How To Be Right: The Art of Being Persuasively Correct (2015)
OMBUDSING YOUR BUDDIES
When some famous lefty says something stupid, I laugh (which means I laugh a lot at the Pope). And then I inevitably grouse that the media completely ignores the gaffe. When someone on the right pulls a bone-headed move, I die a little inside, knowing it will reflect badly on all of us. When a right-winger makes a crude joke, reports of it are tacked up on trees in Papua New Guinea. If I had tweeted what Trevor Noah had tweeted about Jews, I’d be tossed into the ocean from a helicopter.
This chapter isn’t to complain that one side gets more grief than the other over gaffes. We already know that. The right always has a target on its back; the left’s back is sore from all the patting. Which means the right’s behavior has to always be superior to the left’s. If more of us don’t infiltrate the media and/or pop culture, then really, we need to be damn close to perfect. So stop whining, and change.
When Red Eye started, I had a problem with Andy Levy, a potential cast member. He was a very intelligent guy—thoughtful, funny, and libertarian. But in the “I can shout louder than you can” world of cable TV, there was no place for him. In a medium that demands sprinkles on its ice cream, he was sand.
Thankfully for the show (and for Andy) we came up with the “in-show ombudsman.” This idea was initially meant to make sure Andy had a job (he owed me money), but it also made sense, because Andy was born to play the job: an emotionless, fact-based robot with steel-blue eyes, whose only mission was to correct your errors—never to compliment your emotional palaver. He would be the island of logic in a sea of raging hysterics.
For the first four years of Red Eye, Andy appeared in the middle of the show to correct falsehoods, exaggerations, and other nonsense spouted by conservative guests, liberal guests, and me (especially me).
His segment was wildly popular among fans. But our fear was that people were going to bed after thinking the show was over. So we scuttled it and put Andy on the table as a permanent panelist. (Yeah, it took us four years. I only realized it was an issue when I noticed the crew had left after Andy’s segment.)
The lesson from the Red Eye ombudsing experiment? While it’s easy to critique your adversaries, it’s more important to correct your allies. Because their mistakes, left to fester, will come back to haunt you. Every conservative should have an ombudsman, if only to sharpen their skills so they can go out and beat the crap out of their opponents (especially if you’re a conservative in public life). Ombuds ing prevents you from repeating the same mistakes—or worse, reporting crap that people send you in emails. Facing a critic each and every day allows you the chance to rethink your own blinkered assumptions. Every conservative needs an Andy Levy. It’s why I couldn’t even let my pal, Donald Trump, off the hook for his jab at John McCain.
More important, it makes your point of view more attractive, because you are shown to be brave enough to withstand criticism, and do so publicly. In my opinion, the weakest people in the room are those who embrace lockstep—from the left or right. They weaken any cause and undermine its aims—for they refuse to test the strength of their own beliefs.
Example One: Panic
During the Ebola scare of 2014, conservatives wigged out. Those who rely on facts to discuss guns and climate change seemed to abandon that calm sobriety to the “we’re all gonna die” mantra that was born not from science but from a mistrust of the government.
The mistrust is thoroughly understandable (after a year of scandals largely ignored by the media, it seemed the White House could get away with anything, including, to some, allowing a disease to ravage a country). But that notion was harmful, and wrong. If you’re a conservative and you want to be taken seriously, you need to stick to the facts, even if that helps the guy you disagree with, currently in the White House. During the Ebola crisis, we witnessed idiotic conspiracy theories erupting on every network. I saw my job as a “nutjob fireman.” Meaning whenever someone said something crazy about the disease (It’s airborne! Obama wanted it to come here!), I would show up with my fire hose of logic and put the idiot fire out.
Example Two: Snowden
A lot of people on the right called him a hero. The fact is, many of his fans on the right would not have been his fans if his leaks had been done under a Republican. Then he would have been shot. I said as much—ombudsing the ideological reflex of my cohorts—for I believe that Snowden compromised our nation’s security. Some evidence suggests ISIS altered its behavior based on information culled from the Snowden/Greenwald leaks. Further, literally every member of America’s national security apparatus whom I’ve seen questioned on this contends that Snowden’s damage to us is incalculable. And one must wonder why Snowden went to Glenn Greenwald, a character who blamed the October 2014 terror attack in Canada, on Canada. Greenwald is a man with more than a hobbyist’s interest in anti-Western ideology, and a mocking hatred for the war on terror. The right made a mistake embracing this man Snowden, who as I write is holed up in Moscow with his Oscar statue. Funny how that all worked out. If you don’t think he’s working for Russia, then you don’t know Russia. Putin has the guy in an invisible cage. (Maybe we can do an Oscar-worthy exchange? Let’s offer Steven Segal.) The right’s embrace of Snowden gave Obama and liberals an edge in the adult arena of espionage, terror, and security.
Speaking of movies: I wonder if all those in Hollywood who branded this man a hero felt the same way after all their info was leaked in the Sony affair? Leaking national security information is heroic, but leaking your jokes about Obama is not?
Look: If we are going to be consistent about our nation’s security, then that means you support the NSA under Obama, the same way you did under Bush. Anything else makes you a hypocrite. If you wish to be taken seriously, divorce your team loyalties from an issue before you make your position known. Who knows. As much as it hurts, you and Obama might be on the same page. Trust me, it will last only a minute.
Example Three: Elections
If you don’t ombuds the candidates favored by your easily excitable, like-minded ideologues, you end up losing elections. You end up with Christine O’Donnell—a nice enough person who might have been a witch, but cost the Republicans a Senate seat.
Backed by the Tea Party (which I’ve lauded), she defeated Michael Castle in the 2010 Republican primary in Delaware for the US Senate. Castle was a better candidate, a nine-term US representative, and he probably would have had a better chance of beating Chris Coons. We’ll never know because O’Donnell beat Castle, and then got trounced by Coons by a margin of 57 to 40 percent. Essentially, we brought a broomstick to a gunfight.
Why did O’Donnell get the nod over Castle in the first place? She was a lightweight, spending much of her time running for office, even as a write-in. She got as far as she did because we (I include myself) refused to ombuds her. Bored by the typical narrative of most political races, we saw her as a fun antidote to the Republican establishment, a simplistic notion that satisfied emotional urges to purge—to go for purity over practicality. It wasn’t smart. It was the equivalent of an unsatisfying one-night stand for a happily married guy (I don’t know this from experience).
I remember when she was making the talk-show rounds, you could sense she was not the real deal. When I met her, I didn’t sense a candidate, but a reality show contestant.
We would have done better with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. (He’s better on trade policy.)
Ombudsing separates the amateurs from the pros. It forces you to step up your game and cuts the tether to toxic ideology: the kind of thing that forces you to make stupid choices for the sake of the “team.” We all want to be team players. But let’s not be the ’62 Mets. The winning team is pro-win, not pro-litmus.
It’s better to critique yourself before you walk out into the real world and get nailed by those who really want to see you fail. The ombudsman is the voice in your head that reminds you of the bigger picture. It tells you to enjoy the distractions but quickly discard them. It tells you that winners don’t follow Twitter trends. A winner must be hard on himself before others get their shot. And as a conservative, you can bet they will always get their shot.