The Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations
First Lady Diplomacy: The Foreign Policy
Activism of First Lady Clinton
by Glenn P. Hastedt and Anthony J. Eksterowicz
irst lady activism is conditioned by many factors on various levels. There are
personal, institutional, societal, and public policy levels, and many variables within
each level contribute to first lady activism or performance. Former First Lady Hillary
Rodham Clinton was one of the most active first ladies in modern memory. This
article explores the genesis of her activism in the foreign policy realm. We first
discuss the general factors that affect first lady performance. These factors are
arranged in various variable sets. We then apply these sets to First Lady Clinton in
order to gain some systematic understanding of her activism. With such insight we
next discuss the most important of these variables which have affected First Lady
Clinton’s activism in foreign policy.
Historian Carl Sferrazza Anthony once noted concerning first ladies, “Only the
First Lady and the president determine the extent of her power, though frequently
she has operated without his knowledge or permission.”
Modern-day first ladies
operate within a textured and complicated political environment composed of many
variables that affect their power, influence, and ultimately, their activism. These
variables are not only personal in nature but also involve the administrative
environment within the White House and the Office of the First Lady. The public
and the political climate during a first lady’s tenure can also affect her performance.
A list of factors affecting first lady performance or activism can be gleaned from
the literature on first ladies.
There are a series of personal attributes that can affect
performance, such as the first lady’s background, her ambition, vision, and ideology.
The first lady’s background consists of her personal, professional, and educational
background, and general biographical information, such as employment history,
schools attended, etc. A first lady’s ideology is developed from her background and
consists of things like religious, moral, and political views. Ambition and vision
develop from a first lady’s background. There seems to be a correlation between
ambition and vision and the first lady’s attitude toward her office, which is in turn
Glenn P. Hastedt and Anthony Eksterowicz
are professors in the Political Science Department
at James Madison University, in Harrisonburg, Virginia.