Bill Clinton gave the keynote address at the conference. That means I got to see Gore and Clinton within a few hours of one another, and wow, what an interesting contrast.

Isaiah Berlin famously divided thinkers into two categories, hedgehogs and foxes. The fox knows many things; the hedgehog knows a lot about one thing. Bill Clinton is perhaps the foxiest fox of our time, and Gore perhaps the hedgehoggiest hedgehog. Gore takes one thing — climate change — and methodically works his way through it, covering all the angles, carefully presenting the evidence. Clinton, even when he intends to focus, can’t help flitting from this to that, from al qaeda and identity conflict to global urbanization to median wage trends to green roofs and on and on.

Clinton’s more fun to watch, but he mostly convinces you of his own intelligence and charm. Gore convinces you of the merits of his position. You walk away from Clinton dazzled by Clinton; you walk away from Gore believing climate change is a crisis that requires immediate action.

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Another analogy (now with more manliness!): Clinton is the hotshot point guard, all style and razzle dazzle, driving to the hoop here, sinking a three there, dishing assists behind his back just because he can. He doesn’t even look like he’s trying, and sometimes you suspect he isn’t. Gore is the power forward. His play is fairly workmanlike, but he practices, he trains, he learns his moves, he pounds the boards. He tries. And he delivers.

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When people applaud Gore, it’s like applauding the power forward. "You kept at it, and while watching you play still isn’t the most thrilling thing in the world, we sure appreciate your stats!"

When they applaud Clinton, there’s more of an aesthetic appreciation. "Daaaaamn. The guy’s good." In a way Gore never could, Clinton makes you want to be near him, be a part of his world. He seduces, and the applause is louder, more adulatory — such is human nature. Stats don’t make the hairs on your neck stand up; Clinton can do it with an casual, impromptu riff. I can’t imagine two people more different.

Anyway, enough of this pop psych: next post I’ll get into the substance of Clinton’s talk.

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