Gail Collins, snarking on the Gore dee-vorce:
I think the nation as a whole is thinking that if Al and Tipper split after 40 years, no marriage is ever safe. And the fact that Hillary and Bill outlasted them means that we’ve been lied to by a generation’s worth of Lifetime movies.
Heh. OK, but seriously. It has been widely noted that in the political iconography of the 2000 election, the Gores were supposed to be the decent, happily married couple, in contrast to those skeezy Clintons, with their marriage-as-business-merger. That was what the Kiss was about. Well, well, well, here were are 10 years later, and the Gores are splitting the sheets, while the Clintons are still husband and wife. So what does that tell us?
Let’s stipulate that almost no one outside the couple itself knows what really goes on in any marriage, so all speculation is mostly bunk. But why should that stop us, right? Here’s what I’m wondering: which couple offers the wiser guide to how to handle a marriage that has gone south? I think it’s safe to say that Bill and Hillary Clinton lead separate lives — the reason the Gores have given for deciding to end their marriage. The Clintons, for reasons known only to themselves, have elected to remain married. Surely nobody would begrudge the Clintons a divorce, given, you know. Besides, the idea that Hillary needed to stay married to Bill for the sake of her own career made cynical sense at one point, but it no longer does. She’s well-established on her own, to say the very least. The two almost never see each other. So why stay married?
It’s possible that they have reached an agreement, formal or not, that they’ll live separate lives within marriage — a very European sort of arrangement. The Gores could have done the same thing, but chose not to, preferring instead to formalize with a separation the private reality inside their marriage.
Again, we don’t know what really has gone on inside either marriage, but I want to use this comparison to poll the room here. I’m interested in who provides the better example for how to handle a marriage in which the spouses, for whatever reason, have begun living separate lives? [Let us assume for the sake of argument that the children have all grown up.] The Gore example has about it a sense of honesty. Why pretend that we have a real marriage when we no longer do? Why should we stay together when we are no longer happy together?
On the other hand, the Clinton marriage, however hollow from the inside, still honors the “till death do us part” formality. Besides, if there is no deceit or abuse inside the marriage, is it so wrong for them to agree to stay married, honoring their partnership as a social institution? Where is it written that a married couple must have romantic affection for each other for their marriage to be worth something — and worth preserving?
What do you think? Clintons or Gores? Explain your reasoning.
UPDATE: Folks, judging from the comments thread, I’ve not made myself clear. I don’t really want you to reflect on the Clintons versus the Gores themselves. I’m using them as real-life examples of two different ways to handle a marriage in which to all appearances the partners have grown far apart emotionally, and lead separate lives. The question I’m asking is not, “Who’s better, the Gores or the Clintons?” I’m simply trying to tease out reflection on whether it’s better to end a marriage in which both partners have emotionally separated, or rather to keep the marriage together, with diminished expectations about what marriage is. I have deliberately left religion out of the reckoning, because neither the Gores nor the Clintons appear pious, and I have left children out too, because both couples have children who are grown. Religious belief, at least among pious Jews, Muslims and Christians, would have to strongly condition one’s response, as would having young children in the house. Anyway, please get it straight that I’m not actually interested in the Gores as a couple, or the Clintons, but rather both as a model for how to handle marriage that has, at an emotional level, failed.