Up the Valley: Not-so-Great Expectations

September 13, 2012

In today’s column in the Star, I explain how America’s single women can teach voters a thing or two about settling for less…

Out here in the untelevised world, where presidential voters lack the blissful certainty of lockstep party unity, things are looking grim. My friends shake their heads, sigh deeply, and decry the absence of an exhilarating choice for the highest job in the land. “Of all the people in the country,” they ask, “is this really the best we can do?”

Welcome, I say, to the world straight single women inhabit every day.

Imagine that a lovelorn single female friend said to you: “I’m waiting to meet the perfect man; one who is handsome, rich, funny, attentive, sensitive, loving, single and straight.” Your response would be: “No wonder you are a 47-year-old spinster.”

In other words, waiting for a presidential candidate who is capable of soaring rhetoric, brilliant thinking and decisive action; one who shares all of your beliefs, embodies your hopes and dreams for America, and possesses the leadership and political skills necessary to forge consensus, is like waiting for George Clooney to ring your doorbell offering an engagement ring.

And while dating and marriage can be delayed or rebuffed, we must cast our presidential votes every four years, so how to decide?

Frustrated voters should consider the straight single woman’s solution: strategic settling. Likely developed as part of some survival-of-the-species evolutionary scheme, this skill enables women to tick off long mental lists of things they can’t live without and things they can’t live with, then swiftly process, calculate and commit — sometimes for life.

I know women who can make this evaluation in under five minutes, usually settling for someone fairly uninspiring but “good on paper.” I imagine the Democrats went through a similar process before landing on John Kerry.

Optimal strategic settling requires keeping your list of deal-killers as short as possible. We all start out saying that we could never vote for someone who does not share our views on environmental protection, reproductive rights, tax policy, national security, immigration, the death penalty or gun control. But just as many straight single women have whittled down their lists of dating deal-killers to “married, gay or certifiably insane,” voters might have to reduce their short lists of non-starters to things like: conspicuously corrupt, too dumb to read, and highly likely to provoke global thermonuclear war.

I used to be a one-issue voter, choosing based on a candidate’s likelihood to appoint an agenda-pushing extremist to the Supreme Court. But I’ve since learned that predicting how any one justice may vote on a particular issue is as difficult as predicting which man will pick up the dinner check on a particular evening.

Assuming neither candidate is deal-killer-disqualified, strategic settling then compels you to determine what’s most important to you.

Are you seriously worried about fiscal stability? Then the candidate touting entitlement reform, spending cuts and tax reduction, or that newly divorced estate planner who owns his own practice but is often seen sleeping at public concerts, might be your man. Are social issues your focus? Then by all means vote for the pro-choice, pro–immigration reform, pro-gay-marriage candidate. And let me introduce you to a nice never-married artist from Berkeley who is a brilliant liberal thinker, although he can get a bit gamey and will want to sleep in your car.

Kingmakers and husband-seekers occasionally rebel against the idea of settling — choosing instead the Hail Mary pass to a wild-card candidate — then close their eyes and hope for the best. The cronies who took a flier propelling Harry Truman to national office must have been pleased, and perhaps surprised, that it turned out so well. And this approach was successful for Rosalynn Carter, who married a peanut farmer and ended up sleeping with the president of the United States. But such stories are rare.

One thing is certain: The pool of available candidates would be much better if there were more women in it. Few female contenders seem to rise to the top of anything except the deal-killer list, and those who succeed often occupy one uncomfortably extreme end of the political spectrum or another.

This is perplexing, both politically and mathematically, because there is no shortage of exceptional women. Every straight single woman knows a hundred other women who are single, attractive, rich, funny, attentive, sensitive and loving, and would gladly marry them if they did not share the heavy burden of female heterosexuality. Since we can’t date these superwomen, it would be satisfying to at least vote for them on occasion.

If strategic settling is not for you, there is another option: Focus on the future. I’ve heard wise women say that you shouldn’t leave your existing husband until you’ve lined up the next. So let this less-than-perfect lot have their day, while you start scoping out more attractive options to embrace four years from now. Surely there is someone, somewhere, better out there in this vast great country of ours.

Isn’t there?

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