Sen. Lindsey Graham’s best campaign isn’t his bid for the presidency — it’s the one he’s waging for single Americans.
The snark and questions he’s getting about his unmarried status are ones that singles encounter every day. Senator, I know you’re not in this race to battle the stigma against being single, but you’re doing it anyway. And it sure is needed.
More than 100 million Americans of voting age, or 44 percent of U.S. adults, are not married — and those numbers will continue to rise. Yet, we haven’t had a bachelor president in 100 years. James Buchanan never married. Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson both married while in office. Graham (R-S.C.) might never sit behind the big desk in the Oval Office, but the conversations he’s prompted are relatable for all singles, regardless of their politics.
Let’s start with the most obvious: Who will be your plus-one? Or, in Graham’s case: Who will be your first lady? He handled it well, saying his sister could play that role, while also noting that he has “a lot of friends.”
Singles know this inquiry all too well: Who are you taking to this wedding or that dinner party? Searching for a plus-one can provoke anxiety, but it can also be a chance to bring the person best-suited to the occasion. That’s better than getting stuck with a spouse or partner who’d rather be elsewhere.
I trust that Graham, a seasoned politician, will have no trouble entertaining guests at a state dinner or appearing at inaugural balls, whether he goes with his sister, a friend — or, gasp, solo. (The role of first lady is so outdated that it might be time to rethink it anyway.)
Then there’s the supposition that a person is incomplete without a spouse or partner. This judgment is often phrased as: How are you still single? It might be intended as a compliment, but it lands as a dig. The single person feels compelled to “explain,” even when that’s not necessary. How often do married folks get asked why they’re married, in a tone dripping with judgment?
So when Graham’s words “I am not defective” end up in a Politico headline about his bachelorhood, or his Senate colleague Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is recorded calling him a “bro with no ho,” singles everywhere know how he feels. The best retort to Kirk’s frat-boy comments might be: YOLO solo. Or, as Graham more maturely stated: “I don’t think there’s anything in the Constitution that says single people need not apply for president.”
Married friends have stepped in as his wingmen, defending his desirability. As Sen. John McCain, one of Graham’s closest friends in the Senate: “I know he’s dated some attractive women from time to time, but I’ve never seen him get real serious.” This isn’t much different from a mother telling a nosy aunt that her single daughter has plenty of suitors.
As the campaign continues, Graham might also get cast as self-absorbed and selfish, as singles often are. Sociologists Naomi Gerstel and Natalia Sarkisian, for example, have found that single Americans spend more time calling, writing and visiting family, friends and neighbors than their married peers. Graham doesn’t have children or a spouse, but he did adopt his sister after their parents died. That’s hardly the move of a family-hating egomaniac.
Of course, the media is also questioning whether an unmarried, childless candidate can make decisions on issues affecting children and families, such as education and social services. Anyone, parents or not, can appreciate the value of education and the importance of strong, healthy families. The single and childless have families; some of us were even born into them.
No individual candidate — married or single, gay or straight, male or female — is perfectly tailored to reflect all the American people. But every four years, we elect someone to represent us anyway. Then we find fault with their politics, their wardrobes, even their vocabularies.
With a bachelor or lady bachelor candidate, at least we can’t blame them for abandoning a spouse and kids while running a campaign and then a country. Rather than questioning if single-minded candidates are fit for office, let’s give them a fair shot.