First spouse’s role cast in glaring light

By Leonard Pitts

I have a crush on the president of the United States.

Perhaps more accurately, I’ve had a crush on Geena Davis, the woman who plays her Tuesday nights on ABC, ever since she guest-starred on “Family Ties” back in ’84. Those lips! Those legs! That height!

Point being, I’m happy to talk about Davis anytime you want. But something’s being missed in all the discussion that surrounds her new show, “Commander in Chief,” which casts her as Mackenzie Allen, the nation’s first female president. “Commander” premiered five weeks ago. Tongues have been wagging ever since.

Los Angeles Times columnist Al Martinez wrote that the premise of the show should have been reality years ago. For this, he reports, many readers derided him as a girly-man.

Joanne Ostrow of the Denver Post wrote that the show highlights the difficulties of being a working mother and wife — even when you have a kitchen staff and the Secret Service takes your kids to school.

Marie Wilson, president of the White House Project, a group dedicated to electing a woman president, says the show could “hurry history” along by acclimating the nation to the idea of a woman in the Oval Office.

Conservative author Ben Johnson says the show is actually a plot by the vast left-wing conspiracy to acclimate us to the idea of Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office. One wonders if he’d be as alarmed if Mackenzie Allen were a black Republican along the lines of … oh, I don’t know, say … Condoleezza Rice.

Not that I’d care. I’ve had a crush on Alfre Woodard longer than I’ve had one on Geena Davis.

But again, there’s something here nobody’s talking about. Meaning the first man or the first gentleman or whatever awkward designation we someday choose for the first guy who has the challenge of being married to the first woman president. Actor Kyle Secor has that role on “Commander” as Rod Calloway, Mackenzie’s husband. It’s an eye-opener.

Meaning that in a sense, Mackenzie Allen is not new. In America, we have seen and experienced women in positions of authority for years now, albeit not at such a rarefied level. But we have seldom seen a man, an intelligent, career-oriented man, asked to content himself with OKing the menu for the state dinner, or smiling at ribbon cuttings or playing tour guide for the wife of visiting foreign leaders.

In other words, we’ve never seen a man treated like a first lady, treated like Laura Bush or Hillary Clinton, smart women who saw their careers shrink down to supporting good causes and giving their husbands adoring smiles.

In last week’s show, Calloway, a baseball fanatic, was offered his dream job: commissioner of Major League Baseball, but could he accept it? After all, he would become the first first spouse to work outside the White House. Was it proper for him to want a life?

One is reminded of 1992, specifically the Clinton campaign’s ill-fated rejoinder that in electing Bill and his savvy lawyer wife, voters would get “two for the price of one.” So furious was the response to that idea (one GOP strategist said the idea of a co-equal couple in the White House was downright “offensive”) that Democrats promptly retreated, repackaging sharp-edged Hillary as a domestic nurturer and baker of cookies. Come see the softer side of Hill.

It was always demeaning, but to understand just how demeaning, you have to see Kyle Secor picking out drapes.

Sometimes, we act as if feminism were about women. It isn’t. It is, inevitably, about women and men. After all, male and female are two halves of a whole. One side cannot change without requiring the other to do the same. So I think some of us are asking the wrong question here.

We wonder if the nation could handle it that a woman was president. I think it’s more important to ask how we’d handle it that her man was not.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at: lpitts@herald.com