How To Be Right: The Art of Being Persuasively Correct (2015)

16

STOP EATING YOUR MODERATES

The key to all politics, besides having great hair, influential friends in high places, and attractive children who don’t mutilate animals, is to avoid the extreme. There’s no benefit from indulging the rabidly partisan. We call these people ideologues. I call them annoying. These are the people who often say, “I used to like you, until you disagreed with me on blah-blah-blah.” There are tons on the left, but there’s no shortage on the right. And they cost us elections. Ideology is the enemy of truth, someone famous once said (it might have been Yoda).

If you think someone is too far on the fringe, chances are he is. This is not to say, “Move to the middle.” No, this is to say, “Win, for God’s sake.” And winning is getting all your friends together in a room with a keg of beer, and voting for a winner. It’s not eating someone alive because they disagree with you on 5 percent of the issues.

THE BEST WINNING TEAM

Politics is like The Dirty Dozen: a bunch of like-minded people who happen to be unlike each other—but together create a formidable force. We can all win, if we stop trying to call one another losers. Here’s the recipe for disaster: ideologues calling everyone else “squishies” or “rhinos.” And nonideologues returning the favor by calling them nuts.

A recipe for winning: a group that works together. A group like this:

•the wacky but intensely well-read libertarian who loves guns and Snowden

•the substantive foreign policy adult who knows defense, understands our enemies, and would strangle Snowden with a shoelace

•the paleoconservative who hates modern life but bites the bullet around gay marriage and pot proponents

•the establishment Republican who wins elections and has no time for ideology. Owns thirty-three pairs of identical khakis, and two blue blazers.

•the smart messager who keeps everyone from fucking up on comments about social issues

•the conservative who despises any moralism from his own side

•the black lesbian veteran

Republicans losing elections is bad for the country—but it’s great for people like me, and for the media in general. We still get to show up for work and scream. Which is why so many of my peers edge to the extreme: it gets them attention, which seems like success. But it isn’t.

The country contains 317 million people (if you count Portland). Those are the people you want. Even if every single fan of Michael Savage votes, the Democrats still win. You need conversions, not confirmations.

Everyone is guilty at one time or another of “teamism,” of going to the extreme because it’s mistakenly perceived as being truer to the cause than those who are less aggro. It’s actually not. The quieter guy is playing chess. The screamer is playing tic-tac-Doh. Ultimately they always screw up. (And I’m playing Chutes and Ladders. It’s therapeutic.)

Look at it from a sports perspective. If we are all on the same team, playing hard is great. But while picking fights or ball hogging gets you eyeballs, it scores no points. All it gets is a wedgie in the locker room.

Play to win, not for retweets.

Ideologues repeatedly remind us that if we indulge them, we do not deserve to win. To avoid this, remember these two invaluable tips:

Don’t Pick the Wrong Battles

There are many fights out there—in fact, the wars are so numerous, you could make a living off them (burp). But the only dude who is required to engage on every issue is the fella like me who broadcasts every day. We have a massive bucket to fill, which calls for having an opinion on every single thing that matters, and every single thing that doesn’t. It’s not just politics or war. Every three days or so, I have to think of something to say about junk like the royal family or some Hollywood star’s “awareness-raising” campaign—which is like trying to take a crap when all you’ve eaten in weeks is glue.

HOW RIGHT-WING ARE YOU?

The “I’m more conservative than you” game leads you to make two key mistakes. You pick ridiculous battles, and you overshoot in battles you can win. You take a winning recipe and sprinkle bitter salt all over it.

How dangerous is it to box people? Here are qualities that measure your own ideology. Rate each one, 1 to 10, to see where you lie! Or lay (not sure)!

____ “Loves limited government”

____ “Loves limited government but hates coarse language”

____ “Thinks public safety bows before private freedom”

____ “Thinks spying enables freedom through security”

____ “Thinks America should lead”

____ “America should stay out of everything”

____ “Vaccines are a government conspiracy”

____ “Hates restrictions on roller coasters”

____ “Snowden is a hero”

____ “Seat belts and stop signs limit my rights as an individual”

____ “I should be able to have sex with a wombat”

Scoring: 70–80: Rand Paul. 80 or above: Ru Paul. 100-plus: Minneapolis–St. Paul.

This doesn’t mean you should follow that example. I am paid to pontificate—and we do it to entertain, not always to win.

When two major conservative icons choose, within days, to defend Bill Cosby over the onslaught of rape allegations, you gotta ask…why? Sure, it could be construed as brave, and perhaps refreshing (“oh look, they’re going against the grain”). But please, when there are fifteen-plus (at the time) allegations of sexual abuse? By failing to consider how you defending a serious cad makes conservatism look (since you are symbolic of the movement), you drag the movement back into the whole “war on women” bullshit. It’s the right-wing equivalent of Ed Asner defending Mumia Abu-Jamal, the cop killer. It becomes a magnet for your critics to expose weird, wacky extremism. Pick your battles, folks. Seriously, there is so much going on. Do you really need to defend every creep? You only have so much time on this planet.

Don’t Put Fritos on Pizza

When libs screw up—whether it’s blaming a terrorist act on a video, or boasting about lying to a stupid public about Obamacare—we often follow up with our own screwup. We see Benghazi and Jonathan Gruber as outrages, but instead of persuasively damning those who are guilty, we sloppily pile on other idiocies. In effect, we put Fritos on a pizza, when all we needed to do was serve the pizza.

Take Benghazi. In November 2014, a two-year investigation by the House Intelligence Committee (run by Republicans!) found no impropriety in responding to the 2012 attack on our compound in Libya.

But here’s the key point: the White House incorrectly asserted that the terror attack was the spontaneous outgrowth of a protest over an anti-Muslim video made by some dude in America. Did Susan Rice or President Obama intentionally blame a movie to keep the blame off their policies, to help save O’s re-election? To me, that’s the big question—and it’s really the only question that matters. And it pointed to only two possible explanations:

1.Obama is like the Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber—he thought Americans were so stupid that they’d believe anything about the health-care bill. It’s the same with saying that an Islamic terror attack on 9/11 was about a video, not about a crazed version of Islam and an insufficient security apparatus.

2.Obama truly believed radical Islamists weren’t at fault and that a video was truly to blame. If that’s the case, then we may have the most naive president in history, or the most dangerous one in history. To somehow explain away an attack on an obscure, mean-spirited video is something only a grad student with a grudge would do. To witness an act of physical evil and blame it on words, or art, is pretty frightening. It’s still mind-boggling that we put the director behind bars over a film, and yeah, I get it, he’s kind of a tool—but the very idea is appalling. If this country was about locking people up for horrible films, Oliver Stone would be doing life. And if you believe this decision was correct, then be consistent and arrest the director of The Interview as well. Send Seth Rogen to Gitmo! (In fact, let’s send him there whether you believe it or not.)

The conclusion from the Benghazi mess points to a moral and philosophical failing of an administration obsessed with blaming the West first (and last). The question “who pushed the video?” was the only question that should have been pursued in this inquiry. Which is why the White House was relieved when the right started to pile on assorted other conspiracies—because it made the whole investigation appear absurd. No matter how deep your antipathy might be for President Obama, to assert he was happy to let Americans die in Libya comes off as batty.

HOW HILLARY EXPLAINED BENGHAZI

1.Guy turns on YouTube because he wants to see adorable cat videos.

2.Sees a different video about Muhammad.

3.Instead of his normal piano lessons, or dance class, he gets enraged.

4.Calls his friends to meet up (they’re all free, as it turns out!).

5.Plan of action: burn down a consulate—and surprisingly, all his casual buddies are totally on board with it! What are the odds of that? On 9/11?

6.They burn down a consulate, murder everyone—and it was all on an angry whim. Not a single person stops to think it was “a little much.” They were in the moment!

7.Apparently these happenstance rioters return to their normal lives as salesmen, accountants, and gardeners.

Watching the hearings, I hoped that one single Republican might articulate why the misjudgment on the video was so damn important. Perhaps I missed it. (I might’ve nodded off. C-SPAN is not the same without James Traficant.)

I get the other issues: Why couldn’t we protect our guys? Why couldn’t we get there in time? But these are not questions of moral corruption, but illustrations of insufficient support, of incompetence. Governments ARE incompetent. As Republicans we know that already. The government was not prepared. Because Obama didn’t have troops nearby to begin with, our forces were too far away to intervene.

The “who pushed the video” question is a different matter, for it’s about an ideology that contributes to injury. When people attack us, normally we blame the attackers—not some video the attackers might have caught on Netflix. This was a first. Conceivably, why not blame the World Trade Center attacks on Tootsie?

This is Obama’s gaping flaw. Every terrorist act is either random workplace violence or the fault of insensitive filmmaking. He’s not a president at this point; he’s a guidance counselor covering for a favorite student.

Sadly (and predictably) for the right, they got greedy, laying blame on the president for the murders, when they could have simply explained the immorality of the “video defense.” They should have kept it simple.

Yes, keep it simple. Argue within your ability to explain, and your listeners’ ability to understand.

HOW TO EXPOSE INJUSTICE

1.Exercise self-control. If you find the wrongdoing, focus on it, instead of spreading it around. Avoid listening to the conspiracy junkies. The moral failing of blaming a video is more than enough to hang your anger on.

2.Mock mercilessly. How do you blame terror on a video? Would you blame rape on the victim’s clothing? Isn’t that what Islamophobia is? Our embassy workers died because a video enticed such rage? The Benghazi video is the Democratic Party’s equivalent of going out at night without a bra.

3.Avoid political mantras. Do not repeat “Benghazi” whenever you feel it’s appropriate. Benghazi is not just a tragedy, it’s a symptom of a more disturbing 'margin-bottom:0cm;margin-bottom:.0001pt; text-align:center'>