May 26, 2009
How to Talk to a Liberal If You Really Want to Change His Mind
Many of us have friends, family and colleagues who still cling to liberalism, and worship at the Obama altar. Usually, they are not bad people. They're neither stupid nor pusillanimous -- they're just shockingly ill-informed, having received a lifetime of news and opinions solely from the liberal media.
We want to enlighten our friends, not offend them, and the fact is that one cannot simultaneously insult and persuade people. Ann Coulter, author of How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must): The World According to Ann Coulter, is an entertainer -- and a good one, too -- but she is not a persuasive advocate of conservative principles for those who are not already true believers.
So how do you talk to liberals if you want them to begin thinking logically, not emotionally, about issues? Insults are counterproductive, factual barrages are boring, and most people get defensive when they feel you're attacking their values. Nevertheless, here are a few ways to find the chink in a liberal's intellectual armor and, possibly, effect a sea change in his thinking.
1. Understand what a liberal perceives as insulting -- and then avoid it.
We're all agreed that people are going to shut down if you start a conversation by calling them blithering idiots. In any event, you're too nice a person to call your family, friends and colleagues names.
Be aware, though, that, with liberals, personal insults don't stop with the actual person (or his mother). For liberals, the political is personal. This means that liberals will take it as a personal insult, not only if you call them morons, but also if you call their leaders morons.
While conservatives spent eight years hearing "Bush lied, people died" or "Cheney is evil", responding with reasoned facts aimed at real dialogue, even the nicest liberals don't operate that way. If you open a conversation by saying, "Pelosi is an idiot," or "Obama is the Manchurian candidate," you can expect tears, yelling or a punch in the nose. Any persuasive conversation will be over before it's begun.
2. Show that you are sympathetic to the liberal's goals.
The best way to start a conversation with a liberal is by speaking liberal language. Show that you think that the person's ultimate goal is admirable or that you recognize the person's concerns.
A perfect conversation starter might be "Gosh, universal healthcare would really be great." The beauty of this statement is that, in a perfect Star Trek-style world, free of money and greed, it's true that free, comprehensive healthcare, preferably with Dr. Beverly Crusher's magical little tricorder device, would be great. It would also be really great if all men looked like Dave Beckham or all women like looked like Angelina Jolie. It'll never happen, but it sure would be great.
Another honest conversation starter is "My kids are really worried about global warming." If your kids go to public school, this statement is absolutely true. It also implies, without actually saying so, that you, like all liberals, recognize that humans, especially American, are responsible for the imminent destruction of earth's atmosphere.
With conversation starters such as these, your average liberal will begin the conversation by agreeing with you -- and, as every con man knows, you want the mark to get used to saying "yes" to you. Interestingly, what works for con men can also work for honest brokers. It's a good technique, so use it.
3. Provide the liberal with facts from non-threatening sources.
In many conversations over the years, I've discovered that my liberal friends don't have many politically relevant facts at their finger tips. Liberals know, for example, that "prisoners were waterboarded at Gitmo." The details behind this ultimate fact tend to elude them. Most don't realize that only three high level Al Qaeda operatives were ever waterboarded. Nor do they know that the waterboarding took place in the immediate wake of 9/11, when we had almost no information about Al Qaeda's networks and feared an imminent, and even greater, second attack.
Mostly, though, liberals know conclusions, which they erroneously identify as facts. For example, they know that huge numbers of Americans have no medical care; they know that Obama was a top student at every school he attended; and despite their support for the military, they know that most American troops are ill-educated, violent hicks. As it happens, each of these statements is factually wrong (see here, here and here) and, instead, reflects only an emotional conclusion.
In any conversation with a liberal, therefore, you need to get out the facts. But remember: In pursuit of this goal, attribution is everything. Never say to a liberal that you heard something on Rush's show. This is true even if the fact originated with a liberal Rush was interviewing. Mention Rush and your conversation is over. Finito. Done. Your liberal will shut down.
Instead, always attribute your fact to a comforting source. I like to say, "You know, I read in the New York Times that [insert actual fact]." The beauty of this approach is that the fact may often be found in the New York Times, although it will have been buried in a squiblet at the bottom of page B32, where no one looks. If your friends googles your fact, voila!, she'll get a link to the Times.
Alternatively, attribute your fact to an unnamed knowledgeable, but unthreatening, source. If you're talking about health insurance, and you want to talk about the cost differential between insurance in Texas (a low regulation state) and California (a high regulation) state, say that you got this information from a claims adjuster you met at a party. You've gained credibility and the curious liberal can later find corroboration on the internet.
4. Don't lecture; instead, seek enlightenment.
When conversing with a liberal, I channel my inner dumb blond. I don't use a barrage of facts, nor do I lecture. Instead, I assert politely that I've learned the fact and then I ask the liberal to explain to me what the fact means. I do this even if I know perfectly well what the fact means. (And yes, women can do this more easily than men.)
A good example of this approach in action is universal health care. After you've said, "Gosh, universal healthcare would be really great," you should then follow-up with several "please enlighten me, Oh Great One" questions.
Thus, you might say, "England has managed care doesn't it? It's so funny, but I just read in the New York Times that there's a dentist shortage in England, so people are pulling out their own teeth. Are you sure that won't happen here?" This will either lead to bluster, an insult to British oral hygiene, or a good conversation about how important competition is to entice the best and the brightest into a profession and to keep innovation alive.
Another useful fact/loaded question is this one: "Someone told me that universal health care is kind of like social security -- it works best when there aren't a lot of old people, ‘cause they're the most expensive. I wasn't sure about that. What do you think?" When your liberal starts waffling on, throw into the conversation how you read that, in England, they're discussing euthanizing elderly demented patients, because their care is too expensive.
If you just keep politely throwing in unpleasant facts, followed up by respectful requests for enlightenment, your average liberal will either become tongue-tied, or, if intelligent, work his way through to the correct answer. With managed care, for example, he might conclude that, if you remove all competition and have only one provider, rationing begins, quality plummets, good people pull out of the system, and people suffer and die.
5. Strike when the iron is hot.
To have a successful conversation with a liberal, you need to find an opening that triggers a thought cascade in that particular liberal. Even though liberals are beginning to have buyer's remorse, human nature means they're just as likely to be in denial and defensive as they are to be regretful and receptive. Still there are conversational opportunities, and you must seize them.
I recently visited a die-hard Democrat who had just received her copy of Time Magazine, which had a picture of Michelle Obama on the cover. Now, my friend happens to be very beauty conscious so, in a completely non-hostile way, I scanned the cover and said, "I don't know. She's a nice looking lady, but I don't get why all the news stories keep describing her as beautiful."
I had opened the floodgates. Just like the courtiers in The Emperor's New Clothes, this friend had been trying to convince herself that Michelle was beautiful -- and she couldn't. Finally, though, in response to the media's implicit question of "Who're you going to believe -- me, or your lying eyes?" my friend, with a sigh of relief, could go with her own eyes. I hastened the eye-opening process by showing her Sally Quinn's ridiculous Mother's Day article about Michelle's arms, which left my friend reeling. For the first time ever, my friend is beginning to suspect that she's been had.
6. Don't undo the good you've done.
And if it ever happens that, after you've spoken with a liberal, the liberal actually agrees with you, just be sure to avoid one of the most poisonous phrases in the English language: "I told you so." Instead, quietly agree with your friend's wonderful insights, and have another conversation on another day.
Bookworm is a crypto-conservative living in hostile territory, and proprietor of the website Bookworm Room.