Kevin Drum asks, Who’s On the Left’s Television A-Team? This comes from Paul Krugman’s lackluster performance up against Joe Scarborough on the Charlie Rose Show. Afterwards, even Krugman said it was his Denver debate and, “I was tired, cranky, and unready for the blizzard of misleading factoids and diversionary stuff.” And so Drum (and even more a liberal friend of his who was very disappointed) asked, “Who do we have on the left who’s got the real-world debating skills to take on someone like Scarborough?”
There are a lot of people, of course. Let’s face it: Krugman is not and never has been good on TV or in front of a lectern. Even after a lot of experience, he suffers from stage fright. He just isn’t comfortable up in front of people. There are a lot of people like that: they never get over it. Yet in print, he shows himself to be an incredible rhetorician. But he is well aware of his strengths and weaknesses. This morning he wrote about someone who called him “unimpressive”: “I’ve had the experience of being overlooked by the people who were supposed to meet me at the airport, and eventually being told, ‘We expected you to be taller’.” (I’ve had this same experience with being interviewed by people; they think based upon my writing that I will be dramatic and organized; the fools!)
One thing I don’t think we should try is to be something that we aren’t. As Dean Baker says: the facts are on our side. We have to learn to be as good as possible at explaining our ideas. What we don’t need to be is more charming. I find Arthur Laffer charming as hell. But his arguments can be easily carved up. We liberals may not be fun, but we can be effective. You can’t really learn charm. You can learn right wing canards and effective ways to counter them.
This reminds me of the film Flock of Dodos, about the fight between the scientists and the Intelligent Design folks. The ID people are very charming—they’re just like your grandmother! It looks very bad for the scientists because they aren’t good at talking on TV and the ID people seem so nice: why not let them bring their bullshit into the classrooms? But at the end, it is clear that the scientists are most effective when they they toss aside all the niceties and just say, “This is bullshit. Here is how it works. You want to go off and pray to your God and think that everything was explained 2000 years ago, fine. But that isn’t science and you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
What I’m talking about is authenticity. We need to stick with who we are. Liberals don’t hold their opinions because that’s just what liberals believe. They hold those opinions because they are open to evidence—because they are looking for the best outcomes. And that is our greatest strength. If we start hiring our own Frank Luntzes and packaging talking points to appeal to the masses, we lose. The masses really are smart. They really can be convinced of our wonky ideas. And here’s the best thing of all: they already pretty much agree with us on all the issues. (Except the death penalty.)
So the only thing liberals need to do is get better at being liberals. Oh, and also: keep anxiety prone liberals off TV!
Here is 5 minutes of Baker’s lecture when he talks about this: