Why Political Marriages Matter In The U.S.

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Former Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, are separating after 40 years of marriage. Michele Norris talks to Rebecca Traister — a writer for Salon.com's women, culture and politics blog Broadsheet — about why political marriages are important in the U.S.


After more than four decades of marriage, Al and Tipper Gore announced they're calling it quits. In an email to family and friends, the couple said their decision to separate was a mutual and mutually supportive decision made after long and careful consideration.

The Gores had a storybook romance: college sweethearts, four beautiful children. Their playful affection energized the campaign trail. The concession was you don't make that kind of stuff up.

The Gores' union became a model of stability in a hard-charging town where partnerships, even romantic ones, are sometimes seen as a matter of convenience.

The breakup got us thinking about the symbolism in political marriages, and for more, we turn to Rebecca Traister. She's a writer for Salon.com's women, culture and politics blog, Broadsheet, and she joins us from her office in New York, New York. Thanks for being with us.

Ms. REBECCA TRAISTER (Writer, Salon.com): Thanks for having me, Michele.

NORRIS: Now, marriages come and go, but in this case, there are breaking news alerts on cable, there's stories flying around on the wires about this breakup. Why is the Gore split such big news?

Ms. TRAISTER: First of all, they did offer this sort of apparent model of stability and of affection. They were always a little of the ew, mom and dad making out in public mold of, you know, long-time public couplehood.

But I think that there's also I myself was very surprised by how saddened I was by this this morning and a little bit ashamed. You know, they're celebrities. You feel sort of silly having an investment in a couple that you don't know, it's none of your business, all that. But I do think that there is this particular moment right now.

There's an enormous amount of very serious, sad news out there about the Middle East, about the oil spill. It's a bad time in the news. And here's this little gossipy thing that somehow we're able to wrap our heads around and feel grief about in a comprehensible way. And I think it's sort of an outlet for us to feel and express surprise and grief about the state of something that in fact doesn't have any impact on us.

NORRIS: You know, there was this, as we said, this storybook quality to their marriage, and they seemed to understand that. They added to that narrative on their own. Al called Tipper a catch, and Tipper would refer to Al Gore as a hunk, and then, of course, there was that kiss during the 2000 convention, the kiss that went on and on and on and on.

Ms. TRAISTER: And on and on.

NORRIS: And on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TRAISTER: Well, they also I mean, look, they're politicians, and they were playing against the Clintons in a lot of ways. And certainly during the 2000 campaign, when in fact one of the things we were supposed to sort of glean from their campaign behavior was that there was so much disapproval about what had happened in Bill Clinton's second term, Al Gore kept his distance from Bill Clinton during that campaign, and we were to understand that a lot of that was sort of a disapproval about it. This was, you know, this was not how people were supposed to behave.

Now, there is absolutely no indication that anybody behaved particularly badly in the breakup of the Gore marriage. We don't know anything about what's happened. But we really they presented themselves it was not just that we placed all this on them. They did sort of take pains to present themselves as deeply affectionate, occasionally uncomfortably erotic, political couple, and certainly a committed one with this, you know, very functional family in which the kids behaved in ordinary ways.

And so it is a little bit like mom and dad breaking up out of the blue, except they're not really our mom and dad and I am aware of that, I just want to make clear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: In some ways is the presidency and the requirements that presidents have solid marriages, is that a bit out of step with larger society, where almost half of all marriages end in divorce?

Ms. TRAISTER: It is totally out of step with society. The idea that our leaders are supposed to in any way be in functional, heterosexual, child-producing unions is totally archaic, and it has nothing to do with their ability to govern or to lead us.

And this is probably ultimately leads to a lot of the bad political marriages that we wind up seeing, which politicians who realize they have to fit this very outdated mold in order to be taken seriously and elected get into sham marriages.

NORRIS: Rebecca Traister, good to talk to you. Thanks so much.

Ms. TRAISTER: Thank you so much, Michele.

NORRIS: Rebecca Traister is a writer for Salon.com's women, culture and politics blog. That's called Broadsheet.

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