Gore A Revelation In Person

(Originally posted on Green Among Gray April 1, 2009)

Indulge me for a moment as I get to Al Gore by way of Kirsten Dunst.

There are some actresses who are merely average-looking in the context of Hollywood beauty, but would be downright staggering in everyday context. If you happened upon Kirsten Dunst at your friend’s pool party, for example. Onscreen, she’s merely so-so; in your buddy’s backyard, she’s the most gorgeous thing you’ve ever seen and everyone flocks to her.

Al Gore is the intellectual equivalent.

Think of what you know about Al Gore (at least this was what I thought of him): a bit of a blowhard, a buffoon in some respects; self-important, seems to talk expertly about stuff on which he’s not really an expert, ‘invented the internet,’ blah, blah. And he just so happens to be coming out with a new book. A mind as middling as Dunst’s beauty, right?

Well, I just met Al Gore at a pool party (actually at the Wang Theatre in Boston for the ‘Minds That Move the World’ series, and I didn’t meet him per se – OK, so the metaphor’s a bit of a stretch) and he was riveting.

Gore was a maestro, leading the audience exactly where he wanted to take us as he spoke on the environment. He was incredibly well-informed, speaking intelligently on everything, from capitalism's beginning to the first scientists to sound the alarm about global warming, using metaphors and imagery very effectively. For example, he tied his environmental slant into the economy and terrorism, saying, “The common thread is this ridiculous and absurd overdependence on carbon-based fuel. The solutions to the climate crisis are the same things we ought to be doing to solve the economic crisis and the security crisis,” concluding that all we have to do to unravel it all is pull that carbon thread.

Gore made his most pointed statement – that the U.S. should rely 100% on renewable energy within 10 years – by evoking Kennedy and his 1961 pledge to send a man to the moon within 10 years, a notion that, apparently, was scoffed at at the time. (Of course, the impossible-to-meet 10-year deadline was met with two years to spare.) Then Gore took the story a step further, cleverly soliciting the aid of college-age kids (a key group if his goal is to be achieved) by recounting how the average age of NASA controllers for the Apollo 11 mission was 26 – making them 18 when JFK first issued his lunar challenge.

And Gore is funny. From the outset, he grabbed our attention – though never seeming to pander – with jokes, self-deprecation, and even a dead-on Bill Clinton impersonation. He kicked the talk off by taking us back to the “Day After” – November 28, 2000 – recounting a shell-shocked drive from his home to his farm and a funny thing that happened at a Shoney’s along the way, and the media wackiness that resulted from stopping there (if you do actually see him at a pool party, ask him about it; it’s good).

Gore seemed affable, intelligent, fair-minded, thoughtful – exactly what you don't think a politician is. Has he always been like this? Was my previous impression – formed by 30-second soundbites and TV news bits over the past 10 years or so – accurate at all, and it’s been his exit from the political stage that has allowed him to flower into what I saw Monday night in Boston? Or has he always been this and I just didn’t see it? Probably a bit of both I guess.

Gore is not only knowledgeable on the subject matter but in the subtleties of public speaking. He’s mastered the movements that hold an audience's attention, the variations in tenor and volume. One example: He moved across the stage the whole night, until the end of his talk, when he planted himself, in an unobtrusive (imperceptible, really, unless you're looking for those types of speaker nuances, which I do ever since Emerson) way directly center stage and let his voice fall to a hush. He brought the audience to their bated-breath seat edges, controlling them, as he delivered his conclusion: this is not just words, just a performance; this is “straight from my heart,” and he prays that what he says goes straight to ours. And goshdangit it did. Whether or not the naysayers prove to be right and all this climate change concern is a bunch of hooey, I believe Al Gore knows there is a problem and is sincerely trying to fix it, and it makes me want to too.

And that brings us to the point the night started to turn sour. Boston Globe reporter Susan Miliigan came on to be the “Q” half of Gore’s sit-down Q+A. She started out OK, if a little nervous, but as the interview continued she seemed unprepared, and in comparison to Gore, downright incompetent, stumbling through questions and leading him into a discussion on the future of newspapers in the digital age. An important subject, to be sure, but not what the night was supposed to be about. (Gore's prognosis, by the way, was dire, predicting, "though I hope I'm wrong," that papers will die out completely, to be taken over by some Web variation). The crowd grew tiresome of the aside that became the topic and actually started leaving in small clusters. Then, abruptly, the lights came up, and before we had a chance to digest what was happening, we found ourselves giving a standing O to Gore as he waved his way stage left.

It was an anticlimatic end to a pretty amazing evening. As we filed out, all the talk was on how annoying the interviewer was instead of on how we were all going to change the world. Unfortunate, but it ultimately didn’t ruin the experience. I’m left more enthused than ever to try to help the environment in some way, and wondering whether Gore would ever consider running again.

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“Gore A Revelation In Person”