting about her hair style and the importance of wearing American-designed clothes. To which an aghast viewer can only respond: Should we treat like a teenager, going away to school for the first time, an accomplished lawyer, legal scholar, and activist in her mid-40s?

The level of such inquiries is demeaning not only to Hillary Clinton but to women thoughtfully and courageously making their mark the world over. If a model for women's leadership is the subject, should not the Hillary-watchers give equal scrutiny to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is still under house arrest in Burma for refusing to renounce her nonviolent campaign to restore democracy to her country? In Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, at physical risk to herself, led a protest march last month for a similar purpos e. Mary Robinson, the president of Ireland, was the first world leader to visit Somalia, seeing it as her special concern as a woman to call attention to starving children anywhere in the world.

Viewed against these heroic contexts, the spin-control of Hillary Clinton seems unforgivably trivializing.

No doubt to free herself for maximum improvising, Eleanor Roosevelt proposed abolishing the somewhat prissy title of first lady. Sixty years later, Hillary Clinton might agree. While her husband is using his waiting period to lower expectations, the public that elected him can help Mrs. Clinton by raising its expectations of a first lady.

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