At the risk of sounding like a bad police show on television, what you say can and will be used against you. By no means remain silent, just proceed with judgment and decorum.
Years later the distribution courses you took in college do have a way of becoming valuable. The lasting memory of Communications is that the most important element in communication is the perception of the receiver of the message. Distill it down further and communication is just perception. For political animals, particularly candidates, words and actions do matter.
Don’t sabotage you own message
A favorite Republican ploy is to ignore addressing the message but instead attack the messenger. Do not sabotage yourself by your own words or deeds. Make an opponent work to defeat you. Don’t hand them a victory and/or an avenue of escape.
Of the many gifts the late George Carlin gave us, his 1972 comedy monologue Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television may be the most valuable. Watch your language or instead of addressing your point – which for good reason, they probably don’t want to – they will instead attack your language.
I have a potty mouth. I admit it. Over the years I have made an interesting observation. If I tell someone they are “F—–g right”, I never hear a complaint. On the other hand if I tell them they are “Full of f—–g baloney” they tell me to watch my mouth. The only logical conclusion is that it is the word “baloney” that offends them. Guess old George missed that one. My sub-Carlin level attempt at humor aside keep the dirty words out of your political conversations.
Choice of words – know the meaning
Only use words you that know.
Remember George Allen’s “macaca moment”? August 11, 2006, Republican Senator George Allen of Virginia is speaking at an event when he refers to an aide from the Jim Webb campaign as a “macaca”. The aide happened to be of Indian descent and macaca is considered a racial slur in many cultures. I’m going to give Senator Allen the benefit of the doubt and assume he was just using a funny sounding word and didn’t intend a slur. The utterance and the results are all that counted for former Senator Allen.
George Allen was supposed to defeat Jim Webb easily. This 2006 reelection campaign was little more than a tune-up for a 2008 run at the Republican nomination for the Presidency. George Allen was legitimately among the favorites to win that nomination.
This incident and the resulting fallout is the major reason Jim Webb sits in the Senate today. One poor choice of words ultimately cost the Republicans the majority in the Senate and may very well have cost George Allen the Presidency.
Choice of words – avoid these
There are certain words that are just best avoided in political conversation. They break into two camps. The first group I call derailing words. That is words that will take the conversation in a totally different direction. The second set I call uncomfortable words.
Derailing words are usually comparisons. Never compare anyone to Stalin, Hitler, Satan, The Antichrist, Osama bin Laden, etc. You will end up defending your choice of words or worse yet discussing the evil one whose name you invoked. The net result is the same. You lost the debate because your point was never discussed. The supposition of your opponent’s argument is that no one is as bad as these evil persons. The opposite is also true albeit to a lesser degree. Never compare someone to God or a saint. The supposition is that no one can be that good. Again, you have a derailment.
I prefer to avoid some words that can be uncomfortable. Synonyms come to the rescue here. The word “right” has become identified with a political philosophy, use correct instead. The word “hard” may have visions of Viagara aided appendages dancing in people’s minds, use difficult instead.
Democratic candidates in particular are always using some derivation of the word fight. They will “Fight for you”, “Fight for your interests” or describe themselves as “fighters”. I do not like that image. Why not substitute the word work? I’d rather have someone working for me than fighting for me. I think more will get accomplished.
Gender and the avoidance of harassment
Perhaps this is an extension of uncomfortable words but in today’s America I prefer to use gender-neutral words as much as possible because they reflect reality. A member of the House of Representative is commonly referred to as Congressman or Congresswoman. Their true title is the gender-neutral term Representative. Why not use that? It is actually easier. Use “he or she” instead of “he”.
Regardless of gender, but especially if referring to a female, do not use whore, slut, prostitute or any derivation thereof! The righteous indignation will come out of the woodwork and you will find yourself stuck on the defensive. Use a term like sold out instead.
Generally I feel American society has evolved in a positive fashion during my lifetime. Sometimes we have to take a little discomfort along with the good. In the interest of reducing sexual harassment it has become difficult to give someone a legitimate, non-sexual compliment. The situation I find myself in most often is that a friend has dressed very nicely and I would like to compliment them on their appearence. I almost never do for fear that it is taken as a come-on. What is wrong with telling a buddy that he really looks good in that suit or that the dress, shoes and jewelry really look good on her? Call me a coward but it is easier to remain silent than to apologize for a misperceived action.
Conduct yourself like a lady or gentleman
Hopefully this section is unnecessary. But a recent incident made me include it. Sarah Palin was conducting a book signing on December 7, 2009 at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. During that book signing a man threw two tomatoes at her. The tomatoes missed her but hit a policeman who was working security. The perpetrator was arrested and charged.
While I have no respect for Sarah Palin political, this act is indefenseable. Every American deserves respect and common courtesy, Sarah Palin included. Don’t disrespect yourself by acting in an uncivilized manner. No political stance justifies bad behavior.
A lesson from hockey
In the 70’s the Philadelphia Flyers had one of the best teams in the National Hockey League. Their home arena was The Spectrum on Broad Street in Philadelphia. They played a very physical brand of hockey that proved to be successful for them. That success included a 1975 Stanley Cup victory over my then hometown Buffalo Sabres. Their basic philosophy was that the officials couldn’t call the penalties as quickly and often as they would commit them. Hence they gained the nickname of “The Broad Street Bullies”. The Republicans have adapted this philosophy to politics. They will tell untruths with such velocity and rapidity that some will simply slip through unchallenged.
You are probably thinking just call them liars. That would be your first mistake. For some reason I have never quite understood, the use of the word “liar” or any of its derivatives is off limits in politics. I have seen politicians of both parties dance like Fred Astaire to avoid using the word liar. If you use it be prepared for the entire discussion to revolve around that word and guess what – you lost because your point got buried. Attack the errant statement by calling it “simply untrue”, for some reason that verbiage seems to work and the discussion stays on track. These rules apply unless you are an obscure Congressman from South Carolina. Then you can call someone a liar, when in fact you are the one who is incorrect, and in the process you can get your 15 minutes of fame and you raise a lot of money overnight.
A simple rule when it comes to the truth. Use it. Don’t feel constrained by it, feel liberated by it. Remember it is simpler to tell the truth. You don’t have to remember what lies you told in the past.
Know what you are talking about. It is much better to say, “I don’t know.” than to make stuff up! Don’t quote exact dates or figures unless you are sure of them. At the risk of excessive repetition, don’t shoot yourself in the foot and let the conversation get sidetracked. It is better to endure the short term loss of a debate than to lose your credibility forever! As long as you tell the truth you can always revisit the point or someone else can defend you. I can defend a fellow Democrat who is not knowledgeable on a certain topic, but I cannot defend misstatements.
If the discussion is one on one don’t let your ego get in the way of your brain. If it is a one on one and the other person is telling untruth after untruth you have a decision to make. If you feel they are open-minded but simply misinformed then teach them the truth. If you feel they are brainwashed or stubborn and are just trying to win an argument let it go. It is a no win situation.
If this discussion is in front of an audience that includes open-minded people you have a responsibility to take the high road but present the facts to the best of your ability in an accurate fashion for the benefit of that audience.
The high road is so important. The Palin-Biden debate comes to mind as a prime example. Sarah Palin continually violated the rules of the debate and finally announced that she was going to disregard the rules. The Republicans had done a wonderful setup job. For weeks prior to the debate they tried to discredit Gwen Ifill who moderated the debate. Vice President Biden, while known for his gaffes that are generally caused by talking too much, was generally perceived as David in a David and Goliath battle. After not answering several questions Palin stated “…And I may not answer the questions the way that either the moderator or you (Joe Biden) want to hear…” This was less than 12 minutes into the debate. Now let’s put this in perspective. These debates don’t just happen. They are the result of meticulous planning and negotiation by both sides setting the rules to the nth degree. Inside of 12 minutes Sarah Palin gave America the middle finger. Biden stayed on the high road and stayed within the rules. This helped swing a lot of non-partisan voters to the Democrats. Many independents told me they made their decision based on not feeling Palin was even remotely qualified to be President.
Practice before you preach
Americans are a very forgiving lot. In the rush to embrace their Christian base many Republicans preach to the masses about morality. When their human frailties are exposed they have major problems. A few recent examples are: Governor Mark Sanford, Senators David Vitter and Larry Craig and Representative Mark Foley. They were all Republican “family values” guys who were disgraced in sex scandals. Two lost their positions and I wouldn’t like to have the political future of the other two. The problem wasn’t as much their actions as their hypocrisy. The problem exists on both sides of the aisle. Remember Eliot Spitzer. Again he held himself out as the guy in the white hat when he proved to be only too human. President Clinton survived a sex scandal in part because he never held himself out to be a holy one.
Moral of the story: If you live in a glass house don’t throw stones. Unless you are without sin don’t preach. Americans will forgive sexual indiscretions long before they forgive hypocrisy.
The walls have ears
I’m showing my age again by using an outdated expression. Today not only do the walls have ears, they have eyes and can record. Assume every action is being recorded because it probably is. Even cell phones have audio and video recording capabilities. If you did something admit it. That is preferable to seeing and/or hearing it seconds after your denial.
This was a favorite trick of the late Tim Russert’s. He would ask a politician about a statement he made in the past. The politician would deny it and then Russert would roll the tape. Talk about caught with your pants down.
There is the Washington Post rule when it comes to e-mails. If you wouldn’t want to see your words on the front page of the Washington Post don’t write them. This rule should apply to text messages and the spoken word as well.
Make them beat you
The point I have continually made is don’t beat yourself. Make them beat you. You have the truth and superior policy on your side. Utilize them, and do so like a lady or a gentleman. Don’t substitute volume for substance – you don’t have to.
Win the battle for America one voter at a time and do so with patriotic pride and honor.
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