Let's be honest. Nobody would be talking about the Gore breakup were it not for The Kiss.
The Kiss doesn't get the top line on the Al Gore résumé, of course. He did win a Nobel Prize and an Oscar, after all. He also has won the enmity of every climate-change denier/skeptic across the world.
What's strange is that Gore, of all people, has excited such emotions. What made The Kiss so remarkable was that people weren't necessarily sure Gore had human emotions.
It wasn't the all-time great kiss. That would have to be the sailor- meets-nurse Times Square kiss on V-J Day that made the cover of Life magazine.
The Gores' kiss wasn't exactly the Rodin sculpture either, although Al Gore has been accused of being at least semi- immobile. (By the way, the most- cited Gore- breakup joke so far: Tipper gets half the Internet.)
But as political kisses go, it was certainly memorable, if not necessarily in a good way.
I was showing a photograph of The Kiss to a friend at the office, who said, "I wish I hadn't seen that. It's like having a hair caught in your throat."
The kiss was almost certainly staged. This is politics, after all. But real or fake or (my guess) real and fake, The Kiss was meant to represent the notion that the Gores were a real couple and nothing like the Clintons.
Without the Monica Lewinsky affair, there would have been no kiss. There also would have been no impeachment and possibly no George W. Bush presidency, just so you understand the stakes.
Strangely, the Clintons' strange marriage continues, and now the Gores are splitting up. That's the bet that no one would have taken and everyone would have lost. It's a reminder of how little we actually know about other people. Face it, we barely know ourselves.
In 2000, Al Gore wanted to remove himself as far as possible from the Clinton drama. Tipper Gore had said how upset she was that Hillary hadn't left Bill. Al Gore had said he felt personally betrayed.
No one was officially more upset by Clinton's behavior than the Gores. It was as if the pair were getting their advice on the lovelorn from the Gallup poll.
And yet, after Gore lost the triple-overtime election to Bush, Bill Clinton left office with 60 percent approval ratings. And Hillary Clinton, of course, nearly became the nation's first female president.
Whatever else, though, the Clinton marriage is famously complicated. The Gores wanted to show that their marriage was just like yours, if you, too, had been married at the National Cathedral.
And so, we got The Kiss, which was so embarrassingly real-looking — a kiss that seemed more like a teenage grope — that it had to be mostly real, even if it was planned.
But now people wonder. The Gores have been married for 40 years.
Forty years is forever. Forty years is so long that everything that could happen to a couple has already happened. The scars are all there to prove it.
You don't wake up after 40 years and suddenly discover something is wrong with your partner. When you wake up after 40 years, you're just glad you woke up at all, even if your spouse's underwear is on the floor.
But the Gores are in their early 60s, which we like to say is the new early 40s, meaning plenty of time to have a different, if not entirely new, life. They were married at ages 21 and 22 to the tune of "All You Need Is Love." They had four kids, one who nearly died. They had enough highs and lows for several lives. And apparently they just bought a new multimillion-dollar mansion, this one a 6,900-square-foot carbon footprint, for at least one of them to live in.
You'd like to hope that this won't turn into a Tiger Woods story or a Jesse James-Sandra Bullock story. (Which proves, if nothing else, you're asking for trouble if you marry someone named Jesse James. Who's the divorce lawyer? Billy the Kid?)
If you want to read a story about the Gores, read the Time piece from 2000 by Tamala Edwards and Karen Tumulty, who quoted Gore as saying he and Tipper were the "old cliché about opposites attracting."
The authors pointed to a dinner party that Al gave to discuss the "declining role of metaphor in American life." Tipper liked to take the kids rollerblading in the Senate hallways. And, of course, she played drums, despite her once-famous spat with Frank Zappa. Meanwhile, Al was writing books on climate change.
In other words, it sounds like it was once a real marriage. Or as the great philosopher Chuck Berry put it in his ode to young marriage: "C'est la vie, say the old folks. It goes to show you never can tell."
Littwin is a columnist for The Denver Post.
NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE