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Tim Scott’s bachelorhood is not a defect

The hypocrisy is impossible to ignore. But it’s not the only frustrating part of this debate.
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Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. Nora Williams for The Washington Post via Getty Images

In May 2014, with $1 million on the line, “Jeopardy!” asked contestants which two secretaries of state were the only ones who never married. The answer? “Who are James Buchanan and Condoleezza Rice?” An amusing factoid, perhaps. Or an irritating one, depending on your perspective. After all, why should the pioneering first Black female secretary of state have this piece of her biography singled out for national consumption?

In truth, successful singles chafe at the implication, leveled by friends, families and political foes alike, that no level of success is adequate unless a person is married/partnered and has children. In my recent book, “The Love Jones Cohort: Single And Living Alone In The Black Middle Class,” one of the objectives is to destigmatize singlehood. And as recent chatter about GOP presidential candidate and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott suggests, society still has some ways to go in this regard.

Some Republican donors are so concerned about Scott’s singlehood, they are worried about donating to his campaign.

Please understand I do not care how you feel about Scott’s political record. But, no matter how you feel about his politics, the fact that Scott is unmarried should not be held up as evidence of some presidential defect. According to a recent report in Axios, some Republican donors are so concerned about Scott’s singlehood, they are worried about donating to his campaign. This, despite the fact that Scott has actually said he has a girlfriend, but is choosing to keep her name private (more on that later). 

“The fact that half of America’s adult population is single for the first time, to suggest that somehow being married or not married is going to be the determining factor of whether you’re a good president or not — it sounds like we’re living in 1963 and not 2023,” Scott told Axios back in May. 

Indeed, as Jemele Hill recently noted on X, formerly Twitter, the fact that Republicans would be “wary” of Scott while having “no problem backing a thrice-married, racist, adulterer” doesn’t add up. (Hill is referring to Donald Trump here, of course, whose alleged struggles with marriage have been well documented.) These donors and supporters “keep showing Tim Scott who they are and it’s sad that he refuses to believe it.”

The hypocrisy really is impossible to ignore, here. But it’s not the only frustrating part of the narrative. Historically, the vast majority of U.S. presidents have been in heterosexual partnerships. Voters have not chosen an unmarried president in over a century. President Grover Cleveland was single when elected, although he would marry France Folsom a year later, in 1886. President James Buchanan, an infamously terrible president, was single for his entire White House tenure, and indeed never married.   

But this record says nothing about the abilities of a single president. Perhaps America has been missing out. There are several reasons why being single in the White House could be seen as an asset, in my opinion.

A single president is, almost by definition, someone who is comfortable pushing back against societal norms. They are demonstrably confident in their convictions. They are likely uninterested in entering into relationships just for the sake of tradition or to save face. One would think these would be admirable qualities in a country that supposedly privileges independence, confidence and critical thinking. 

Scott told Axios that being unmarried has actually increased his productivity — another very American trait. “I probably have more time, more energy, and more latitude to do the job,” he said. Of course, we have no idea if that’s true. But we also don’t know that it’s not. 

What we do know is that there is an incredible amount of evidence that suggests married men with children are not inherently better — at anything. Collectively, they are not inherently better leaders, or better workers; they are not inherently more moral or more professional. Trump is only one example. Some of the worst serial killers in American history have been married. And if that seems irrelevant and anecdotal — that’s the point.  

Evaluating Tim Scott’s candidacy by his marriage status is shortsighted in the extreme. Worse, it sends the message that being single is due to some sort of personality deficit. In 2021, about 40% of adult Americans, ages 25 to 54, said they were unpartnered, “that is, neither married nor living with a partner,” according to the Pew Research Center. Men are more likely than women to fall in this category. But while there can be definite downsides, plenty of single people are proudly, loudly happy. And living alone doesn’t mean being lonely. 

As the 2024 campaign for president ramps up, we can expect more and more stories like this one from The Washington Post investigating whether Tim Scott is actually single, and trying to avoid the sort of slanderous innuendo being spread by unscrupulous idiots. But at the end of the day, the White House remains one of the most homogenous clubs in America precisely because of the numerous arbitrary rules that keep it white, straight and male. And where has that gotten us?