A great post by spocko over at FDL got me thinking about Thanksgiving …
… and the inevitable comments from my conservative Uncle.
What’s he going to bring up this year?
I’ll lay odds that somewhere between the turkey and dressing and the pumpkin pie my Uncle is going to try to bait me by saying something about the violence that has been associating with Occupy Wall Street. I think it might sound something like this:
Why are they [OWS] so violent? How come you never see any violence with the Tea Party?
Spocko lays out one approach to this Thanksgiving Day bait, but here’s a few tips I’ve learned over the years about talking with conservatives.
1. Know who your fight is with
Is your fight with your conservative relative? I’d suggest that it’s not.
Your fight is really with those in this country who are influencing Washington. What those in the OWS movement are calling the 1%.
Please note: I’m using the term 1% to refer to the people within the 1% who are influencing our government. I know there are members of the 1% who are actually against this influence. Take “1%” as shorthand for those at the top who believe in buying influence.
This point may seem obvious, but I list it as #1 for good reason. Over the years, I’ve seen countless people forget this rule and get way too emotionally involved in a political fight with a relative or friend.
Remember, this is your relative or friend. You may disagree with them but at the end of the day, you still want this person to be your relative or friend. It’s just a conversation folks.
If you remember that your fight is really not with this person (unless this person happens to actually be a member of the 1% who owns Washington), then it’s easier to have a discussion without turning it into a fight.
2. Know your goal
Is your goal to win the argument?
I’d suggest that it shouldn’t be. Here’s what I believe you should choose as your goal: win people over to your side.
Will this be done by winning an argument? Maybe with some people. But often you’ll only polarize them more against you.
Again, this may seem obvious. But time and again I see liberals getting into head-to-head knock down drag out fights because they want to be right more than they care about their relative or friend.
Here’s a quote that struck me from Mike Murphy, a veteran GOP strategist:
Political satire doesn’t have anywhere near the power you’d think it does. Most people who watch Jon Stewart’s show or a Michael Moore movie have already made up their minds.
Now I don’t bring this up to agree or disagree with Mr. Murphy. That’s not the point.
What I want to point out is that Mike Murphy is a political professional and he’s saying that what’s important is winning people over.
Ask yourself this question when you get into a discussion, do you want to be right or do you want to genuinely win someone over?
If you want to win someone over, you have to treat them with respect and dignity.
Telling them that they’re wrong is going to have about the same impact as satire. You might win someone over who is pretty close to agreeing with you. But someone who has a completely different opinion?
They’re going to think you’re not listening to them and just repeating liberal propaganda.
And yes, I know, they’ve been told this by all the conservative pundits for years and it’s not true, etc, etc.
This doesn’t change the fact that this is what they believe.
If you can’t handle being respectful and you know that what they say is going to drive you nuts, you probably should take the advice of the Gambler, and know when to fold ’em.
3. Know their tactics
Much has been written about this and you probably know these from their frequent usage so I’m just going to make a few recommendations if you want further reading:
- How to Argue Like a Conservative
- Articles and books by George Lakoff
- Articles and books by Drew Westen
Another good source is to read some conservative literature, listen to some conservative pundits, or find yourself a good person online to practice having discussions with.
NOTE: Just don’t pay for any of this material. I’ve checked out Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh all from the local library. You only have to suffer one or two disapproving looks from the librarian.
4. Hold your ground and know your beliefs
Ok. We’ve set the stage. Now I’m going to tell you one of the strongest strategies to use.
It’s simple in theory, but hard to do in practice.
Almost all conservative tactics have to do with changing the argument.
Straw men, changing the subject, accusation, name calling, moving the goalposts. All of these are designed to change the argument to something else and knock you off your game.
Ann Coulter wrote this in How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must):
You must outrage the enemy. If the liberal you’re arguing with doesn’t become speechless with sputtering, impotent rage, you’re not doing it right. People don’t get angry when lies are told about them; they get angry when the truth is told about them. If you are not being called outrageous by liberals, you’re not being outrageous enough. Start with the maximum assertion about liberals and then push the envelope, because, as we know, their evil is incalculable.
Why? you ask.
Because they want you to either A) take the bait and start arguing on their terms, or B) as Ann wrote, become speechless with sputtering, impotent rage.
Are you starting to understand the game?
You are trying to have a rational conversation with someone while they are trying to bait you and make you angry.
These tactics likely sound familiar.
What you have to do is know your beliefs, hold your ground, and don’t take the bait.
Keep coming back to your argument.
Here’s an example. In a recent online discussion, I wrote about the Move Your Money movement. I said that I thought it was a great idea.
My online friend, Michale, said this to start the argument:
  And when banks start laying tellers and such??? Will it be a “great idea” then?
His tactic: try and demonize this movement. Now I like Michale. We’ve talked for years and though we disagree on a lot of things, I know he’s a good person.
So first, I joked with him about his “laying tellers” comment because it was funny and we often joke (he meant “laying off tellers” obviously) and then I stated my belief:
 If banks are not offering a good service, shouldn’t we be free to find a better one?
He then went on to say that if I just wanted better service, then it was ok to move my money. But if I was trying to make a statement to the bank, it was “economic terrorism”.
See the emotional cues he’s trying to strike?
At this point, I have to admit, I blew it. I took the bait and started arguing about economic terrorism asking him how moving my money from a credit union was “economic terrorism”.
What I should have done was stick with my original belief.
Fortunately, I was helped out by the site author, Chris, who wrote:
 As an American citizen, I am free to put my money wherever the heck I want, for whatever reason enters my brain. That is freedom, pal. That’s the way capitalism and the free market work, too, by the way.
This was my original argument and I should have stuck to it, but I got sucked in by the emotionally charged term “economic terrorism”. Basically, I was pissed off because it felt like he was calling me a terrorist.
This is what conservatives will try to do. Throw you off your argument.
I could go into much detail on why they’re doing this and why it won’t work for you but here’s the net: they’ve got billion dollar networks pumping out their message, their goal is to confuse any strong message they don’t agree with and then let the media they own get their message out.
Don’t play their game.
When you’ve got a good argument, stick to it.
If you’re interested, you can read our entire argument in the comments section here. Since comments are numbered, I’ve included numbers with the quotes above.
NOTE: I’ve talked with Michale for years and consider him a friend even though we disagree on a number of things. So I tried to follow my own advice and be respectful and remember that my fight isn’t really with him. Unfortunately, I lost it for a bit after his “economic terrorism” comment. I got angry. Fortunately, Michale is big enough not to hold it against me and I give him the same benefit of the doubt when he sometimes gets mad. We know sometimes things get heated, but we also know we can always set it aside to go for beers. This is why he makes a really good person to have politicla discussions with.
5. “No win” conservatives
I’m not sure if it was written in a conservative guidebook somewhere or not, but many conservatives I know seem to have the belief that they should always get in the last word. (Ok, maybe most liberals too.)
We all seem to believe that he who gets in the last word wins.
And with some conservatives, there is no winning because they will fight you to the death rather than admit giving any ground to a liberal.
I’m going to call these people “no win” conservatives”.
If you encounter one of these “no win” conservatives, you have to acknowledge that you will never “win” in the rational, academic sense of winning an argument.
No win conservatives are, from the start, in a war against you that is very close to a religious war. You are the enemy and should be treated as such.
When you encounter these types of conservatives, you need to make some decisions:
- Choose not to engage: This is a very valid strategy that may save you time and energy. Put it into winning over others who are more open.
- Recognize that you’re not going to win in the traditional sense: No matter how much proof you present or how strong your argument, their opinion of you isn’t going to change so you have to change your goal. In this situation, I’d suggest that your goal is to win over anyone else who might be listening. You want to be funnier, more rational, and more logical than your stub-servative friend and you want to play to the audience. If there is not audience, see #1.
If your conservative relative is not a “no win” conservative then feel free to use your regularly scheduled arguments.
6. How to Tell When You’ve Won
If your relative is a “no win” conservative, you will never win as mentioned above.
So how do you know when to quit?
I will usually quit when it’s obvious that the person I’m talking to has said something outside recognized norms.
In the Michale example above, I should have quit shortly after he called moving to a credit union “economic terrorism”.
Because most people are going to think that you should be able to do what you want, when you want to, irregardless of reason with your money.
Once I’ve said that people should be free to do what they want with their money unless this is somehow violating some law, I should have started thinking about ending the argument.
Because at that point, I’ve won over the independents. I’ve won over anyone listening who can be won over.
At this point, you should let the religious look religious and step away from the argument.
A good way to do this would have been to say something like:
At this point, we’re just going to have to disagree. You think I’m an “economic terrorist,” but I believe I have a freedom and a right to move my money. We’ve come to an impasse and there’s little point in discussing further.
7. Don’t make it about Right vs. Left
Conservatives strongly identify with the Right vs. Left narrative. Conservatives vs. liberals. Republicans vs. Democrats.
In fact, they’ve largely invented this narrative. But who plays into it? We do.
We don’t have to.
Conservative radio has showed them how to play this game and one of their favorite things is arguing Right vs. Left.
Instead, pick an argument. And stick to it like above.
An easy way to do this is to say something like:
This isn’t about Right vs. Left. This is about fixing our banking system so that something like the crash of 2008 doesn’t happen again.
They will try to categorize your argument by equating it to some aspect of the “Left” like socialism or communism or some other -ism.
Again, keep them on track, keep going back to the issue, and try to find common ground:
Instead of throwing around names, let me ask you this: Should we have bailed out the failed banks without any consequences to them for causing the crisis?
If you stick to your argument and don’t get sucked into the Right vs. Left game, eventually you might score a point or two and cause someone to think a little differently.
If not, remember that you’re playing for the audience.
8. Remember your goal
I close with this again because I can’t overstate the importance: your goal should not be to win the argument.
If you’re starting off with this goal, you’ve lost from the opening bell.
Your goal is to win people to your side. If it’s your conservative relative, great. If that’s impossible, work on winning your other relatives over.
If there’s one thing that Occupy Wall Street has taught us, it’s that you don’t have to win over everyone if you can convince a few people close to you to join in in winning people over.
Remember that you’ve got a great argument and all you have to win over are a few friends or relatives close to you.
To not leave any threads hanging, what would be my strategy in dealing with the violence question I raised in the intro around Occupy Wall Street?
I would talk about the beliefs of the protesters instead. I would ask questions like: Do you think the protesters have a point when they say banks have gotten too big? Or, that money has too much influence over Washington?
I’d stick to it and ignore the violence question. If it continued to come up, I’d say that I’m against violence in general and ask why the media only focuses on a few violent incidents. Why don’t they focus on the legitimate questions the protest is raising?
I’d say that violence, as in any other situation, is a matter for the police to deal with. And if they asked, how come OWS doesn’t police their own? I’d ask them why conservatives don’t stop other conservatives from shooting abortion doctors.
I might also ask why the police never show up to a Tea Party rally in full riot gear. This might get some thoughts started.
But mostly, I’d try to stick to the beliefs I share with OWS. The belief that our government is owned by corporate lobbyists from the 1% and that we need to do something about it. This is a belief all kinds of people share. Across the political spectrum. It’s a good argument and we should stick keep bringing it up as much as possible.
Happy Thanksgiving folks and if you have strategies or arguments that have worked particularly well please share in the comments!
Would love to hear ’em.
In closing, I leave you with one of my favorite scenes from the movie Thank You For Smoking:
Joey Naylor: …so what happens when you’re wrong?
Nick Naylor: Whoa, Joey I’m never wrong.
Joey Naylor: But you can’t always be right…
Nick Naylor: Well, if it’s your job to be right, then you’re never wrong.
Joey Naylor: But what if you are wrong?
Nick Naylor: OK, let’s say that you’re defending chocolate, and I’m defending vanilla. Now if I were to say to you: ‘Vanilla is the best flavour ice-cream’, you’d say…
Joey Naylor: No, chocolate is.
Nick Naylor: Exactly, but you can’t win that argument… so, I’ll ask you: so you think chocolate is the end all and the all of ice-cream, do you?
Joey Naylor: It’s the best ice-cream, I wouldn’t order any other.
Nick Naylor: Oh! So it’s all chocolate for you is it?
Joey Naylor: Yes, chocolate is all I need.
Nick Naylor: Well, I need more than chocolate, and for that matter I need more than vanilla. I believe that we need freedom. And choice when it comes to our ice-cream, and that Joey Naylor, that is the defintion of liberty.
Joey Naylor: But that’s not what we’re talking about
Nick Naylor: Ah! But that’s what I’m talking about.
Joey Naylor: …but you didn’t prove that vanilla was the best…
Nick Naylor: I didn’t have to. I proved that you’re wrong, and if you’re wrong I’m right.
Joey Naylor: But you still didn’t convince me
Nick Naylor: It’s that I’m not after you. I’m after them.
[points into the crowd]
Cross posted at: Daily Kos.