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How to talk politics and influence people

Local Commentary

Posted: March 22, 2008 12:25 a.m.
Updated: May 23, 2008 5:02 a.m.
Because of the wide variety of friends that I have made over the years, I often find myself in the company of people who do not necessarily agree with my politics. Whether it is hanging out at a Super Bowl party or at fundraising events for elected officials, I always seem to attract people to conversation about politics. And many times these people are my political opposites.

In the early days of my involvement in politics I reacted to people who disagreed with my (far superior) opinion on the issues by picking a verbal fight. I soon began to learn that I would walk away from these conversations with the feeling that I had done more to solidify my opponent's lack of faith in the politics I subscribe to than I did in informing him/her. It has been through self-introspection and trial and error that I have learned how to use common ground and fact-based reason when debating people about politics.

Since employing a few simple rules for the discussion of politics, I have had meaningful dialog about a whole host of leading issues and have actually received praise from my adversaries for my level-headed approach to conveying the facts and opinions I hold to be true. The best example of an issue that I feel I have truly changed hearts and minds over is the war in Iraq.

Stop right there
One must remember (I tell my debate opponent) that America got into the Iraq war because of the United Nations' failures to hold Saddam Hussein accountable for the terms of the ceasefire he signed when hostilities ended against him following Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

Thirteen U.N. Security Council Resolutions warned, in increasingly dire language, that Saddam Hussein must account for all of his weapons programs. The final resolution, designated 1441, laid out the unmistakable threat of ending his regime should he yet again refuse to come clean. In the wake of a post-9/11 world (a world that we now know harbored regimes that were capable of quietly organizing dramatic attacks against us) Iraq's decision not to come clean about what materials it did and did not possess had to be construed as Saddam's intention to use the materials that he still possessed.

Now stop right there. In reminding my opponent of the facts of the case, I have thwarted any possibility that the "unnecessary" or "illegal" war rhetoric can be successfully deployed in the debate.

That is not to say that my debate opponent could not still try to use this argument, but because I have laid out the facts of how we ended up in Iraq, I have indicated that I am unwilling to cede the point to him/her.

I then go on to admit that although the initial invasion of Iraq was a brilliant piece of military ingenuity, the follow-up was not so much.

The chaos and anarchy resulting from the overthrow of the Hussein regime created a vacuum that was quickly filled by al-Qaida, a fate that was determined by the coalition's lack of a plan for how to handle Iraq after the fall of the regime.

But the situation on the ground today is much different than that circa 2006. Because of a change in strategy and an increase in troop presence, al-Qaida has been defeated militarily, and the stage is set for Iraq to complete the business of setting up its government.

By admitting that mistakes were made (as mistakes are made in all wars), but pointing out that we may yet be able to declare (this time rightfully) "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, I steal away the opportunity for my opponent to rest his or her case on the horrific headlines of 2006. Rather, I challenge my opponent to imagine a scenario in which it would be in anyone's (other than al-Qaida's) best interests to unilaterally withdraw from Iraq at this time.

The basic premise of the example I show you is simple. Present emotionless facts about your position, admit the errors that your position may present (thus creating common ground), and then show how your position is more likely to lead to a better result than that of your opponent.

Which reminds me, have you ever asked proponents of legalizing marijuana what they think of anti-tobacco laws? Regardless of your position on marijuana, I bet you can use to your advantage the fact that most liberals and Libertarians who support legalization also support laws against smoking.

Avoid when necessary
Now go forward and draw some unsuspecting person into a political debate. But remember that placing emotion into the debate (anger, frustration or even glee) will have the result of weakening your argument and will hamper your ability to inform your opponent in the course of debating him/her.

You must also remember that some people are incapable of having a political discussion with people who disagree with their world view.

Be on the lookout for such people and avoid political conversation with them.

Kevin D. Korenthal is the publisher of the political blog and is a candidate for the 38th Assembly District Republican Central Committee.


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