Well, folks, the republican national convention begins this week. I know, I know…you read blogs like ours to AVOID political commentary during seasons like this. But here’s the thing: marriage and national politics are inextricably connected. There have been 44 presidents, and only 2 were single when elected (bonus points if you can guess both names). Even one of them was married during his first term. In other words, presidents are pretty much always married, and political conventions are pretty much always marriage showcases. Remember Al and Tipper lip locking for 4 seconds – which felt like 4 hours – in 2000? We obviously do. And that sort of display takes place for a reason: marriages matter to voters. When candidates use the conventions as political theater, families take center stage alongside them.
So here’s the question: Why do we care about our presidential candidates’ marriages so much? To quote Aaron Sorkin and/or Jeff Daniels and/or Will McAvoy:
Just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there are some things you should know, and one of them is that there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, twenty-seventh in math, twenty-second in science, forty-ninth in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies.
So we’ve clearly got some other issues, right? Given our educational struggles, healthcare concerns and economic situation, one would think that family slideshows and stage kisses would matter a little less. Instead, they matter more than ever. We care enough that conventions tell these stories year after year. We care enough that every presidential candidate has a spouse. We care enough that extramarital affairs represent a political kiss of death (well, unless you’re Newt Gingrich…but I digress). Why does this matter?
I would argue that political campaigns are about fostering trust. Granted, they’re also about avoiding mistakes and instilling fear and – perhaps occasionally – discussing policy. But trust remains paramount. And trusting strangers is a tall task, partly because we’ve been failed before and partly because we’ve been told since childhood about stranger danger. So if someone’s spouse and children say they’re great and wonderful and deserving of consideration, that counts for something. Even when they’re biased. Even when their comments are scripted. Even when nobody’s running for spouse-in-chief. Why? Several assumptions are involved:
- A person’s spouse sees the absolute best and the absolute worst a person offers. If they still think this person merits our vote, the candidate must not be TOO bad.
- We may not grasp the debt ceiling or the mortgage crisis or healthcare system, but we can surely read people and relationships accurately.