The Nation's Pulse

Matrimonial Gore

Breaking up isn't hard to do for the Woodstock Generation.

By 6.18.10

Apparently a lot of Americans were surprised ("saddened," "depressed" -- New Republic) by news that Al and Tipper Gore were, after 40 years of marriage, parting company. Everywhere neurotic married couples asked: "If the Gores can't make it, who can?"

Well, how about the Clintons? Even the Eliot Spitzers were still together, last time we checked. Many political marriages have weathered far worse. Think about the odd White House dynamic of FDR, his mistress Lucy Mercer, his wife Eleanor and her wife Lorena Hickok. Go back far enough and you find some perfectly awful political marriages that endured, but none worse than the Lincolns'. Mary Todd once spat in the face of the secretary of state. (Are you taking notes, Michelle?) After one of Mrs. Lincoln's hissy fits, the long-suffering Abe shrugged it off, saying, "It does her lots of good and it doesn't hurt me a bit."

In my grandparents' day marriage meant something. Divorce was the sole prerogative of Hollywood starlets and communists. Common folk were obliged to pledge their troth, for better or worse, till death do we part, and like it.

If things got really bad, the wife was expected to discretely poison her husband and then quietly shut herself up in her big Victorian house for the rest of her life. The townsfolk would tactfully turn a blank eye, figuring he doubtless deserved it, and for the next few months husbands could be expected to mind their Ps and Qs.

Actually, the Gore's separation should have been expected. Al and Tipper were always in the high-risk divorce category. They were rich celebrities. They were self-absorbed Baby Boomers. And, like all do-gooders, Al spent most of his time away from home trying to save the world, while his marriage died from neglect.

If nothing else, the Gores have focused our attention on late-in-life divorce. This is another loony social construct only the Boomers could have come up with. Every other generation figured, "Hell, we've made it this far, might as well stick it out a few more years." Not the Boomers. 

LATER GENERATIONS had reversed the trend. They'd witnessed first-hand the disasters that moral relativism, casual sex and no-fault divorce have wreaked on society. Divorce rates have been falling for years. Though not if the Boomers can help it. "In a sense, getting divorced is the iconic baby boomer act," Gil Troy, an expert on political marriages, told the New York Times. What else would you expect from a generation that turned Maslow's hierarchy of needs on its head, thus beginning and ending with self-actualization?

Even the Gores' email announcement of their separation was boring, meaningless and phony, much like the Gores themselves, calling it a "mutual and mutually supportive decision that we have made together following a process of long and careful consideration."

This attitude of Me Generation egotism and goofy pop psychology was perfectly captured in an interview with Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage: A History. She told NPR that the Gores' divorce shouldn't be viewed as a failure, but as a "success" and a "celebration of life." I wonder what Dr. Coontz thinks of the recession. "A celebration of government intervention!" The oil leak? "A celebration of blowout prevention technology!"

This Sixties' silliness was echoed by Michelle Cottle in the New Republic. "For them, there is still a whole lot of 'everything' to come." And by everything you mean enlarged prostates, erectile dysfunction and incontinence? Coontz notes that we no longer need our spouses to take care of us in old age. We have our children. They're not busy. And, thanks to the taxpayers, we have our social security, to say nothing of government programs for housing, meals, transportation, health care, prescription drug costs, legal services, utility bills. We can sponge off them for a while. At least till the retired outnumber working Americans. Then we'll just let in some more Mexicans.

Hang on, the Boomers cry, we're not through wrecking American culture yet!

But they are getting old, whether they accept it or not. They won't be around forever. In a few years we can pack them and their Carole King records off to the nursing home and forget about them.

To paraphrase old Abe: "It'll do them lots of good and it won't hurt us a bit."

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.