I quit my day job to study singlism, the stereotyping and stigmatizing of people who are single, including even the most accomplished singles who have ascended to some of the highest posts in the land. For years, I've been writing at length about the topic. (See SINGLED OUT: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After.) Then Laura Bush came along, and crisply captured the crux of singlism with her dismissive comment about Condoleezza Rice. Here's what the First Lady told People magazine:
"Dr. Rice, who I think would be a really good candidate (for President), is not interested. Probably because she is single, her parents are no longer living, she's an only child. You need a very supportive family and supportive friends to have this job."
Laura Bush thereby gave voice to one of the fundamental myths of singlehood - that people who are single don't have anyone. Surely, Laura Bush knows that Dr. Rice has friendships that have lasted a lifetime, and that she stays in touch with those far-flung friends even as she travels the globe to meet with world leaders. Laura Bush cannot be oblivious to the gathering Dr. Rice hosts at her place, several times a month, of four other musicians. Said Rice of the foursome, "We are like family. [They are] like my best friends." And while Newsweek may have been using the term "friends" loosely when it claimed that 120 friends were waiting for Condoleezza Rice as she walked in the door of her surprise 50th birthday party, Laura Bush must have noticed the number of people who were there for Condi that evening. After all, she was one of them.
The First Lady's pity for poor friendless Condi is even more astonishing in light of the place of Condi in her own life and that of her husband. There is probably no one with whom Laura and George Bush have spent more time in the past six years than Condoleezza Rice. Dr. Rice, far more often than the first couple's own daughters, is with the Bushes at Camp David and in Crawford - and not just to work. Dr. Rice is a cabinet member and a football fan, an advisor and an athlete. She's a friend.
So why didn't Laura Bush instead express befuddlement at Dr. Rice's reluctance to run? Why didn't she point to the support that would be forthcoming from all of the people who care about Condi and would work tirelessly on her behalf - beginning, of course, with Laura and George themselves?
I do, though, see Laura Bush's point about the absence of siblings in Rice's life. If Jimmy Carter did not have the support of brother Billy, and if Bill Clinton had to govern the nation without the help and inspiration of brother Roger - well, I doubt that either of them would have dared even to fantasize about becoming President.
Here's something else that is remarkable about Laura Bush's condescending comment about Condoleezza Rice - she did not seem to think that there was anything wrong with what she was saying. And other than Keith Olbermann (and Margaret Carlson, his guest on Countdown), apparently no one else did, either.
That's the thing about singlism. It is practiced routinely, unselfconsciously, and unapologetically, and by people who are not known for their political blunders. Plus, they get away with it.
Laura Bush worked as a public school teacher and librarian, but she never said of those years, "I guess I could have stayed home and baked cookies." Hillary committed that quip, and she was hounded until she headed straight back to the kitchen, where she gamely played bake-off with another Bush Woman. It was Elizabeth Edwards, not Laura Bush, who was apparently misquoted as saying that her choices had made her life more joyful than Hillary's. She, too, was badgered mercilessly, until she finally called Hillary and said uncle.
But saying poor Condi doesn't have anyone? No problem there.
And still we wonder why single people do not vote in greater numbers.