Al and Tipper's Big Kiss Is So-o-o-o Sixties

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Al Gore kisses his wife, Tipper, before his acceptance speech

Enough time has passed. It may be possible now to have a little perspective about The Kiss.

When it happened, it came as a shock. One minute I was drowsily watching the wife of the Vice President of the United States as she introduced him to accept the nomination of his party to become President of the United States.

The next minute I am jolted awake and shouting to my wife, "AL IS MAKING OUT WITH TIPPER!"

The sheer carnality of the kiss — the can't-wait-to-get-back-to-the-hotel-room urgency, the sexual electricity flowing south — was riveting.

In the aftermath, two lines of analysis have emerged:

1) The Kiss represents another example of Gore's exhibitionist premeditations — another exploitative glimpse of family intimacy, lubricious this time, from the candidate who in 1992 devoted eight minutes of a previous convention speech to an excruciating description of his sister's death from lung cancer. Perhaps Gore's progress from morbidly remembered death to passionately anticipated sex should be seen as a good sign — evidence of a sunnier opportunism.

2) Here we have a spontaneous effusion of the un-Clinton — a display of ardent monogamy that was sweet, touching, genuine, a different way of saying a) "I am my own man," and b) "I am also, entirely, Tipper's man." And who would have thought Al Gore would be such a great kisser?

The needle of my own verdict is stuck somewhere between 1) and 2). I am a man who finds even presidential hand-holding (those Hansel-and-Gretel moments with Bill and Hillary and Al and Tipper skipping across the White House lawn as if they were children on a trip to the zoo) to be ridiculous. But the Gores' kiss was so over the top as to command a new kind of attention. If the kiss was manipulative, it was daringly so. I search my memory for historical precedents.... Dick and Pat Nixon in Miami Beach in 1972? Bess and Harry Truman? Franklin and Eleanor? Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in "From Here to Eternity?

The origins of the Gores' kiss may be traced to that moment in the Sixties when the last rules of puritanical date restraint between boys and girls — at Gore's Harvard, they called them parietals — were abandoned under pressure of the baby boomers' importunate hormones (the hormones shrewdly mixed themselves up in anti-war politics, which made "sexual liberation" a cinch). The convention kiss is proof not only of an endearing and enduring connubial passion between the middle-aged high school sweethearts Al and Tipper, but also of the residual baby boom refusal to grow up and behave like adults. Grownups don't behave the way Al and Tipper behaved that night in Los Angeles — not in front of the convention and millions of viewers. But, of course, the entire point of the Sixties was to show us that grownups were not what they were cracked up to be.

If Al's kiss is setting a precedent for future presidential candidates, we may have to establish some ground rules. For example, should we not stipulate that at least three of the couple's four feet must remain on the floor of the convention stage at all times? Otherwise, who is to say a presidential nominee and spouse will not try to top the passionate Gores in summer, 2004? With what result? No point in saying that politicians making out have to leave the door ajar, and the lights on. In Los Angeles, the global door was open and the lights were blinding. Al and Tipper's performance was the work of a society relentlessly evolving beyond the need for privacy (and maybe for reticence, too).

In a better world, the rule would be: If you've got to kiss in public, kiss babies. Still, better your wife than an intern. But it's too late. The Gores belong to the first generation raised on television, which is also the first generation exposed routinely to pornography. They share the weird and unreliable assumption — almost universal now — that for something to be genuine, it must be shown. And if it is shown, it is credible. It is real. I grew up learning to make the opposite assumption: My deepest instinct tells me that if something is paraded in public, then it must be false — a mere performance.