Talking Without Listening (aka, political conversations suck)

I’ve done a lot of source-based, in-depth blog posts so far. Some have been better received than others (sadly, the Gerrymandering one is unloved and it was, like, my favorite one). Those type of posts take a lot of time and stuff, mostly because, unlike politicians, I am not keen on talking completely out of my ass. But I don’t want this site to exclusively be article-style diatribes, even though I think those are useful and will keep doing them. So today I’d like to do something different.

I’d like to talk about how we talk.

Since I’ve started this blog, I have had a handful of really productive conversations online and in person. That’s a good thing! Because we’re not just gridlocked in Congress: we’re gridlocked as people. We don’t listen to anyone whose views differ from us. We retreat to news sources that are predisposed to favor our way of thinking. I truly believe that is a phenomenon that has been made worse by the dramatic spike in conservatism among Republicans and the vile hive of scum and villainy that is Fox News.

See, we need both parties to find common ground. That is, quite literally, the only way this works. The problem is, we can’t START the conversation right, let alone have it. Here’s what I mean.

Climate Change

The conversation we SHOULD be having is HOW to fix things, not whether we should. The GOP should be arguing for things like more state and local control, implementing business restrictions in phases, and seeking subsidies to insure that it doesn’t hurt a company’s bottom line. The should NOT be arguing that it isn’t happening. How can we reach a compromise if one side refuses to even acknowledge the problem?

Gun Control

Obviously, I wrote about this one at length. Again, the starting point should be “Shit! Kids are dying kind of a lot. We should fix that.” And then the Democrats and Republicans hash out a compromise between gun restrictions, registration requirements, and mental health reform. Instead, this is what happens:


And just like that, it becomes a fight about facts. I say again, a FIGHT about FACTS. Facts are true whether or not you believe them. And yet, we can’t get to the point where we’re talking about solutions because we can’t get the other side to agree to a problem! Take that conversation for example. For about an hour, I tried to convince these friends of a friend of mine to give me an actual solution on the premise that NOBODY wants kids to be killed in shootings. It did not go well.


After a few hours of this, I surrendered. I would say “can you think of anything we can try” and I would get “it’s not as bad as people say,” “we shouldn’t talk about it as much,” and “I won’t live in a police state.”

To be fair to these guys, I think they thought they were making a clear point. But then they did that thing that people do where they started just telling each other how right they were. And that was that. How can we EVER get to a solution on gun violence when this is how we talk?

Minimum Wage

Then came yesterday. Man, I thought I had this one in the bag. A minimum wage discussion. I had so many facts at my disposal. I had economists in agreement. I had percentages and predictions and I thought that if anyone disagreed it would be about the implementation and not the core concept I was arguing.

Wrong again.


Okay, so it started so good. He actually said I made “compelling points!” Finally! A discussion with a conservative-minded person that is substantive! Except…

Well, let’s look at the stats he is “confused” on.

1.) “88% is too high.. the answer to that was actually 76%. Table 7.. those 20-24 is 26.5% and 25 and over is 49.4%. That’s 75.9% (unless you are looking at another table).”

Literally the first bold statement in this article has the 88% number. I explained to him that the link he cited was older.  A year older. And that since that time, the number moved to 88%. That’s why I used that newer article.

2.) Then you say that 32,000 families fall into the category of minimum wage. Again, not sure how you came up with that. 32,000 workers are in that category, but one worker doesn’t equal one family, FYI.

Okay, this is a bit of a semantic argument. He’s right, I said “families” and that’s probably too general. I should have said workers. I was trying to humanize it and chose the wrong synonym. Mea culpa.

3.) Women actually make up 64%, according to Table 7, not 55%.

Again, I pointed out that the newer data here said 55%.

4.) Lastly, “many” means more than a few. 24% are 19 or less (basically high school aged)

Oh, no he di’nt.


In an attempt to defend Pete Ricketts saying that “many workers” who make minimum wage are teenagers, this person (A) tried to argue about percentages and (B) tried to change the definition of “many.” Still, not that bad of an argument all things considered.



ZING! See, it was all set up to mock me! HAHA! Except…at no point did I ever once use a statistic that wasn’t clearly cited. It’s possible the New York Times, that Old Gray Lady, is wrong. But that’s not on me, I hope.

Instead of considering the actual content, we argue about form. In fact, even if his numbers were right (they aren’t, they were older), it changes nothing about the point I was trying to make. Which is that (A) economists think we should raise the minimum wage and (B) Pete Ricketts gave a lame, unsupported reason for not doing it.

But again, we can’t talk about HOW to implement minimum wage hikes. We have to argue semantics of word definitions.

How to talk politics

Truthfully, I don’t know.

On the day I published the gun blog, I responded to everyone who was aggressive with a series of questions. “What would you support?” “How would you change things?’ I got “You can’t take my guns” as the number one response. I know we’re far apart on a lot of issues in this country, but for the love of God we have to be able to start with the simplest of agreements, don’t we? Thinks like “I don’t want the planet to die” or “We need to keep kids safe.” But we don’t. We just wind up arguing over our opinions on facts, which isn’t a thing you can ever succeed at.

I think my next strategy is going to be this: Whenever I get into a political dialogue, I’m going to ask the person “Is there literally anything I can say to you that will change your mind?” I just want to know ahead of time. My next question is going to be “Can you give me one thing we agree on?”

The only way a two-party system works is if Red and Blue sometimes make purple. That’s not a euphemism. We need to stop arguing about facts, stop arguing about what to argue about, and start listening to what each side is saying. The hard part has been, in my experience, that conservatives often confuse anecdotal evidence for actual evidence and take increasingly firm and extreme positions. I had a gun debate yesterday in which I used the phrase “I am not going to take a single gun from you” about a dozen times. The assertion still kept coming back that I was trying to ban guns.

It’s maddening.

It’s frustrating.

It causes me to drink.

But I know that it has to happen. Because right now, our politicians in Washington and in our capitol buildings are content to bunker down and defend only their beliefs. That’s because we let them and we do the same thing ourselves.

So, I ask you to help. If you get in a political conversation this weekend, retreat to  “Is there literally anything I can say to you that will change your mind?” and “Can you give me one thing we agree on?” It probably won’t work. But it’s worth a try.

And if you think of anything better, please let me know.

Oh, and for the love of God, if you actually reach a place of compromise, record that shit for posterity. I need to know it can happen!



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