Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Real Reason for the Gore Separation

When Al and Tipper Gore decided to separate the news hit many people hard. The Gores were a loving couple; they had just celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary; they had enjoyed substantial material success; and they had a bevy of beautiful children and grandchildren.

If the Gores couldn't make it, thought many people, what hope was there for the rest of us? The kiss that Al planted on Tipper's lips at the 2000 Democratic convention has almost become an iconic image of conjugal bliss.

No one has any real idea of what went on in the privacy of the Gore home. To their credit the Gores have kept their private life out of the media.

Still and all, we feel that we know politicians personally, and we have never had any reason to see Al Gore as a skirt-chaser in the Bill Clinton or even the Mark Sanford mode. We are all reasonably confident that there is no shameless vixen or Argentinean hussy hiding behind the curtains.

As some have suggested, we might be wrong. But then again, one finds it hard to believe that a forty year marriage flounders because of an indiscretion.

But what if all the information that we need to know is right there, out in the open, right in front of our eyes.

As best as I can tell more marriages have failed for alienation of affection than from an erotic romp. You do not need to have committed an act of infidelity to become emotionally alienated from your spouse. Sometimes it is even more painful when there is no love interest, when your spouse is there in the flesh but not in the spirit, when he has become so completely disengaged from the everyday life of a marriage that you feel you are dealing with a zombie.

I will speculate that the Gore marriage fell apart because Al Gore fell in love with something else. Not with another woman, not with another person, but with a cause. The Gore marriage failed because Al Gore was seduced by the cause of global warming.

Al Gore did not simply come to believe in its truth; he became its most prominent public spokesman. From losing presidential candidate Al Gore became a prophet, a world savior, someone who might have thought that God took the presidency from him because He had something bigger in mind, something more global and more consequential: saving the planet from global warming.

Being a prophet, Al Gore was never home. He circled the globe; he traveled around like an itinerant preacher, advancing the cause of global warming.

Reports tell us that the Gores had, for some time, been living separately. Link here. Tipper was home alone.

And Al Gore was not just traveling around. He had become the subject of mass adulation. He was feted and praised and even worshiped for his work on the environment. He won a Nobel Prize; he made a fortune; he was everywhere doing everything to save the planet.

George Bush could have the presidency; George Bush could have his wars; Al Gore was saving the world. And he did not even have to deal with everyday banalities.

The Gore marriage is not the only one that has been sundered by the zealotry of one of its members. You cannot truly love a cause and remain fully engaged in your marriage to another human being. You cannot sustain the routines that nourish a marriage after your mind has been taken over by an ideology.

Human beings get and often stay married. Zealots remain fully committed to their cause, marriage or no marriage. And some spouses, faced with the choice between losing their marriage and joining their spouse in their fanatical devotion to an ideal, feel compelled to take up the same cause.

Apparently, Tipper Gore did not want to do so.

And why should she. When your husband is thrown into paroxysms of anguish over the fate of the polar bears, how much affection can be left for you. When you discover that, despite all of this anguish, the polar bear population has been growing, not decreasing, that must count one irony too many.

How much emotion do you have for the mundanities of everyday life when you have given your life over to a higher cause. If your wife is not along for the ride, she will naturally feel that her concerns and her interests, are of no consequences, barely deserving of your attention. Fanatical devotion to a cause propels you into another world, a world where simple pleasures are compromised by ideological considerations, and where everyday concerns are reduced to trivialities.

No marriage can ever provide the feelings of permanent rapture and ecstasy that you feel when you have sacrificed your life to a cause.

Did Al Gore know that becoming an environmental zealot would cost him his marriage? I think not. When people get seduced by causes they get caught up, enraptured by the cause, by the new feeling of absolute power, of being privy to God's truth, and they end up not knowing what has hit them. Of they are really zealots they do not care.

Devoting your life to a cause feels a bit like becoming a saint. Your primary allegiance, even your sole allegiance, is to this great cause, this cause that puts you with the angels and gives you a higher purpose.

A cause makes you a member of a cult. It offers you new friends, a new status, a new level of utter adoration, and, in Al Gore's case, riches beyond your dreams.

Al Gore was clearly too smart to be seduced by an intern or some everyday trollop. But he was not smart enough to prevent his mind from being seduced by an idea.

He may have thought he was invulnerable because he knew that he would never fallen for the wiles of a Monica Lewinsky. But he was totally vulnerable to a form of seduction that preyed on his intellectual vanity.

Vanity is vulnerability. Intellectual vanity is especially vulnerable because you are led to believe that you deserve all the praise you are receiving, even to the point that it is God's way to acknowledge an inconvenient truth that the American political system ignored.


Susan Walsh said...

Stuart, this is the best piece I've read about the Gore split. Today I heard a radio host joke that "Tipper got tired of green sex," and I cracked up. Now I see it's not funny - in fact, she probably didn't even get much of a chance to decide one way or the other about green sex as he trotted the globe.

Also, I've always perceived a palpable vanity in Gore's demeanor. From taking credit for the Internet, to all the smug statements down through the years, I've always found him self-aggrandizing. Perhaps in this role he got to be too vain even for his loving wife.

Ralph said...

Al Gore really, really, really, really wanted to be President, and thought he deserved it. While he had been involved in climate politics before 2000, the loss of the presidency seemed to propel him into fanaticism. Tipper had her cause years ago with record labeling and it seemed a persuit grounded in reality.

An ordinary life of average people does not seem exciting, yet the Gore marriage was not exciting either.

Anonymous said...

i guess if their affections already were alienated enough, and if they were essentially living apart, and if they were content doing their own things, and if they had their "freedoms," and if they're still planning on being civil co-parents and co-grandparents at big family gatherings, it was as if they were already pretty "divorced" so why go through a real and real costly "divorce" (unless there is someone waiting in the wings to provide some real affection)?
thanks as ever.

Dan B.

Sharon said...

Quite worthwhile material, thanks for your post.

jbc said...

So...if you get caught up and devoted to an idea it makes you a cult member. Really. Why don't you tell this to all our military men that are devoted to world peace......tell that to the now deceased Mother Thereasa. Sounds like Al Gore is not alone...even you " dear author" atr now caught up in your idea.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

It depends on which idea... and what you are willing to do for it.

Funny that you should write this after Al Gore just sold Current TV to Al Jazeera, because he said that the Qatari network represented his values.

See the following from Gordon Crovitz on Al Jazeera: