Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Book Review: How To Win A Fight With A Conservative

Appearing at The Jaundiced Eye, the Independent Bloggers' Alliance, and My Left Wing.

The holidays are breathing down our necks and we all know what that means: fighting with relatives. I am blessed to be from a primarily liberal family, as is my husband, so political discussions rarely turn Thanksgiving Dinner into a blood sport. Many are not so lucky. Daniel Kurtzman offers a few helpful tips on political family squabbles in How to Win a Fight with a Conservative. (A companion volume, How to Win a Fight with a Liberal is available to balance out the playing field. I skimmed the latter.)

DON'T let Uncle Buckwald hold the dinner table hostage. Fact-check him right then and there using the Internet browswer on your BlackBerry or cell phone. Counter him point-for-point, fire off contradictory statistics, and apply duct tape as needed. Rembember, conservatives hate facts. They get in the way of sweeping generalizations. It's like sunlight to a vampire.

. . .

DO attempt to recruit impressionable family members to your side, particularly when they're young; for example, give your seven-year-old nephew a copy of the complete Star Wars saga on DVD and explain how Jedis are Democrats and the evil Sith Lords are Republicans -- as identified by their blue and red light sabers.

DO quote the Bible when arguing with your religious relatives, as beating zealots with their own stick can be a blissful religious experience. Be sure to bring up the parts they choose to gloss over, like "love thy neighbor," "the meek shall inherit the Earth," and "thou shall not molest thine underage page."

The books are at turns glib, cliched, and surprisingly insightful. Kurtzman, who defines himself as a liberal, explains the companion books as an attempt even out the debate. Despite his lighthearted approach, he clearly takes politics seriously. While he offers basic information on rhetorical devices and tips for spotting weaknesses in arguments, he also includes talking points and step-by-step guides on some of the more longstanding issues, such as "Iraq: Why It's a Catastrofuck."

Especially good are numerous Cosmo style quizzes designed to help you pick your battles and assess your own strengths and weaknesses before you wade into the fray. They're fun, humorous, and very much on target. From the first quiz, "What Breed of Liberal Are You?" I learned that I am a "label-defying iconoclast." Okay. No shock there.

If I have a single bone to pick with Kurtzman's approach, it's in his section on internet flamewars. Some of us take flaming quite seriously and will want to shun such as advice as: "feel free to invent your own facts" and "pretend to be someone you're not."

I also think the simplistic, binary, Democratic=liberal, Republican=conservative format of the books limits the potential for a truly constructive political dialog. But then, I am a "label-defying iconoclast."