|KATI MARTON, Author: First lady is one of our most cherished
KATHA POLLITT, Columnist: Being a first lady is a virtually
LAURA BUSH, First Lady: It's not an office; you're not
elected to it.
ANN GERHART, Reporter and Biographer: There's no salary.
There's no job description.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, Former First Lady: It is by nature
a vicarious role.
ANN GERHART: It's the most bizarre volunteer job in the world.
CHANNING, Actress: The title of first lady may seem glamorous,
but unless you play the role properly you might get boos
instead of flowers. You are the president's wife after all,
but if you overreach, the audience may complain, "Who
elected her?" It's a fair question to ask -- whether
the first lady is a mere prop for her husband or
can she be a star in her own right?
I'm Stockard Channing, here at the first ladies gallery
of the National Museum of American History. I'm not a real
first lady of course, but I am first lady Abigail Bartlet
of the West Wing so I do have some on-the-job experience.
The role of women has changed dramatically over the past
30 years, but many think that the role of the first lady
has not kept up with the times. Even though the first lady
has no official job description, there are, well, expectations
about what she can and cannot do. If she steps too far over
the invisible line, be she Democrat or Republican, it can
cause a little bit of a fuss. I know, I've stepped over
a line or two myself.
ACTRESS, clip of the West Wing: You've never been the traditional
hat-knitting president's wife.
MRS. BARTLET: Oh shoot, was that in the handbook?
ACTRESS: Can you tell me why you decided to volunteer at
the free clinic?
MRS. BARTLET: 'Cause instead of putting out a press release
I decided to roll up my sleeves and help treat children.
ACTRESS: Is there any particular --
BARTLET: There are any number of children's health issues
I am interested in. So I thought it was appropriate to go
out and just see what is going on first hand.
ACTRESS: Great, but until the press understands that they're
gonna fill in the blanks with self aggrandizing, craven,
vote grabbing, public prop-
MRS. BARTLET: Would you like me to do interviews with the
ACTRESS: [sighs] I checked out the reject list from your
invitation file, and there are a few things in here I think
you should reconsider, the first of which is Muppets.
MRS. BARTLET: Pardon?
ACTRESS: Going on Sesame Street would give you an opportunity
to reintroduce yourself as the first lady who is also a
working doctor and address the press' questions about your
work at the clinic. Give a Muppet a checkup, get your message
MRS. BARTLET: No Meet the Press?
ACTRESS: Mrs. Bartlet.
MRS. BARTLET: Muppets.
CHANNING: Well, at least I'm in good company.