Do the Media Expect a President To Have A Spouse?
John Hickenlooper, the Governor of Colorado, has been mentioned as a possible contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. Hickenlooper has two obstacles though. The first is that he has repeatedly disclaimed interest in running for President, but who doesn’t? The second is that he is currently getting divorced. In fact, being an unmarried presidential candidate is considered a major no-no. It’s possible for a candidate to be divorced or unfaithful to their spouse but the expectation is that they just still have to be married.
New York Times columnist Frank Bruni talked to Hickenlooper about this in a recent column, while also noting that Andrew Cuomo, the New York governor and another 2016 hopeful is not just unmarried but living in sin with Food Channel star Sandra Lee:
If he hadn’t run for governor, I asked, would the marriage have survived? “It’s conceivable,” he said. Then he volunteered that when they discussed separating, she had told him: “If you want to run for president, I’m in. We’ll stay married. I’ll figure it out and I’ll be fine.”
He shook his head. “It was amazingly generous,” he said.
He turned down that offer, he told me, because he didn’t want to prolong her unhappiness and had “pretty much made my mind up to focus on Colorado and not to spend time imagining any national campaigns.” There are few signs that he’s gearing up for one.
It says something truly bizarre about the expectations of the media that there are issues with an unmarried person running for office. Although several Presidents have occupied the White House as widowers, only two were elected as bachelors and none in more than 100 years. (Grover Cleveland, who famously may have had an illegitimate daughter, married while in office and James Buchanan, who was likely gay, remained a confirmed bachelor his entire life.)
The expectation that the media imposes on politicians that they have to somehow remain married is not just hypocritical (after all, not every journalist is happily married with a wife, two kids, a dog and a white picket fence) but a peculiar remnant of a far different age. It’s tough enough to find a qualified natural born citizen over the age of 35 who wants to run for President in the first place. Why should the press impose one more requirement on potential candidates?
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