Al and Tipper Gore Split – Should This Be a Surprise?
WASHINGTON -- If someone had told you Al and Tipper Gore would split up before Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, you probably wouldn't have believed them.
Tuesday's announcement that the Gores are separating is the latest reminder that public marriages are complicated and rarely what they seem on the surface.
John Edwards' spectacular meltdown was one thing. But the fracturing of a seemingly rock-solid union - one that had withstood the trials of Al Gore's 24 years in office, an epically disappointing fight for the presidency in 2000, and adult lifetimes in the public eye - stunned many in this city.
But given the pressures of public life, should it have?
The Gores' closest confidants are trying to maintain a veil of silence, respecting the couple's request for privacy.
"This is very much a mutual and mutually supportive decision that we have made together, following a process of long and careful consideration," the couple said in a joint statement. "We ask for respect for our privacy and that of our family, and we do not intend to comment further."
Those who know the Gores only through a political prism might have believed this was an enduring match. Tipper Gore, an accomplished photographer, often chronicled her husband's events with an insiders' eye. When she took on the music industry for raunchy lyrics in the 1980s, it became Al's de facto cause.
Their passionate onstage kiss at the 2000 Democratic National Convention remains an iconic moment of recent presidential campaign history. It softened the stiff edges of Al Gore's persona. Even more, it held out the Gores' marriage as a calm haven amid the storms swirling around Bill and Hillary Clinton. The kiss came less than two years after Bill Clinton's infidelity led to his impeachment, an event that some Gore acolytes still believe contributed to Gore's loss in 2000.
Shortly after he left office in 2009, former President George W. Bush told a Michigan audience that the stress of public life made his marriage stronger.
"Pressure can sometimes make a marriage stronger or weaker," Bush said. "In my case, because of (Laura Bush's) patience and her enthusiasm, it made our marriage a really good marriage."
But more often than not, the recent parade of politicians announcing retirements has had a common theme - that public and married life are incompatible.
In stepping down last month after admitting an affair with a part-time aide, a tearful Indiana Rep. Mark Souder, one of the staunchest defenders of traditional marriage in Congress, said, "I do not have any sense of normal life for family, for friends, for church, for community."
After the 2000 presidential election, of course, the Gores shed those demands. Out of public office, Al Gore could pick and choose his moments of public exposure, and he did so with best-selling books and an Oscar-winning movie on climate change.
In April, West Coast media reported that the Gores had bought an $8.9 million house in a gated community overlooking the ocean in upscale Montecito, Calif. Al Gore's business has more and more taken him to the West Coast, through the Hollywood connections he made with his film, "Inconvenient Truth," and through his Beverly Hills-based environmental organization, Live Earth.
Speculation about the state of the Clintons' marriage - fueled recently by the online culture - has been a Washington parlor game for years. In 1992, the Clintons survived a tabloid-fueled frenzy over allegations by lounge singer Gennifer Flowers that she'd had a long-term relationship with Bill Clinton. Clinton chose Gore as his running mate, in part, because Gore had run for president in 1988 and had been vetted as a family man.
But as the latest news shows, the Baby Boom generation that spawned that '92 ticket has struggled, more than any other, with the definition and endurance of marriage.
In a 1992 cover story on the Clinton-Gore ticket that would eventually defeat George H. W. Bush, Time magazine called the moment, "Baby Boom meets Father Knows Best."
Suddenly, 1992 and the 1950s seem equally far in the past.