Ben Shapiro, best known in recent months for his dismantling of British blowhard Piers Morgan on national* TV, spoke at Heritage Foundation on how to deal with the bullies of the American political left.
His most recent book is Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America, which I have not yet read, but if the talk at Heritage is any indication it should be mandatory reading for everyone who does not like the direction the Left is taking our country.
He says, and I agree with him, that the American political Left has abandoned any effort to engage in actual debate and instead wishes simply to destroy political opponents.
They do not wish to compare theories and evidence and make policy decisions based on reasoned debate and a fair framing of the issues, they wish to clear the field of any opposition so the only ideas and policy prescriptions anyone hears about are their own.
To accomplish this they must make sure everyone thinks that the only way you can oppose them is if you hate and wish ill upon blacks, women, children, immigrants, gays, the planet, cute little animals, and anything else that isn’t a rich, white, heterosexual man. Once everyone thinks that you hate and wish ill upon anything that isn’t a rich, white, heterosexual man everyone can safely ignore what you say because you could not possibly have any good thing to say.
Sound familiar? Happens around here quite frequently in the comm boxes.
Our job is to call them on their bad argumentation (when they attempt actual argumentation), lack of facts, attempts at distraction, etc., and stick to the main point. If they want to have a reasoned debate they will come along. If they don’t, they won’t, and you’re no worse for the wear.
In his talk (which I encourage you to watch, but C-SPAN won’t allow to be embedded for some reason) he uses his debate with Morgan as an example, and he lays out ten things to keep in mind in any discussion about any political matter.
1) Frame your opponent. Call them out on their bad argumentation. Call them out on their attempts to smear you as some sort of bigot through appeals to emotion and non sequiturs. (Hint: just because someone is a victim of a crime they do not thereby become an unassailable expert on how to prevent that crime in the future.)
2) Frame the debate. Make sure the essential argument is clear; don’t allow the debate to happen on the turf and at the level the Leftist presents. There is always a deeper issue at stake—boil it down to that issue and insist upon discussing the topic in terms of that basic issue.
3) Present the philosophical inconsistencies in your opponent’s position and exploit them. When the underlying principle of your opponent’s position would have consequences elsewhere that your opponent does not intend but they have a different position on that topic, point it out and pursue clarity on why they are bi-polar in their principles.
4) Don’t get sidetracked. “All magic is distraction,” Shapiro reminds us. Your opponent will attempt to sidetrack the conversation onto issues that don’t really matter so the real issue—the one that is most important, but the one on which they would lose the argument badly—is not discussed. Example: what do you remember from Senator Marco Rubio’s response to the State of the Union address, anything he said, or the fact that he drank some water? He gave a stellar address, but all anyone talked about was the gulp of water. That’s not accidental.
5) Don’t get intimidated. When you’re called nasty names or otherwise belittled, point out that doing so is not an argument but a bully tactic. Don’t fret about being called names, point out that name-calling is not an argument.
6) If you don’t know something, admit it. Nothing lends the opponent more leverage than pointing out that you’re attempting to speak with authority on something you know nothing about. But admitting you are not well-informed enough to speak about a given topic diffuses the conversation immediately. If they continue to insist on talking about it before you have looked into it they are the bully. It is okay to say, “I don’t discuss things I don’t know enough about.”
7) Don’t defend positions you don’t agree with but are held by people you may defend otherwise. If you don’t agree with some position held by, say, Ronald Reagan, don’t feel compelled to defend it. Reagan was president, not a god. This also applies to bishops and even the pope on matters like global warming, economics, or even the death penalty where there is some question about the proper approach.
8 ) Let them have the minor, meaningless victories. If they want a semantic win, let them have it. Don’t let your pride get in the way of the main point.
9) Reverse the polarity. Call them out on their tactics and lay them bare. Question their underlying premises. Don’t sit back and let them attack purely on their terms without pointing out their inconsistencies and unjust attack tactics.
10) “Imagistics.” Body language matters. Don’t be overly aggressive, smile, be serious but approachable. In one of my former jobs I arranged seminars on how to most effectively convey your message on television. Eventually I did the actual training myself. One thing we always told people is that more than 80 percent of the message people get from you is from your non-verbals: posture, clothing, smile, makeup, breath control, blinking, what you do with your hands, eye contact, etc. No matter what you say, if people don’t like the way you come across physically, you will have a tough time convincing them of the right-ness of your position.
As Shapiro says:
Think of the Left like magicians. They are: they’re magicians. They don’t have facts, they don’t have evidence on their side, what they have is sleight of hand. And they’re fantastic at it. These are the best close-up magicians that you have ever seen. It is our job to identify those tactics, and to sit in the back of the room, and to be the guy who ruins the magic show.
Just so. Don’t be intimidated, don’t get distracted, don’t accept their framing of the debate, don’t let them unfairly characterize you, don’t let them control the debate, and don’t worry what they think about you.
It’s the only way forward.
*As “national” as Morgan’s show gets, considering its abysmal ratings