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A never married presidential candidate? Why not?

Journalists and average citizens have asked, in tones ranging from befuddled to faintly sinister, how Sen. Lindsey Graham expects to become president if he has no first lady.

Sen. Lindsey Graham holds a baby during a campaign stop in Derry, New Hampshire on June 2.
REUTERS/Brian Snyder

As a never married person, I often like to reference this quote from the (once married) Katharine Hepburn: “If you want to sacrifice the admiration of many men for the criticism of one, go ahead, get married.”

Of course, Hepburn’s words were, like many quotes, probably spoken to momentarily barb or amuse.

But as a member of the 30 percent of the U.S. population aged 15 or more that the U.S. Census Bureau determined in 2009 to be never married, I sometimes (high self-confidence levels notwithstanding) feel the need to defend my status. Such defense is turning out to be needed for never married presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina. More than one journalist and average citizen have asked, in tones ranging from befuddled to faintly sinister, how Graham expects to become president if he has no first lady

To be sure, Graham isn’t the first never married person to run for, or become, president. The most famous recent example is the now married California Gov. Jerry Brown. Brown’s first run came in 1976, when, at 38, he had abundant hair, had been the boyfriend of singer Linda Ronstadt, and was considered a handsome, if distinctly moonbeam-ish catch. When Brown made his third presidential race in 1992 as a 54-year-old bachelor, a lot of people said he had never married because he was too much of an egghead former Jesuit seminarian to be married to any member of any Earth-inhabiting species. Then there was James Buchanan, who became president in 1857 without a wife or girlfriend. A number of historians now say that Buchanan probably was gay.

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Being never married has not been quite the hurdle to becoming head of state in other countries as it still seems to be here. Edward Heath was Britain’s prime minister without spouse between 1970 and 1974. Then there was Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister for nearly 16 years. The dashing, wildly charismatic Trudeau did marry in 1971 at age 51, three years after becoming prime minister. His bride was a 22-year-old, self-described flower child with a yen for marijuana and a distaste for protocol. The Trudeaus separated after six years of international-headline making tumult, and Pierre Trudeau spent the remainder of his time as prime minister as a seemingly vastly contented single man, with already employed social secretaries organizing his official entertainment and many a famous, glamorous, and much younger woman adorning his elegantly tuxedoed arm.

I don’t dispute the fact that some American first ladies have done great things. Consider the globe-spanning work Eleanor Roosevelt accomplished as her husband’s legs and conscience, Jacqueline Kennedy’s White House restoration, or Betty Ford’s fight to increase cancer awareness and encourage women’s rights. But as outstanding as a presidential spouse’s achievements can be, it’s not realistic to think a country cannot be properly governed without an involved leader’s spouse. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s husband mostly stayed far from the Iron Lady’s stage. Many Canadians thought Trudeau was much more properly focused on his work and his country once he and his wife separated.

Mary Stanik

What I think is going on regarding the negative feelings many have with never married presidential candidates is that they are often the same negative feelings a lot of people have regarding ordinary never marrieds. That they are selfish. Or workaholics. Or afraid of real intimacy and commitment. That they don’t appreciate the value of family. That they are weird nonconformists. That they lack the guts to admit they are gay. That they somehow never found the right one.

And you know what? Sometimes some of that is true. Just as some of that is sometimes true with married people, including those who have been married and divorced multiple times, or have been unfaithful many times. Or married someone of the opposite sex only to realize they were gay. Or provided lavish homes and cars for their kids and spouses but were never around to enjoy those homes and cars with their kids and spouses. Or pursued their own bucket lists without regard for what such pursuits cost their families. The thing is, the majority of never marrieds are probably no more or less screwed up or emotionally stable than those who are in marriages, be they heterosexual or homosexual.

I’m no fan of Lindsey Graham or his politics, but I defend his right, and the right of other never marrieds, to run for president. Or any other office. So should every American.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got to stop valuing family long enough to get back to looking after my aged mother. And accepting the admiration of so many men.

Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, lives in St. Paul. She is the author of the novel “Life Erupted.”


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