When, Where, and Why to debate a big government person

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

When I was younger I tended to choose my side then argue it passionately. Often I did so with little care or understanding of my opponents beliefs. I don’t think I was foolish enough to actually believe that I would change the mind of my opposition, but somehow I didn’t seem to grasp the futility of trying to change someone’s mind when it has already been made up.

As conservatives, we must first understand that it is nearly impossible to convince a big government proponent that the government should be the last line of defense, not the first. However, we must keep in mind that, when we are debating, other people may be watching. Many of whom, may be the “independents.”

Partisans will always vote their party and are rarely swayed, but a majority of Americans are either apolitical or independent. It’s those independents that decide elections. That point cannot be overstated and must be understood if you are to have a discussion with your opposition.

Often, these independents quietly listen to both sides make their respective points, then go to the polls and vote without either side being aware they were even paying attention to them. We’re often ignorant to the fact that those on the fence are the ONLY ones to be swayed by who presents the best argument.

So it is important for conservatives to debate big government liberals every chance we get, but with the knowledge of what we can reasonably achieve doing so. Mark Twain wisely said, “Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”   It is important that we keep this in mind. So let me introduce you to “Gary’s rules about arguing with a big government proponent”:


I love debating politics on Facebook or in person when others are around because I hope to sway a few independents. I have no intention of actually swaying the liberal themselves because I know that’s virtually impossible. Big Government vs small government is often a core belief, just like religion, and it is rare someone lets go of that. I can only hope to present a better argument than my opponent for those who are watching. However, arguing with a big government type by yourself is utterly pointless unless raising your blood pressure was recommended by your doctor. So don’t waste your time even trying.


Always let them say everything they are trying to say because, more often than not, they will shoot themselves in the foot. Let’s talk about Nancy Pelosi’s famous, “We have to pass the bill to see what’s in it” statement. Had I said to someone prior to that that Nancy Pelosi is not very bright, people might have thought I was just being mean or simply didn’t like her. The more she speaks and makes statements like that, the more she demonstrates it all on her own without me having to come off as mean-spirited. So by all means, if you get one that’s about to spew nonsensical ideas, let them do so without interruption. Independents are smart enough to know insanity when they hear it. So let them hear it without interruption.


This is important because you want to demonstrate you’re the intelligent one in the argument.

I’ll give you an unrelated example that always annoys me. Comedians often joke about those annoying mattress tags and the illegality of removing them. To most, it seems like big government nonsense. However, it is only illegal for the SELLER to remove the tag, not the buyer. This is because the tag outlines the chemical content of the mattress so that a buyer with allergies can know prior to purchase if they’re facing a potential health hazard sleeping on the mattress. Unscrupulous salespeople may have removed such tags because the information on them might cost them a sale. However, the buyer legally has a right to know that stuff before they spend their hard earned money. So if you make such a joke, people who understand why the tag is there will be aware of your ignorance regarding the subject, and to them you’ll look like a dolt.

So in order to dismantle someone’s argument, understanding it is crucial lest you risk looking like the ignorant one.


Communism is evil! We conservatives have felt that way since the beginning of time. However, independents that grew up reading the story of Robin Hood are not often as convinced.

Ronald Reagan once joked, “How do you tell a communist? Well, it’s someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It’s someone who understands Marx and Lenin”

He was making a humorous quip as he often did so well, but it demonstrates a valid point. Some independents are that way because they have little interest in learning about politics and the fundamentals between capitalism vs. communism. For many, it’s simply a boring subject. If you tell them robing from the rich and giving to the poor is evil, they’re not going to buy it.

So if I were to argue against socialism, it is important I acknowledge the morality of the notion that if we all pooled our resources and worked hard as a unit, no one would be left behind and no one would live in poverty. Once you acknowledge that, THEN you move on to the how it has historically played out in the real world.

The importance of empathy for your opponent cannot be understated. If you debate that way, independents will get the impression that you gave your opponent’s view serious consideration before deciding it was wrong based on the historical data. It shows objectivity, which is critical to being seen as the most genuine person in the room.


When one wants to be entertained, they watch a comedian. When they want to learn something, they ask a scientist. If you’re debating, you’re trying to educate. So leave the personal attacks to the other side. Big government types LOVE to call us small government folks evil, greedy, heartless, etc., and they often use much more colorful language to do so.

DON’T BITE! Stick to the facts and show that you’re above the name calling. While attacks can be entertaining, they’re rarely seen as the work of a genius. If all they do is call me names and tell me I’m an idiot, and all I do is recite historical facts, science, logic and reasoning to counter their argument, who do you think will win the debate in the minds of the viewers?

We all know the cliché that those who profess their innocence the loudest are that much more likely to be guilty. Even if you’ve never heard the cliché, you’ve probably experienced it by watching an episode of Judge Alex. So less passion and more logic in your argument will assure you’re deemed as “the smart one”. Don’t get drawn into a fight. Let your opponents act like schoolyard bullies while you recite facts, make intelligent points, and show objectivity and reason. You can’t help but sway a few independents to your side debating like that.




The Ten Commandments for GOP presidential candidates

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

Have you ever been around someone who constantly attacks other people, complains as if their life depends on it, and deals in personal and/or ad hominem attacks?

What did you think of that person?

I’m guessing words like “Leader, Visionary, Brilliant…Presidential” didn’t come to mind.

Unfortunately, the angry person I describe above, characterized quite a few of the GOP presidential contenders in the last primary debates.  Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum dealt attacks as if they were part of their religion. Meanwhile, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and oddly enough Ron Paul, seemed to stay on point—largely ignoring their opponents.

President Reagan’s famous 11th commandment—Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican—was largely ignored. Reagan knew that such attacks not only make you look petty and unprofessional, but they also give your opponents ammunition to use against your own party later in the general election. Since he won 44 states the first election, and 49 the second, I’d say he’s a decent presidential role model to learn from.

Aside from that, running on the “At least I’m not him/her” platform doesn’t convince people you are exceptional, because it doesn’t showcase your ideas; it just demonstrates you don’t like your opponent.

Herman Cain
Herman Cain

It’s also important to understand that party loyalists don’t win elections; independents do. The majority of Americans can easily be swayed to the left or right depending on who has the most positive message—Obama proved that style wins over substance. A majority of Americans do not like his policies (when they’re told of them without knowing they’re Obama’s ideas), yet he resides in the White House because he has a positive character and demeanor that convinced independents he was the best candidate. These voters largely ignored the substance behind his rhetoric, and didn’t apply much critical thinking when he spoke, because they just liked him so much as a person.

With that in mind, here are my Ten Commandments for the upcoming crop of presidential hopefuls.

1) Never speak ill of your opponent: Only talk about what you would do to fix the current situation. If you get attacked, defend yourself without attacking back. Don’t make a case as to why the other candidate is a worse candidate than you. Make your case for why YOU are the best candidate—period.

2) Always stay positive: Ever notice that even when Reagan cracked on Carter, it always came off as polite ribbing or a humorous quip? That wasn’t an accident. He won because he came off as a good man, not a hateful one. He was always amiable and affable. If you want people to vote for you, they first have to like you, and no one likes a hater.

3) Lose the fake smile: You’re not fooling anyone, so don’t fake any mannerisms; especially your smile. Anyone who has ever taken a picture knows the difference between a real and a forced one when they see it. So anything that doesn’t appear genuine comes off as a lie, including your smile. You’re politicians, not actors—just be yourself.

4) Sell your message to independents and conservatives alike: Preaching to the choir may get you the party nomination, but it will rarely get you the election. Assume that people aren’t on your side from the start, and tell them why they should join you. Reach out to non-traditional GOP voting blocks and try to find the common ground with them instead of ignoring them.

5) By all means be detailed in your plan, but simplify your message: You want everyone from economic geniuses to those with little to no experience in economics or politics to understand what you are saying. There was a perception that Newt Gingrich was the smartest man in the last debates, but to the politically uninformed, he just came off as someone who used a lot of big words they didn’t understand. This made him seem untrustworthy since it appeared he was just pulling the wool over their eyes. Find a way to give enough details to show the informed you aren’t just blowing smoke and you have a workable plan, but make it understandable to all.

Newt Gingrich

6) Try to find something good to say about your opponent before you criticize their policies: I specify policies, because if you criticize them personally or their character, you might as well just quit now and save your donors from supporting the next presidential runner-up.

Let me give an example: If you were debating against Obama, you might say something like: “Obama did show courage in sending troops into Pakistan to kill Bin Laden, and he absolutely deserves credit for that. But pulling the troops out of Iraq under an aggressive timeline puts our troops and the mission in danger”.

This shows objectivity. When you demonstrate you can give credit to your opponent when it is due, then it shows independents that your criticisms are honest, not just incessant bemoaning by a partisan who will never say a positive word about their political rivals.

Admit when you make a mistake: Herman Cain and Rick Perry admitted to previous mistakes in the debates.  This did great things for their likability. On the other hand, Mitt Romney continuing to support his health care plan as he condemned Obama’s looked completely disingenuous and hypocritical. Blindly defending everything you’ve done and never admitting fallibility shows that you are not honest. Everyone knows that people make mistakes. If you can’t admit to yours, any credibility you may have had goes out the window.

Show flexibility: People want to know that you’re willing to grow and change as president. If you’re inflexible, it says you’ll never get anything done. It’s an extension of not admitting mistakes. Herman Cain revamped his 9-9-9 plan to 9-0-9 for the impoverished in an effort to show his flexibility. Partisans think it shows weakness. Independents think it shows willingness to improve and work with others.

Scientists change their hypotheses all the time based on new information, because it’s the most effective method to attain the truth. There’s a lesson in that.

Crack a joke now and then: “I will not let my opponent’s youth and experience be an issue…” ~ Ronald Reagan. It was moments like that that made America love Reagan. If you’re a horrible joke teller, don’t force it, because it will come off horribly. But genuine light-hearted humor shows your human side. No one wants to elect a robot.

Don’t manufacture rage: Entirely too often, candidates will take an issue that no one really cares about and make a big deal about it.
Every chink in your opponent’s armor should not be seen as an opportunity to attack, it risks the “crying wolf” effect. Eventually your rage is just seen as incessant whining, and it makes you look petty and immature.

Save your rage for things that most Americans are honestly upset about and let the media pundits make a big deal out of the little things for your base. Behaving cool as a cucumber until a real crisis confronts you looks presidential.

For a great example of how to behave this way, look at former White House Press Secretary and Fox News analyst, Dana Perino. She’s certainly a Republican, but every time she’s on set, she’s fair in her analysis, so that when she does truly report on something we should all be furious about, you tend to take her more seriously than others who are in full-blown attack mode 100% of the time. She rarely takes the bait when given an opportunity to turn a molehill into a mountain.

Former White House Press Secretary and Fox News Analyst Dana Perino
Former White House Press Secretary and Fox News Analyst Dana Perino

I could go on, but those ten are a good start. I implore every conservative candidate to remember that you win more bees with honey. Respect the other position first, those on the fence between that position and yours will laud you for it. Once you’ve shown them some respect, THEN point out why you think your opinion is better. If you follow the Commandments, you’ll find that those on the fence will decide they’d rather be in your backyard than your opponent’s.

log·i·cal: capable of reasoning or of using reason in an orderly cogent fashion lib·er·tar·i·an: an advocate of the doctrine of free will; a person who upholds the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action

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