Barbara Bush worked to promote literacy among the youth of the nation.
Lady Bird Johnson devoted herself to national beautification.
Michelle Obama tackled childhood obesity.
First ladies have a history of devotion to great causes.
Will Bill Clinton follow suit if he re-enters the White House as “first man,” or will he, given his former job, write a history of his own?
“There will certainly be a lot of jokes about him redecorating the White House or hosting receptions,” Cat Ritcher, a Sanders delegate from South Philadelphia, said laughing. “But he’ll do much more than that.”
Delegates found humor in the “Bill for First Lady” shirts being sold around Philadelphia this week, but many agreed that Bill Clinton has the power and prestige to take the position to a new level.
“Bill Clinton was the best president in my lifetime and if he’s willing to serve as an adviser to his wife, I think the country will be all for the better,” said Marcel Groen, chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, as he awaited the former president’s address in the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night.
Bill Clinton opened his speech with the words, “In the spring of 1971, I met a girl.” He focused on the couple’s lifetime of teamwork.
Groen said the Clintons will certainly be able to understand each other’s roles.
He also said the former president should continue his Clinton Foundation work on climate change, global health and economic development.
“He’ll continue to grow in his work and help her to grow in hers,” Groen said.
Hillary Clinton herself, with her background as a lawyer and advocate for social causes, played a substantial role as first lady for her husband.
In 1993, she chaired a task force to overhaul the nation’s health care system.
The proposal her group developed ultimately stalled. Bill Courtwright, mayor of Scranton and a Clinton delegate, said Bill Clinton should take on that kind of role, serving his wife as an adviser.
“They say behind every great man is a great woman,” Courtwright said. “Now you have a great man behind a great woman.”
Jo Ellen Litz, a Clinton delegate from Lebanon, said she would hope to see such a “knowledgeable” first man use his influence to continue working with his already established causes of the Clinton Foundation and adopt new ones.
“He could do just about anything. He obviously has the know-how,” she said, praising the economic prosperity that occurred while Bill Clinton was president in the 1990s.
Laurel Dagnon, a 12-time delegate from Pittsburgh, said she hopes Bill Clinton will be able to use his skills in the area of foreign policy.
“I could see him utilizing globalization as a positive step forward for the United States,” she said.
Sylvia Wilson, a Clinton delegate from Pittsburgh and member of the Democratic National Committee, said she is confident the would-be first man will play a critical role in a Hillary Clinton administration.
“The man is so mega-intelligent and such a wealth of knowledge,” she said. “He’ll get much more accomplished than redecorating.”
Samantha Lauriello is a Penn State journalism student covering the Democratic National Convention for the Centre Daily Times.