interviewing Occupy Wall Street

Sean Hannity is a genius. No matter what you think of his opinions (and many different people think many different things), you have to admit: he is very good at his job.

Today I listened with fascination to his “on the street” interviews with people from the Occupy Wall Street crowd. His tactics were simple and elegant, and I will give you a rough taste of how every single one of those interviews went here:

Sean: So what are you mad about?
Protester: We’re mad about the fact that the big-wigs on Wall Street keep getting away with making more and more money, while the rest of us get nothing.
Sean: So why are you mad at the people on Wall Street? What did they do wrong?
Protester: It’s not them, it’s the entire system…
Sean: So what do you propose? You don’t like the system, so what system would you like instead?
Protester: We just want a system that is more fair…
Sean: What does that mean? Fair? Does that mean you want people to get stuff that they haven’t worked for?
Protester: No….
Sean: Well then what do you want? You say you hate this system we have now, what system are you proposing instead?
Protester: I didn’t… I don’t hate the system. But if we just could have more regulation…
Sean: Oh, here come the talking points. Listen… “regulation,” what does that even mean? Do you know what that means? The problem with you people is that you don’t understand how this system works. You all just repeat these meaningless phrases like “regulation” but you don’t really know what you want. Explain to me what you would do, to make things better. You can’t, can you? You have no idea what you’re even fighting for, do you? Hello? Hello? See, ok, we’ve lost them, and it’s because they don’t have any answers. When pressed, they can’t even explain what they really want….

Now, I’m reconstructing this from memory, so it’s not a verbatim quote of any one interview; however, this captures the gist of several “interviews” that I heard over the course of the hour that Sean was doing this.

The thing that strikes me about it is this: it is absolute radio genius!

For example, did you notice at the end how he talks non-stop, insulting and condescending to the protester, filibustering just long enough so that the person gives up and goes away… and then uses the fact that they gave up on the conversation as evidence that he (Sean) won the argument! Brilliant.

And before that, when he asks the protester what he wants and what he is proposing, and then both (simultaneously) interrupts and dismisses the answer that he gets! The really brilliant aspect of that part of the dialogue is that Sean absolutely insists that this person-on-the-street have a complete solution to the wealth distribution problem in our country, and that it be available and on the tip of his tongue at a moment’s notice. Sean implies that if you do not have, fully formed in your head, a completely worked-out solution to wealth inequality in America, then you have no right to protest it.

Even the way the interview was started, with broad open-ended questions, requiring the protester to define all the terms… with the hope that he can pounce on any vaguely-defined term or incorrect usage that he comes across. Again: brilliant.

I’m pointing this out, because I think that we liberals (as a group) can learn a lot from this style. We make a lot of mistakes, when we get into debates with people. This is what I’ve noticed about liberals in debates:

  • We make the mistake of stating our own facts. For example, we will start a debate with something like “Did you know that currently the rich are paying lower taxes than they were under Reagan?” You should never do this. Instead, take a tip from Sean: only ask vague questions that force the other person to stumble over their own words and define their own terms. No matter how smart they are, they will screw up eventually and then you can pounce.
  • We make the mistake of allowing smart people to finish their sentences. Notice how the moment the protester mentioned “regulation” it was as if a warning bell went off in Sean’s mind: “UH OH, this person might actually know what he is talking about!” So he immediately cut him off and shut it down. Whenever someone seems even slightly articulate, pounce in an intelligent-sounding word and say “TALKING POINT!” and dismiss it out of hand. Even if they are right.
  • We make the mistake of holding others to the same standards to which we hold ourselves. This is probably the biggest mistake that liberals make. And it needs to stop. Take a tip from Sean Hannity. Sean Hannity would never ask a Tea Partier exactly how lower government spending should lead to job growth, but an Occupy Wall Street protester has to have full and coherent understanding of how Wall Street actually functions before he’s allowed to protest wealth distribution inequality. Sean Hannity would never dream of asking a Tea Partier to lay out the numbers for a Flat Tax plan and explain how each and every segment of the government will be paid for under that plan; yet a Wall Street protester has to be able to explain not just what is wrong with the current economic system, but how to fix it. Naturally.

So listen up, Liberals, and do your homework! We could all learn a lesson from the skill of Sean Hannity.