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Al Gore’s New Book

In his latest reincarnation, Al Gore is really one smokin’ dude with an upcoming gig hosting Saturday Night Live. Nevertheless, Gore’s bad luck just continues to pile up. Poor guy must be starting to feel like he was “Born under a Bad Sign.” Perhaps he ought to consider lip-synching Fleetwood Mac’s, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”

Right now, in his dream world, he would be riding high. The plan is as obvious as a three-dollar bill – liberals were going to win big at the mid-term elections and his new book written with Tipper, Joined at the Heart, about redefining family would be cresting the best seller lists.

Instead, the liberals were not merely defeated in the 2002 elections; they weren’t even competitive. Gore’s book, even after being flogged relentlessly by Katie Couric, Larry King, David Letterman, Barbara Walters, and other sustaining members of Gore 2004, is missing from the bestseller list: Rumor has it that the book’s promoters are trucking in supporters to fill up the book signing appearances.

Instead of Gore’s new book working to propel him toward a new run at the presidency, its weak sales are making him look vulnerable to other potential Democratic candidates. Gore is struggling – ironic echoes of his 2000 campaign speech: “What is high should be low; what is low should be high.” Gore’s approval rating is below 20% and he has negatives in the 40s. And they just can’t seem to give his book away.

The truth is, few people want to read a banal, anecdotal “social ecology” that explores “the myriad ways in which the idea of family is being redefined.” People are tired of the liberal pontificating that glorifies dysfunctional baggage-laden families. Instead of a penetrating examination of what has gone wrong in American family life, and what the nation must do to get back on the right track, Joined at the Heart is a sad book to anyone who reads between the lines: it profiles 12 families and glosses over their struggles and tragedies with clich about “profound transformations” and family “re-unions.”

One example of a family profiled in the book takes “yours, mine and ours,” to its limits; this family is working to blend their own biological children with the ones from the husband’s previous three relationships. While this family hardly faces one of the “age-old problems” that the book purportedly addresses; they certainly fit the description of a “novel” new family form. The Gores’ message will appeal to certain defiant nonconformists: to wit, any grouping of people, however unlikely, can make a family because “no one has the right to tell you that your family isn’t the right kind.” But like so many utopian schemes that are divorced from reality, this one contains seeds of disaster.

The publisher called the Gore collaboration a “groundbreaking book about the changing face of the American family.” One reviewer praised the Gores for avoiding ideology (yet the solution offered for any problem raised in the book is a government entitlement); another praised the Gores for avoiding “sterile moralizing.” Yet the book uses glowing images of stereotypically diverse families – blended, single parent, gay and lesbian, interracial, immigrant and a family with a handicapped child – to aggressively market the liberals’ alternative to the traditional nuclear family.

Their family stories are, in some cases, poignant and gripping. Still, even in 2002 America, you have to work hard to find this much diversity – these stories are as forced as Gore’s repeated wardrobe changes. They are a liberal’s version of “the good, the true, and the beautiful” when it comes to family structure, admittedly chosen because they represent a type. Even the chapter headings are stereotypes – love, work, play, community and communication.

Still, truth has a way of shining through. In the story of Susan and Dick, a couple with 6 children from four sets of parents, Susan describes the “biggest family influence” in her life. Her paternal grandparents modeled a loving and committed relationship. Her grandparents, she said, provided stability – a “wonderful and warm,” “happy, fun and safe” household.

Her maternal grandparents were another story. Her mother, while wonderful, had insecurities because of an unstable family life. Susan adds, “I’m sure history has a way of repeating itself in some form, so I’m sure we had some impact from it, but you do the best you can.” She admits that her blended family is “very, very stressful.”

One is left wishing the Gores were willing to confront that reality directly, instead of simply putting it in a new shirt and calling it hip. There is little acknowledgement throughout Joined at the Heart that these examples are not exactly role models, that there is a need to strengthen marriage.

No, Al Gore continues to try to redefine himself as a hipster. So far, he’s been unlucky. Or, it may be that we do indeed make our own luck.

Gore could, of course, try to escape the bad luck that seems to dog him of late by resurrecting his familiar Fleetwood Mac theme song. We all remember Al and Tipper along with Bill and Hillary dancing the night away in November 1992 at the Democratic nominating convention, singing “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.” Now, of course, tomorrow is 2004. Gore understands the song’s advice: “Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here.”

“Yesterday’s gone . . . Don’t look back.” It’s the hipsters’ anthem, and Gore wants us to know it is his. But the song, read carefully, isn’t only about the future, it’s also about ignoring the past – don’t you look back; don’t you look back. No honest self-reflection here.

Gore’s vision is one of wishful dreams – old boundaries are artificial, traditional limits are for breaking. Missing is an honest struggle with life’s hard realities.

It could be that facing yesterday is just what tomorrow needs.

Janice Crouse, former Bush Presidential Speech Writer, is Senior Fellow of the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the think tank of Concerned Women for America.

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