Faith in the Gores' love story

That sound you heard yesterday from here in Beltwayland was a giant, collective sigh. Here's the top of the obligatory Washington Post piece, which ran on A1 instead of in the Style pages:

If you were going to bet a political marriage would fail, Al and Tipper Gore's would have been about the last you'd pick.

For a couple in politics, they were unusually affectionate, and comfortable showing it -- yes, that ferocious embrace and open-mouthed kiss before the cameras at the 2000 Democratic convention, but also in little moments of tenderness witnessed by reporters or aides who walked unexpectedly into rooms. They were unusually open about their marital struggles -- her battles with depression and frustrations with the life of a Senate spouse, the therapy they sought after their young son's near-death -- in a way that seemed bracing, yet healthy. She made an otherwise stiff candidate seem fun. And the rumors that fly around so many other political couples never hovered near them.

Which is why so many people -- strangers and friends -- were stunned by the news that just days after their 40th wedding anniversary, the Gores are separating. The former vice president, 62, and his wife, 61 -- who in recent years had been occupied with his globe-trotting environmental activism, recognized with both a Nobel Prize and an Academy Award, and her photography work closer to home -- announced the news Tuesday in an e-mail to friends that quickly made its way to reporters.

The former couple released a statement to the press asking for "respect for our privacy" and they will almost certainly be granted that. I mean, this is not Sarah and Todd Palin. The Gores are people who are respected in newsrooms everywhere.

The first-day stories agree that there will be a home in California and a home in Tennessee, without specifying who will live where. Al Gore stressed that his home will always be in Nashville, but that's the kind of statement that would have drawn not-so-hidden chuckles in Nashville 25 years ago. After all, as the Post obituary for the marriage noted:

Theirs was a Beltway romance. He was a political scion, son of Tennessee's first Sen. Gore and a senior at St. Albans when she -- a junior at Alexandria's St. Agnes School -- showed up at a post-prom party. They both arrived with other dates who were soon history. She later told The Washington Post that he was her first "love." ("But not my first boyfriend!") A year after he went to Harvard, she followed him to school in Boston. They wed in May 1970 -- weeks before he shipped off to Vietnam -- at Washington National Cathedral.

Kudos to the Post team for mentioning a crucial stage in the Gores' joint political history -- the period when Tipper's high profile as a strong, but sane, cultural activist (album-cover stickers, remember) helped the senator maintain a layer of credibility as a centrist, old-fashioned Democrat back in Bible Belt Tennessee, far from the Washington elites.

I guess you had to grow up as a Democrat in Texas and then, later, move to Tennessee to remember the days when Al Gore had a pretty good National Right To Life voting record, the family was known to have moderate Southern Baptist ties and Tipper was known as a writer whose work might show up in an evangelical publication or two. Imagine that.

Tipper always seemed to be the one who would want to return home to Nashville, even when she was sitting in on the drums with the Grateful Dead or the Indigo Girls.

So here is my question: Where have the Gores been going to church for the past decade or so? That side of their early life and career is totally missing in the mainstream news reports. Still, the Gores are portrayed as the anti-Bill and Hillary Clinton, while, ironically, the Clintons have moved on and made peace with their progressive, mainline Protestant, "are they or aren't they" images. They know which pews are friendly to them and they sit there. Did the Gores make that leap?

The Post report does end (drawing on some older interview material from reporter Karen Tumulty, formerly of Time) with this interesting collection of statements, seen from Tipper's point of view:

Back in Tennessee after that [2000] loss, the Gores wrote a couple of books together. Al, in a 2002 interview, told Tumulty that they had been meditating and praying together. Tipper pondered but passed up a run for Senate. "I have my own interests, my own pursuits, my own passions," she said at the time. "I am just also in a position in my life to be able to design it in a way that allows me to spend a lot of time with my family, with my children, with my grandchildren."

The message seems to be that they had become "spiritual," rather than religious and isolated, rather than linked to an actual Nashville community of faith (of which there are zillions to choose from). That sounds rather baby-boomer-esque, to me. And that may be fitting.

After all, the New York Times elected to end its report with a dose of wisdom from historian Gil Troy of McGill University in Montreal, who is an authority on political marriages and American politics.

In political circles, reaction to the Gore news struck often on the Clinton connection, and the inherent irony of it. ... As with many stories that involve baby boomers, there is a tendency to view the Gore separation through that generational lens. Mr. Troy sees the Clinton and Gore marriages in terms of a "psychic competition" between Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore over who was the more representative member of the demographic.

"It is ironic that the Gores would outdo the Clintons in getting divorced," he said. "In a sense, getting divorced is the iconic baby boomer act."

And so is finding one's own personal, comfortable, non-binding "spiritual" niche -- alone.

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