How to win arguments against the Left

An essay on how to prevail in arguments against the Left, entitled "The Right Way to Argue: How Conservatives Can Prevail in On-Line Debate" can be found at

Not All Meetings are a Useless Waste of Time

 When I read that RNC member Gary Emineth, the North Dakota GOP Chairman, organized a coalition to demand an unprecedented "special" RNC meeting before the RNC Chairman's election, I had my usual reaction: "Another meeting?...ugh...what a waste." 

On campaign after campaign, I've bemoaned the fact that too much time, out of a typical 14-hour workday, goes to useless time-wasters.  No, I'm not referring to staffers who surf the Web, look at their friend's pics on Facebook, or play practical jokes on the guy or gal in the next cube over.  Those serve an important purpose compared to the biggest, most useless, waste of time on most campaigns: the never-ending, often unfocused meetings where little, if anything gets accomplished, except teeth grinding, nail chewing and overeating.

Thus, I've come to hate the word "meeting."  "Let's get together on," or "rendezvous about" or "discuss over coffee," are preferable.  Meeting sounds so official, institutional, excessive.

But then I read on, and opened my mind...and sipped some coffee.

This special RNC meeting, which RNC Chairman Mike Duncan has now called, has made an impact even before being held.  It has traveled a road that most other meetings never dare travel.  RNC members have successfully coalesced around an idea, a plan, and quickly put it into action.  They have been pro-active.  They have shown leadership.  They have provided much hope for the future of the Party.  They have already taken a step towards accomplishing their goal -- a more open forum for major party decisions.

Just as important, the RNC members have built on the ideas of others, even more low-down in the totem pole of official Party power: grassoots organizations outside the official Party heirarchy.  Since Election Day, several organizations, old and new, have pushed and prodded open the RNC Chairman's race. 

Americans for Tax Reform has held meetings and is planning a debate of their own.  Rebuild the Party, an organization I'm particularly proud of, has secured the endorsement of 5 out of 6 candidates for RNC Chairman and built an organization of over 10,000 people who want a stake in the future of the RNC. allows regular people to contact the RNC members in their state expressing support for one of the candidates for Chairman.

These and similar organizations share a common goal, the best interest of the Party as it seeks to revive itself.  They might differ in their approach, but that's what debates are for; debating the specific tactics and approaches our next RNC Chairman should take should drive the agenda at the (cough, cough) meeting on January 7th at a currently undiclosed location.

Emineth was beaten up at first by the blogosphere for this apparently heinous quote in The Hill, 'At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what the public thinks; it matters what 168 of us think.' Yet, when put in context (which he provided for us via blog post and in a follow-up Hill article) one understands that this quote resulted from the same frustration shared by many Republican activists.  Emineth, a sitting RNC Chairman, has felt powerless to make a different within the RNC power structure.  This powerless feeling has permeated Republican activists and organizations as they've felt obliged to cater to the will of a Republican White House, and at times, a Republican majority in Congress.  

Emineth, and the coalition that called for the (cough, cough) meeting see the opportunity at hand: an open field, the lack of a mandate.  In such a situation, the RNC members play an important role, electing the next Chairman.  In the past, most of these same RNC members have merely had the chance to approve the RNC Chairman for cosmetic purposes.  

If our elected RNC members don't even have real power in the Party, should we expect the grassroots to be empowered? 

Emineth and the coalition behind his effort have taken a baby step that shows real promise for a more open, productive and innovative Republican Party. Even if they had to call a meeting to do it.    

Message Planning 2.0: Using High School Debate Strategies for Political Campaigns

BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT: Future campaigns can no longer afford to just find the right phrases. We have to find the right arguments and the right way to communicate them.

Lately, a lot of the discussion has rightfully centered on policy. Earlier, Jon Henke asked us to consider what policies we should advocate and support. I've spent some time outlining a theme for a new set of items we can go forward with: the Agenda of Equal Opportunity. Although I would much rather talk about substance than rhetoric, I wanted to take a break from the policy discussion and discuss campaign messaging.

Max Borders has a quite comprehensive four part series on the "Art of Persuasion," analyzing the importance of merging rational policy discussion with critical ideas in communication: emotional wedges, metaphors & models, typology and imagery. What also caught my attention was a December 15 Roll Call op-ed from pollster David Winston, responding to fellow pollster Stuart Rothenberg, rejecting attack-based campaigns:

The truth is, voters don’t want to hear why the other guy is bad. They want to know why you are a better choice. People want hear how candidates will govern, how they will solve problems and what they really stand for.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) put it this way: “Wal-Mart doesn’t get ahead by attacking Sears but by offering better value.” In the past two elections, Republicans failed to win over voters because they failed to tell them how they would address their concerns.

The GOP has spent the past 10 years and hundreds of millions of dollars trying to drive up Democrats’ negatives. Sometimes they succeeded, but rather than solidifying the GOP’s majority coalition, over time, this self-defeating strategy made it permanently vulnerable. Republicans found themselves with razor-thin victories, no mandate to govern and growing unfavorable ratings.

Don't get me wrong. There is still value in opposition research and compare-contrast messaging. But Winston is right in that a campaign's opposition, or attacks on an opposition, can't be the foundation of a campaign's message. In fact, an attack-based campaign is really a campaign that's playing defense instead of offense. This seems counter-intuitive, but the reality is that campaigns founded on attacking their opponents means that they either have nearly nothing substantive to say about their guy, or their opponent's message is better at resonating with voters. Or both.

The extension of Winston's point is this: campaigns (and candidates) can tend to get too intellectual or quite anti-intellectual, and the GOP's problem in the past few cycles has been the latter. Campaigns need to formulate and execute a messaging strategy that's not ten steps below the voter nor ten steps ahead of the voter. Rather, campaigns need to outline a substantive agenda, and find a way to communicate that agenda that's only one step above the voter.

In an earlier post, I briefly went over some "Rules of Debate," describing my time as volunteer debate coach at a local high school in Alaska. (I debated in high school and college as well. Yes, I'm a nerd.) I taught my students that in any debate of any format, great substance always has to come before great style. Great style should never make bad substance good, but it can greatly enhance good substance. Let's go over some pointers that I've previously given to my debate students and see how they can apply to campaign messaging. (Continue reading below the fold.)

Disclaimer: I don't intend on this post being some sort of cookie-cutter strategy. I know that messaging depends on the audience and that all politics is truly local. This is why voter indentification, voter persuasion and GOTV efforts need to be integrated now more than ever.

The Age of Modesty

The good part for John McCain is that the debates are over. He has a clear 20 day path to cultivate and drive home the message he started to deliver tonight, uninterrupted by four show-stopping spectacles that don't easily allow for campaigns to find their groove, especially not those that need furiously to change the dynamic of the race.

Over the next 20 days, McCain must bring conservative independents home. These voters are skeptical of big institutions -- big government, big business, and big labor. Tonight, John McCain set up an important argument about taxes and spending that has the potential to bring this back to within the margin of error, and crucially, save a few House and Senate seats in the process.

The thing that's struck me about this year is that though Obama harps on "change", his message is decidedly unlike that of the last "change" candidate -- Bill Clinton.

HUCKABEE VS HUFFINGTON: The Pennsylvania Debate 10/6

That's not a hypothetical matchup folks, it happened this week on Monday night.

It didn't leave much of a paper trail in the MSM, But Huckabee and Huffington engaged in a vigorous debate as surrogates for McCain and Obama in Pennsylvania on the night before the second presidential debate.

On paper, given the clearly polar opposite natures of the worldviews these folks represent , this debate could have resulted in some serious fireworks, (which I'm sure was the intended appeal of the event) but Huckabee and Huffington rose to the occasion with a civil but vigourous debate on the issues. To be honest, there were more on target, real honest to God townhall style questions answered in this debate than in the presidential one which followed Tuesday night

The debate took place before a dinner for business owners and was telecast on t.v. and radio across the state. Live feedback from phone in commentators after the debate revealed an appreciation for the civil nature of the debate, and showcased a number of undecideds who now lean McCain after Huckabee's sterling performance as a surrogate in this context.

Click on the 'Election 08' tab on the following link to view the video of the debate in its entirity. You will need quicktime to view it.

There is no doubt in my mind that Huckabee could have gone toe to toe with Obama in these presidential debates, wiped the floor and sqeezed out the rag. As it is, McCain is well advised to continue to use him in a surrogate capacity in those blue collar swing states.

If anyone out there knows how to get this debate recorded in a format that can be loaded to You Tube... Do it!! I'd love to be able to email links that may be more user friendly.


More Palin Criticism

Crossposted at Right Minds

I took some heat in the comments over my criticism of Sarah Palin’s debate performance. First, it might be worth reminding everyone that there wasn’t anyone rooting for Palin more than I was—I really, really wanted her to do well. And I’m not sure why I was so down on her—even the most anti-Palin pieces always seem to begin with “well, you all might have thought she did well, but she didn’t, and here’s why.” I can’t imagine (literally, can’t imagine) how anyone could think she won the debate, or even came close to winning.
Evidently, I was wrong—everyone else though her performance was very strong at worst, and fantastic at best. Lines like “Obama’s plan is a white flag of surrender” sent chills up conservative spines—but I wasn’t impressed. Palin looked at her notes—where she had evidently reminded herself to use that line somewhere—smiled nervously, waited a beat, then blurted out her talking point. If that’s the standard for a knockout answer, then maybe we should reevaluate some of George Bush’s more awkward speeches, because they’re not half bad compared to Palin.
If Palin didn’t win the debate, it’s not because of anything Joe Biden did. Biden held his own—but he made a lot of mistakes, far too many mistakes for someone is his position. Some of his mistakes were inexcusable—he confused Article I and Article II of the Constitution, and invented an imaginary war in which the U.S. and France drove Hezbollah out of Lebanon. I don’t think he was being dishonest—worryingly, that’s just Joe being Joe. And that’s a bit scary.
Another point about Palin—like Bush, her language is sometimes simply incomprehensible. As I write this, Drudge’s main headline is that Palin expressed the notion that Obama isn’t fit to be commander-in-chief. I’m not quite sure what the news in that is—VP candidates rarely issue ringing endorsements of the other candidate’s ability to lead in times of crisis—but what is truly remarkable about her statement is its total incoherency.
“Some of his comments that he has made about the war that I think may — in my world– disqualifies someone from consideration as the next commander in chief.” That sentence might have the most awkward phrasing I’ve ever seen. The tenses aren’t right, she substitutes “that” for “which (I’m pretty sure that’s right), and her usage of “that” is confusing. And that, sadly, is a Palin soundbite—a line that the whole nation will hear.
One criticism that the few Palin detractors try to make is that Palin didn’t do what she needed to do, because she didn’t attack Obama. That’s absurd—attacking Obama was never on Palin’s to-do list, at any time. Her challenge from the beginning has been to present herself as an attractive, smart, competent running mate for John McCain—her role was never to hit Obama.
Much has been made of Palin’s winking at the audience. I didn’t notice—I was too busy cringing.
One thing Palin did very well—at the beginning and end of the debate, she kept her microphone on. Her “can I call you Joe” was pretty syrupy, but it seemed to work, and her interaction with her family at the conclusion—all caught on microphone—was pretty effective. Palin was strong in that respect—and she read her final speech splendidly. True, it was written before the debate—but then, so was Biden’s, and his speech wasn’t very memorable.
Even if we assume Palin won, the election isn’t over, not by a long shot. There are still two more presidential debates. The first one seemed to be a draw—McCain needs to win at least one of the next two. The next debate is Tuesday—McCain’s got to be ready.
[NOTE: Yeah, I’m being hard on Palin here. That doesn’t mean that I hate America, or am a closet liberal, or that I worship at the feet of the mainstream media. It just means that I didn’t happen to like one performance by a conservative. And it’s not like I heard Palin enunciating unshakably conservative views out there.]


To: McCain Staffers Subject: Talking Points for the Next Presidential Debates


Have McCain memorize this:

--When Obama says he'll cut taxes for 95%

Obama's plan is a bribery scheme. He's offering tax credits not actual tax cuts. Essentially his message is "vote for me and I'll everyone $500". Half the people getting this "tax cut" won't even be paying taxes in the first place. This isn't leadership. This shows that Obama will say anything to win and has adopted an economically unsound tax policy. McCain on the other hand will cut taxes for working families.

--When Obama busts out "tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas" for the 12,637th time in his career.

Companies don't send jobs overseas because they are given tax breaks, they send jobs overseas because its cheaper to produce a shoe in Brazil than a shoe in America. Besides, outsourcing only accounts for 2% of actual job losses in this country, the rest being relocated to other states that have less unionization and lower taxes. If Obama was genuinely interested in saving these jobs, he'd offer to reduce our crippling business tax rate of 35%, the second highest in the world. Instead, he says he'll raise taxes on American business, leaving American workers to take the hit when they don't have enough money to succeed.

--When Obama mutters something that sounds vaguely protectionist

Obama, doesn't want to say it, but he wants to impose protectionist policies that will only serve to hurt American exports in these dire economic times. The last time we raised taxes and tarrifs simultaneously during an economic downturn we had a great depression.

--When Obama goes off on taxing the rich

Well, as recently as last March Obama voted to raise taxes on the middle class. That is a fact, but lets get to what he's saying. When Obama says taxing the "rich", he's really talking about imposing hundreds of billions of dollars worth of tax increases on small businesses and investments. In other words, the things that keep this economy moving. We just can't afford Obama's crippling tax increases during an economic downturn.

--When Obama talks about saving Social Security

The fact is is that even if we enacted his enormous social security tax increases, it would only solve about 25% of the expected shortfall.

--When Obama talks about health care

Obama's plan is hugely expensive but does not do anything to address the root of the problem, the rising cost of health care. Before we have a takeover of healthcare by the same government who created the Fannie/Freddy mess, we need health care reform that eliminates perverse tax incentives and enhances competition in a manner that will keep health care costs down.

--When Obama says we can't drill our way out of this

Of course we can't. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't so long as it is part of an all of the above energy plan that includes clean/liquified coal, nuclear power, and oil shale exploration, all of which Obama opposes.

Biden's Facts Wrong?

I already touched on this in a comment elsewhere here, but I thought I'd throw this out to everyone.

Did Joe Biden get his facts wrong? Has anyone here done any research (my day is just beginning, so I am behind schedule here).

Immediately after the debate, Fred Thompson asserted that Joe Biden had indeed made several serious factual errors. I wonder what will become of Thompson's claims.

Here is what one blogger had to say this morning. I have not checked the blogger's own "facts," but if what the blogger says is true, then it would seem to me that there will be some significant negative fallout for Mr. Biden. In other words, perhaps Mr. Biden did not do so well at all.

Any thoughts?

Palin's Big Night

Crossposted at Right Minds

Whenever I watch a debate, the first thing I do when it’s over is to head off to National Review Online or Ace of Spades or Instapundit or some conservative blog, to find out who won. I can never tell—invariably, I think the candidates I like do well, and those I don’t do poorly. My opinions on these issues are never right, at least compared to the popular view.
So when I concluded tonight that Palin was getting absolutely crushed, I thought that was a bad sign. (Remember, the candidates I like never lose, at least in my mind). She didn’t do anything right—I thought her opening “can I call you Joe?” was overly saccharine, her responses awful and nonsensical, and her demeanor poor. Her whole bearing seemed to scream out that she wasn’t anywhere near ready for the vice presidency. I expected the blogosphere to be equally gloomy.
Huh? Nearly every conservative blog thought Palin won? Instapundit thought both candidates did okay, Malkin thought Palin won, Ann Althouse thought Palin won, Jim Treacher thought Palin won, and Frank Lunz’s focus group thought Palin dominated. The National Review people are in her corner too—Mark Levin, who isn’t a big McCain fan, gushed over her, Katherine Jean Lopez (not the hardest person to impress, but still) loved her, and Ramesh Ponnuru thought she did quite well.
Liberals thought she won too. Andrew Sullivan (who is perhaps the most crazed Obama supporter on the Internet) though Palin won. Even the Huffington Post seemed impressed—their Palin-bashing seemed listless and obligatory.
So I guess I was wrong—Palin won. If the conventional wisdom holds up, there will be a substantial shift in the polls towards McCain. He’ll get a bump, conservatives will be elated, and then his bounce will subside, throwing conservatives into gloom. If the pundits are right about Palin’s victory, this is good news for conservatives, and will let McCain live to fight another day.
I have some observations about the debate, but there seems to be little point in sharing them, given the fact that everybody seems to disagree with nearly all of them. So I’ll just give my perceptions of the people involved.
Sarah Palin isn’t ready for the vice presidency. In fact, judging from her performance tonight, I’m not sure she’s ready for the governorship of Alaska. Her answers were canned, empty, and often meaningless—what you would get if someone mixed up a bunch of talking points. I have absolutely no idea of why everyone thinks she won. My judgment on these matters isn’t very good—but I’ve never been this wrong before. [NOTE: As I write this, the judgments keep pouring in from the NRO people. They are unanimous in their opinion that Palin won]
I can’t help but like Joe Biden. His political positions, of course, are radically different from mine, he is gaffe-prone, and his command of reality is limited (although the press really hasn’t covered it, he has his own version of Hillary’s “sniper fire” story). But I do think he is an honorable man, and one who truly cares about America. Tonight, he reminded voters that John McCain’s sons are serving in Iraq—a classy move, since McCain rarely reveals that fact. Biden would be a bad vice president—but he’s a good man.
There was a lot of controversy about Gwen Ifill, who is writing a book about the “Age of Obama,” serving as moderator. I thought she did fine—she seemed fair, and her questions didn’t seem to favor either side.  
So Palin won. That’s good, I suppose, but I shudder to think of her next debate.


Not Even Close

Growing up, the last thing that any boy ever wanted to have happen is to compete head-to-head against a girl and lose. Despite the number of girls at my school that were exceptional athletes (one of whom was a Division I basketball player at Tulsa University), the taunts of “You got beat by a girl!” would mortify any boy on the playground. Tonight, the taunt is directed at Delaware Sen. Joe Biden.

Folks, we have a race again! It was a four-to-six point race entering tonight, but it’s going to get a little bit tighter before next debate between Arizona Sen. John McCain and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday night. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin took it to Biden and it was not a good night for the Obama-Biden campaign as a result. John McCain’s gamble paid off for tonight.

The girl on the playground that went head-to-head with boy was better than the Biden. Sarah-Barracuda is back and Obama should be concerned about what the fallout of this is when polling comes out on Monday.

Tonight, Joe Biden looked his age and presented himself as a cantankerous, old man. Believe me when I say that some of these people can be funny (go watch a Jeff Dunham video with his doll Walter and you’ll see why). But, Biden looked downright mean.

At this time, Biden hasn’t been called on his gaffe-proneness, but he had a moment during tonight’s debate where it reared its ugly, hair-plugged head. Palin made it a point that the Obama-Biden ticket had done nothing more than chastising the last eight years as opposed to sharing their vision for the next four years. When Biden went back to “old reliable” and attempt to tie President George W. Bush to John McCain, Palin caught him and field-dressed him in front of millions of people watching at home.

Meanwhile, Gov. Sarah Palin looked fresh, energized, and was able to lace her beauty and wit when she was critical of both Barack Obama and Joe Biden. If there is nothing else, it appears to me that the American public wants something fresh. Democrats think that Barack Obama is that embodiment while Republicans see Sarah Palin in the same respect. On this night, Palin looked fresher than Obama and many times fresher than Biden.

However, despite all of the beauty and grace that was exemplified by Governor Palin, the most surreal moment for her came when she asked moderator Gwen Ifill, “Can we talk about Afghanistan for a minute?” This was a moment where Palin wanted to talk foreign policy in a debate against a foreign policy “genius” (really a doofus, but that’s neither here nor there). She then went after Obama on accusing troops of “air raiding villages and killing civilians”. That was the game-changer of the night.

While Biden’s approach plays in the Boston-New York-Philadelphia-Washington axis as well as the in-the-tank-for-Obama media, Palin appealed to just about everyone west of the Mississippi (save California), the Midwest, and the South. In using those totals with a calculator (minus Hawaii), McCain-Palin defeats Obama-Biden 341 to 197 in the Electoral College and that doesn’t even include the 21 electoral votes in Biden’s native Pennsylvania.

It was also an amazing and surprising job done by debate moderator Gwen Ifill of the PBS show “Washington Week”. Ifill was able to stay surprisingly unbiased despite the cloud hanging over her head with her Obama book that would be a six-figure windfall for her.

All in all, Palin just made this race tighter and gives McCain an opportunity to narrow the gap further, if not close it, Tuesday night against Barack Obama at the town-hall format debate at Belmont University in Tennessee.


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