When you cast your vote for president in November, don’t forget that you’re also voting for the president’s spouse, says Andrew Och, author of “Unusual for Their Time: On the Road With America’s First Ladies.” Och, who will discuss first ladies at a Smithsonian Associates talk Wednesday, says that even those first ladies who stay out of the limelight help shape their partner’s policies. “The first lady is arguably the most powerful unelected woman in the world,” he says. “Even Bess Truman, one of the quietest and seemingly uninvolved first ladies, was in on some very serious military and political decisions.” We asked Och which potential first spouse, Bill Clinton or Melania Trump, would be better suited to the various tasks that traditionally fall to the first lady — or gentleman — of the United States. S. Dillon Ripley Center, 1100 Jefferson Drive SW; Wed., 6:45 p.m., $30.
Setting fashion trends
A former model with international flair, “Melania Trump would just crush it,” Och says.
Since he’s an older guy with an unremarkable dressing style, Bill Clinton is unlikely to inspire new directions in menswear, Och says.
Increasing spouse’s likability
Melania has the potential to help improve her husband’s image as a misogynist, but Donald Trump’s tendency to publicly objectify women gets in the way, Och says.
Bill is seen as an affable, fun guy. That could help Hillary Clinton, who is often viewed as tough and unrelatable, Och says. “People might say, ‘You know what? Bill’s a good guy, so maybe Hillary’s not so bad after all.’ ”
Picking out china patterns
Melania, who has said she would be a traditional first lady, would have no problem taking on assignments like china design or choosing invitation colors, Och says.
Bill might excel at designing tableware, but if he were caught doing it, the media would make fun of him mercilessly, Och says: “It would be seen as a major demotion from his former job as president.”
Entertaining foreign dignitaries’ spouses
Melania, who speaks five languages, would excel at showing around the partners of foreign presidents, Och says.
Given Bill’s past scandals, this could get awkward, Och says: “When I point this out, a lot of people tell me, ‘I wouldn’t leave my wife with Bill Clinton.’ ”
Advocating for a cause
Melania would probably pick a noncontroversial issue, like breast cancer awareness or the Red Cross, Och says. “Since she’s from a war-torn country, she could also do international work with refugees,” he says.
With more power and influence than your average first spouse, Bill could take on controversial issues such as Black Lives Matter, Och says. “Bill Clinton has already shown that he can reach out across the aisle,” he adds.
Deciding on state dinner menus
“I think Melania Trump would probably be better at putting together a nice meal,” Och says.
“Bill went from eating Quarter Pounders with cheese to being a vegetarian. So there’s not a lot of middle ground,” Och says.
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