The Long View 2002-11-02: The Gore Family

I found a blog entry that I missed from 2002. Which is unfortunate, because John makes the very interesting point here, often re-iterated, that the social and economic arrangements of the United States in the 1950s were unusual. They were intentionally unusual, and represented the pinnacle of 150 years of concerted effort. It took a lot of energy to keep people in a state that is so different from the average. Once we stopped being willing or able to put so much effort into it, that state of affairs started to unravel.

The Gore Family

For my part, I have always rather liked former Vice President Al Gore. I am a pedantic nerd, too, and I think I can speak for all nerds when I say that we are always pleased when one of our own attains to honorable public prominence. I say this despite the fact I have long been aware of Al Gore's limitations; as anyone who has actually read Gore's Earth in the Balance knows, the man has no critical sense. Still, his personal behavior has been exemplary.

It has only been lately that the former vice president has started to give off the sort of creepy-crawly vibes that Bill Clinton has been radiating more and more strongly these many years. This has happened in connection with the promotional tour that Al and his wife Tippper have been doing for their new book, Joined at the Heart. (I gather there is also a coffee-table companion volume called Spirit of Family.) I heard them on National Public Radio, their voices playing off each other like laughing flutes. They mildly urged the interviewer to call them "Al" and "Tipper," all the while making non-negotiable statements of their family-friendly and ecologically sensitive philosophy. A few minutes of this, and I started to be reminded of another joined-at-the-hip feminist couple: Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Lu Nettles, the founders of the Heaven's Gate suicide cult.

Not once did the Gores urge their listeners to prepare to leave on the mother ship, at least in the interview I heard, but their ideas about "family" did seem to be comparably anti-human. Essentially, their argument is that the broken families and pseudo families that have become so common should be accepted as normative. That is, public policy should not specially favor the model of a mother, a father, and their biological children.

There is something to be said for the argument that the nuclear, "Ozzie & Harriet" family of the 1950s was historically anomalous. For one thing, it was the first time that life expectancy rose high enough that an average couple could expect to live to old age together if they did not otherwise break up. However, it is a mistake to think that the mid-20th century family represented a new ideal. Rather, it was the culmination of a policy of political and cultural reform that had begun 150 years previously. The "Ozzie & Harriet" family was not a new family; it was simply the most successful version so far of a very old ideal.

What never seems to enter the Gores' heads is that the successful reformation that the Victorians began might be repeated, or that government should have any cultural policy but greater tolerance and fewer privately owned guns. They certainly don't seem to appreciate that, although only a minority of the people live in nuclear families, a majority feel that their improvised families are in some way suboptimal. The Gores' family policy is that that majority never be told why their intuition correct.

Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly

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