Al and Tipper Gore are separating after 40 years of marriage, after four children and three grandchildren, after just buying a $9 million house in Montecito, California, two weeks after celebrating their anniversary.
Is there nothing in this life you can count on? What could have happened now, after all that has happened over four decades, to split these two apart? They weathered so much -- the near death of their son hit by a car leaving a baseball game in 1989 and the death of his ever becoming president.
It’s why on Tuesday we stopped and gawked at the news crawling across the screen that the Gores of all people were separating, diverting us momentarily from the endless loop of our planet being ravaged by an under-regulated corporation that created a catastrophe too big to fix.
“This is very much a mutual and mutually supportive decision that we have made together following a process of long and careful consideration,” the Gores wrote in an e-mail to friends.
The Gores’ marriage was almost as famous as the Clintons’ but for opposite reasons: the Gores were stable, peaceful and monogamous; the Clintons’ limited partnership was rocky and beset by lounge singers and interns. The Clintons’ marriage seemed calculated and forced, the Gores’ natural and genuine. Right after the convention in 1992, the couples clambered aboard a bus, less a political barnstorming trip than to convey that the Clintons were like the Gores, one happily married couple joining another on a long double date.
But happiness, marital or otherwise, can’t be socially transmitted. The Clintons stumbled on in their strange union and the Gores in their stolid one as the pair assumed office. The Clintons turbulent marriage would go on to create a constitutional crisis, as Clinton was impeached for lying under oath about yet another affair. The Gores remained a calm port amid the storm.
Yet, after all that, the Clintons are still as much a couple as two people can be who seldom share the same time zone. They have become a global It Couple thriving in occasionally intersecting universes as they plan for the wedding of their only daughter, who survived their turmoil. And the Gores have stunned the world with the news of their dissolution.
If the Clinton marriage had a defining moment, it was the president shaking his finger, insisting he didn’t have sex with “that woman.” For the Gores, it was “the kiss,” an overlong lip lock at the 2000 convention that made you yearn for the chaste pecks of the Nixons. It was a moment for which any other couple would have paid a higher price than the Gores, saved by the easy affection of high school sweethearts that lent the stage-crafted moment a touch of authenticity.
“That woman” wouldn’t define the Clintons as much as it would hobble Gore’s own campaign. Once close, neither Gore could look either Clinton in the eye after Monica Lewinsky. In 2000, instead of running on the Clinton-Gore record of a balanced budget and relative peace, Gore ran from it.
Gore’s popular-vote victory ended when the Supreme Court tossed an unsigned opinion over history’s transom like a ransom note penned by Kafka. In it was a written warning that its logic must never be inflicted on anyone but Gore. All the votes in Florida, it said, would have to be counted but a court-imposed deadline would make counting all the votes impossible.
A happy partnership helped Gore survive. Tipper pulled together Gore’s files on the environment, which he turned into a film, “An Inconvenient Truth.” He’d win a Nobel Prize, an Oscar and most importantly, a second act in life. Success, if it’s getting what you set out to achieve, may have escaped Gore as the lifelong dream of this son of a senator was dashed. But he did grasp the happiness of being satisfied with what you’ve got.
Limbaugh’s Hat Trick
Only Rush Limbaugh has found something to gloat over. Ozone Man’s separation, he pointed out on his radio show, will double Gore’s carbon footprint, pointing to a study showing that two do not live as environmentally friendly lives apart as together. Limbaugh is unconcerned about the carbon footprint of someone divorced three times.
There are groupies around every politician, even ones keeping tabs on the temperature of a global-warming nerd. Yet friends pass along that there’s no third party involved in the breakup. The Gores should know enough about the media not to offer up that information if it will shortly turn out otherwise. There is no moral crisis of the sort that should dog that other presidential candidate, John Edwards, until his dying day. The Gores are likely to have as dull and decorous a divorce as they had a marriage.
(Margaret Carlson, author of “Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made It to the White House” and former White House correspondent for Time magazine, is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)
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