Friday, August 20, 2004

Commentary: A Bachelor President?

A column by Debra Pickett published today in the Chicago Sun Times suggests that the United States is ready for a bachelor President.  Here is what Pickett had to say:

People tend to like their politicians -- even the "gay American" ones -- married. In the United States, we've had exactly one lifelong bachelor president, James Buchanan. And unless Ralph Nader pulls off something really spectacular in the next few months, we're unlikely to have another one anytime soon. Single guys just don't fare well on the national political stage.

Buchanan was a pretty much a disaster, doing nothing as South Carolina seceded and the nation careened toward civil war. Internationally, other bachelor leaders haven't done much better. Like, say, Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam, who was overthrown in a 1963 coup that helped escalate the Vietnam War.

Or Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Indian prime minister defeated in the last election. Last summer, a provincial minister blamed Vajpayee for the country's lingering drought because his single status was offensive to the Hindu rain god Varuna.

Could a single guy get elected?

Details magazine, the men's fashion journal that is essentially a younger, ruder version of GQ, raises the question in its September issue, due to hit newsstands next week.

Writer Jonathan Sabin reflects on Ralph Nader's Jan. 23 appearance on the cable TV talk show "Hardball," when host Chris Matthews asked, in response to a Nader criticism of President Bush, "He's raised two daughters; he's had a happy marriage. You've never been married. Isn't he more mature in his lifestyle than you are?"

"Maturity?" Sabin writes, "The man is 70. He has a fashion sense that stalled circa 1965. Ralph Nader isn't mature; he's ancient."

Still, Sabin has to admit, most people do associate marriage with maturity. Basically, if you haven't settled down and committed, you're still sitting at the kids' table, bub, and nobody cares how many lives were saved by your little seat-belt law.

But is marriage really always a sign of maturity?

Good reasons

In our blind date-packed 20s, my friends and I used to say that if a guy was 30 years old and still single, there was probably a very good reason. Like he was obsessed with his mother. Or Dungeons and Dragons. Or Cher.

But now that a few of us -- OK, me -- have passed that milestone ourselves, we've been forced to re-evaluate our thinking. Maybe there really are some legitimate reasons to stay single. Or, at the very least, some reasons that don't represent epic, unelectable character flaws.

That's a tough assertion to make, though, in these my-family-values-are-better-than-your-family-values times. Nobody, it seems, wants a leader who can't commit.

Instead, they'd much rather have a guy who promises to be with someone until death do they part, only to change his mind later on and take it all back.

How is it that divorced-and-remarried guys -- Ronald Reagan, John Kerry, take your pick -- get a pass on the whole commitment question, while pundits like Matthews feel free to question the maturity of those who actually take marriage seriously enough not to screw it up?

It's amazing that the society that invented the Vegas wedding chapel still views marriage as a powerful symbol of steadfastness and responsibility.

But we do.

Presidential sex

As I talked to friends about the Details article, it quickly became clear that even single people would find a bachelor president a little unnerving.

First, they all seemed to agree, they'd assume he was gay. Most didn't really see that as a problem -- say it with me, "not that there's anything wrong with that" -- in and of itself, but they found the whole being-in-the-closet thing troubling.

"Isn't that, like, even more dishonest and hypocritical than politicians usually are?" asked a friend whom I routinely pester about her severe case of voter apathy.

After the gay thing came the broader question of presidential sex.

"You don't want a celibate president," suggested a male buddy, who went on to explain that such a circumstance might lead to more preemptive wars.

"But you don't want to think about him dating, either," chimed in a girlfriend who has met enough losers on to make her worry about anyone's ability to navigate the singles scene while trying to stay sane, let alone run the free world.

Independent thinking

Personally, I'd love to elect a bachelor president, somebody who could work long hours without a big guilt trip and who is capable, in a pinch, of doing his own laundry.

It would be nice to have a truly independent thinker running things, someone who doesn't give in to social pressure or make a habit of easy compromise.

Plus, how great would it be if he dated Annette Bening?

Of course, that's still no reason to vote for Ralph Nader.

I'd vote for him