Gores’ Split Will Up Risk of Global Warming
© Jack Cashill
lthough I rarely disagree with Rush Limbaugh, I must take issue with his airy dismissal last week of those who fear that the impending divorce of Al and Tipper Gore will further imperil the biosphere.
To be sure, divorce contributes to a host of problems other than environmental ones. In her breakthrough book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, Judith Wallerstein began rethinking her own relatively tolerant take on divorce after a chance encounter with a child that she had counseled long ago.
Twenty-five years after her parents’ divorce, the young woman was still struggling with its consequences. This meeting inspired Wallerstein to undertake a long range, close-up study of the kids with whom she had worked twenty-five years earlier, the deepest such study ever undertaken.
The results, as Wallerstein admits, “hit a raw nerve” in America. Many in positions of influence simply did not want to know what she had learned.
Among her discoveries is that most children never really recover. “Divorce is a life-transforming experience,” Wallerstein writes. “After divorce, childhood is different. Adulthood—with the decision to marry or not and have children or not—is different.”
She refrains from judging that difference good or bad, but her subjects don’t. Not one of the roughly 100 interviewees wanted their own children to go through what they had.
In general, adolescence begins early and lasts late for these kids. The girls are more likely to seek out sex, the boys drugs and alcohol.
They marry later if at all, get divorced more, trust less, and have fewer children. Even as adults, they nurse a “continuing anger at parents,” more often at the dads, whom the kids regard as “selfish and faithless.” Indeed, were it not for divorce, there might not have been a “Sixties.”
When not ignoring divorce completely, the media have done their best to trivialize it. In July 1999, the PBS children’s show Sesame Street offered a perky little vignette on the subject.
In the show, Kermit the Frog, here an inquiring reporter, asks a cute little bird where she lives. As she tells Kermit merrily, she lives part of the time in one tree where she frolics in her mother’s nest and the rest of her time in a separate tree where she frolics with her dad. “They both love me,” she chirps.
Had noir novelist James Ellroy written this scene—Sesame Street Confidential?—the tone might have been a little different. He remembers his own nest-hopping as a “bifurcated life divvied up between two people locked in an intractable mutual hatred.”
Ellroy’s hard stare is too much for Hollywood as well. “Oh, my dear Katie,” counsels Aunt Euphegenia Doubtfire on her kiddie TV show. “You know, some parents get along much better when they don't live together. They don't fight all the time and they can become better people. Much better mommies and daddies for you.”
Such is the sappy and largely false advice Robin Williams’ drag character, Mrs. Doubtfire, offers at the end of the movie comedy of same name.
What sets the movie apart, though, is not that it takes a wrongheaded stand on divorce—“You'll have a family in your heart for ever”--but that it takes any stand at all. Mrs. Doubtfire is one of the handful of halfway serious cinematic looks at the effects of divorce on children, even if its message is no deeper, or different really, than Sesame Street’s.
While Sesame Street and Mrs. Doubtfire both at least try to address the emotional fallout of divorce, neither addressees the ecological one.
If mom has a nest, and dad has a nest, America needs a whole lot more nests than it otherwise would, not to mention more resources to heat, cool, light and water those nests and more gas to ferry the baby birds between them.
The Gores present a particular problem because they historically have had some mighty lavish nests. Thanks to the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, I have been able to calculate the relative impact of the Gore family on the ecosphere in the year the Center researched the Gores, 2006.
As it turns out, the Gores paid an average of $1,359 a month for electric, more than twice what the Cashills paid for the year—this despite the fact that we live in a 90 year-old, ten-room house and use every electric gizmo known to mankind.
More impressively still, the Nashville Gas Company billed the Gores roughly three times more for their pool house than Missouri Gas Energy billed the Cashills for the house we live in.
Now, when Al gets booted from the Nashville manse, we have every reason to expect that we will live in the style to which he has grown accustomed, but we have no reason to believe that Tipper will push her thermostat up in the summer or down in the winter.
Environmentalists can, however, take comfort in knowing that Wallerstein found among her young subjects a relentless “fear of loss, fear of change, and fear that disaster will strike, especially when things are going well.”
Today, children whose parents divorced in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s have enormous influence in our political and civic life. One has to question how their anxieties have skewed our thinking not just on social issues but on issues like growth and the environment.
There are many well-placed young eco-warriors capable of confusing a new strip mall or subdivision, let alone a warm summer day, with the end of the world as we know it. If they are not there already, the Gore children, unnerved by their dad’s rejection, may be sufficiently traumatized to join them.
But then again, they may just see Big Al for the “selfish and faithless” clown he has always been.
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