In the face of difficult questions, the most talented egos use impeccable sleights of language to rebrand their behaviours to seem heroic. This series is dedicated to those rhetorician-magicians.
VI: HOW TO AVOID QUESTIONS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE (you are here)
Congratulations! I understand you’ve decided to go into politics. It can be a lot of fun for your pension, but tedious for your brain and ego. Whereas in the outside world, the truth allows for shades of grey and humility, when you are a politician, you must pretend—with every inflection of your tone—that your way is always 100% the right way, and that your opponents are not only wrong, but embarrassingly so.
To achieve such focussed confidence in a world of nuance, you must think of yourself as a politician-magician. When you see a question you don’t want to answer, your duty is to distract the audience with sleights of language, so that you can replace the question with one you do want to take on. This may sound daunting, but you will not be on stage alone: utilizing the following easy-to-learn techniques from many great prevaricators before you, you too can become your society’s Confuser in Chief.
1. ELOCUTION, ELOCUTION, ELOCUTION:
No matter what the question or quandary, never let them see you ponder. Instead, make your body language and tone tell your audience that you are self-assured and party-assured in every subject under your jurisdiction’s sun. Show us that there is no question too big for you by smiling and nodding thoughtfully during the interviewer’s question (use “Mmm-hmm”s if you’re on the radio) as though you think it’s a great question, even if (especially if) you’re about to sidestep it. Stay calm. No matter how wildly you avoid a query, if you sound relaxed as you’re doing it, the less likely it is that your audience will think you’re doing it on purpose. At worst, those nit-wits will just think you misunderstood the question.
2. NEVER ANSWER A QUESTION YOU DON’T LIKE:
Now that you’ve got your tone in place, you’re ready to start waffling. The first thing to keep in mind is that the questions your interviewer attacks you with don’t always comport with your campaign slogans. The interviewers are trying to trick you into going off your key messages. Don’t let them manipulate you! Think of their questions as first drafts: your job is to edit their queries into something you’d prefer. For instances:
A. THE TICKLE AND TANGENT:
Start by complimenting or humorously acknowledging the question, and then zipping into your talking point. Try this:
INTERVIEWER: What’s your position on Eco-1000-dusters? Are they doing more environmental harm than good?
YOU: That’s a great question; in fact, I think the level of dust in our air is a cruical question of our time—one which my opponent routinely ingores! For me the first order of business is making sure we support everyone in our community who’s ready to make a positive contribution to improve our air quality.
See how you’ve acknowledged the question by both complimenting it and showing how your opponent has no answer for it. That tickle was all you needed to prove that you could discuss the subject. Now you can freely segue away to empty phrases without any obligation to join those dusty depths, yourself!
B. THE FLIP AND QUIP:
When asked a direct question about your plan that would prove daunting for you to handle, remember these simple words, “I’ll tell you what we will do…” of better yet, “I’ll tell you what we’re not going to do.” The directness of your words hides the indirectness of your answer. Watch this:
INTERVIEWER: So does that mean you’ll be increasing the fine for tree-eating even though you once said that tree-eaters were getting a bad rap?
YOU: I tell you what we’re not going to do. We’re not going to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on police services trying to catch tree eaters. However, the (evil) purple party will.
YOU: I tell you what I am going to do. I’m going to plant 1000 more trees a year, especially in parks where children play.
C. THE HYPOTHETICAL-ANTITHETICAL:
Hypotheticals can be the best of questions, and they can be the worst of questions. But the neat thing is you only have to answer the ones you like because the “Hypothetical Convention of 1901” states that politicians can always have sanctuary from hypotheticals by simply pointing them out. So, when you hear an “If” or “Would you” contemplation that your party policy can easily handle, great! Answer away. However, if the hypothetical question isn’t so digestible, then simply say, “I/we don’t answer hypotheticals” or “I/we don’t deal in hypotheticals.” You see, because the hypothetical convention was signed by all political parties (and hockey coaches, for that matter), it is considered bad form for the interviewer to try to press you on it. On the rare occasion that they do, simply re-assert your right to plead the hypothetical convention, then apply the FLIP AND QUIP (see above).
D. THE POLITICALLY CORRECT MISDIRECT:
Regardless of what era in history you are reading this, there will always be particular groups that are seen as more in need of consideration than others, and so when you refer to them, you gain points for compassion. And the neat thing is it doesn’t matter whether what you’re doing for that group is actually helpful or ethical: once you have said something in celebration of that group, it’s hard for anyone to criticize you because you can immediately imply that they don’t care about said group if they do.
So, when questions get tough, point out that your concern for X group (if in doubt, go with children) won’t allow your conscience to consider such a course of action, “but…” and now get to your talking point, or better yet, tell a story about a child you met on the campaign trail who motivated you to do more on this particular issue. This is a segue that’s hard for an interviewer to crack, because—if they try to re-direct you when you’re emotionally describing your concern for children—they’ll likely be seen as callous.
HINT: To get extra credit for your anecdotal interaction with such a citizen-of-significance, include a location that will impress the voters, such as meeting the person on transit, at a firefighter-saving workshop, or a single mom convention. For instance:
“I remember talking to Cindy Lou, a single grandmother of eight, while on the bus to her subsidized housing complex. She doesn’t like my opponent either. She, like me, was concerned about the state of children in our society.”
E. THE DISTRACTION-REACTION:
If there is an issue that has on its poles two politically unpalatable positions, try to let your opponents hash out the unwieldy terrain. Be patient. Let them get some good shots in. Then, once they’ve wounded each other with hard-hitting criticisms, refer to their fight as a distraction from a much more important (i.e. less politically contentious) topic. In fact, now would be a good time for a Politically Correct Misdirect (see above). Give it a try:
OPPONENT 1: We must invest in more arsenic-testing of our soft drinks to save lives.
OPPONENT 2: Arsenic-poisoning is so rare, but the expense of such testing will cost the economy billions of dollars.
OPPONENT 1: So you’re saying Let people die?
OPPONENT 2: No, I’m saying Don’t let the economy die.
YOU: All of this bluster is a distraction from the fact that neither of you has a policy that will keep strychnine away baby kangaroos. Today, I met Gilda, a single mother of a baby kangaroo, and she told me that her daughter…
F. THE COMPLEX AND FLEX:
Before your interview, review your thesaurus and any complicated statistics that you happen to like. When you’re backed into a corner, bring out the big words and numbers. Most people won’t look them up; and most interviewers won’t want to admit if they don’t understand them, so, if you can confuse them, they will move onto the next question to avoid looking like they can’t keep up with you.
HINT: If you’re worried the interviewer might be able to follow your train of distraction, combine several big words and numbers and roll them out as quickly as you can to keep even the fastest of minds from following you.
G. THE RE-DIRECT DEFLECT:
And, finally, sometimes you’ll be dealing with one of those mean interviewers who will point out that you haven’t answered their question. Do not panic; do not blink. Stay on your redirect message, and reassert your irrelevant answer. Most interviewers will move on after one re-try, but if not, then try saying, “I’ve already answered that,” (given that you’ve now been talking about the same question for a while now, most of your audience won’t remember whether you’ve answered it or not), and then help your interviewer escape the stumble in the conversation by segueing into a FLIP AND QUIP (see above).
If you can master these techniques, you will be a politician, my friend. Remember, politics is not about who has the best plan for your society: it is about who can sound like they do.
VI: HOW TO AVOID QUESTIONS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE (you were just here)