Just before the 2000 presidential election, Robert Watson, associate professor of American studies at Lynn University in Boca Raton, decided to rally his fellow presidential scholars and collaborate on The Report to the First Lady, a 200-page book of advice for the incoming woman in the White House. One expert wrote a chapter on how to hire the best staff; another one -- from the National Archives -- explained how she should organize her files. Watson has updated the report every four years, and recently passed copies on to Jill Biden and Michelle Obama.
Calling the First Ladyship "arguably the most demanding and challenging unpaid 'job' there is," Watson wrote, "One thing that all First Ladies have in common - apart from being married to the President, is that they have been the targets of criticism." On the phone with Juice, Watson explained that not only did Hillary Clinton take heat for the circumference of her thighs, but Eleanor Roosevelt was always depicted with bunny teeth by cartoonists, and President Grant's wife was cross-eyed. To be First Lady, he said, "you've gotta have some pretty thick rhinoceros skin." His ultimate advice was "Be yourself -- to a degree." White House residents should keep high standards: "No one wants to see the president gardening with his butt sticking out."
Watson's colleague, Sindee Kerker, associate professor of criminal justice at Lynn, penned a chapter of Watson's 200-page report. She focused on legal issues the First Lady might face, such as whether she'd be legally required to release home videos of her daughters if they were filmed in the White House. (No, "as long as the videos do not relate to the consitutional, ceremonial, or official duties of the President.")
The obvious question is: since Michelle Obama's a lawyer, does she need Kerker's advice? Kerker takes that question in stride. "Well, I just highlighted some issues for her. I'm sure she's very educated in these matters." Kerker wanted to let Mrs. Obama know that if she ever needs a second opinion: "I'm a phone call away!"
The Report to the First Lady is available through Nova Publishers for $44.10.