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Commentary: How to Talk with Conservatives

By Elizabeth Sachs

Buffalo, NY – President Bush saw fit to militate his most-extreme, black-and-white-thinking right wing to see him into office. They are a powerful contingent. Will liberalism survive in this newly militated and consolidated environment? I hope so. I have experimented, over the past two years, in chat rooms, with rhetorical strategies that may get through to right-wing types. Additionally, I teach at a community college in an impoverished country full of many who, for reasons right or wrong, have turned to black-and-white thinking for their succor. I have some rhetorical strategies to offer, for getting through to right-wing types. I do not offer them satirically.

First, in chat rooms, I've noticed it's crucial to refer to right-wing types paternally. I am female, but in chat rooms gender is disguised, and I've noticed maternal emendations get through only to liberals. For right-wingers, "son" is a good signal of d tente, plus something that assures said right-winger that one is male, and paternal. Something fatherly goes best, and a kindly father at that. For example, "Son, I've noticed you see a little het-up about guns, but son just pause and think a minute."

Which brings me to my second point. Sound Southern. If you're a liberal, and want to persuade a right-winger, read up on the South. If you've never been South, you should read some Mark Twain, especially about Judge Thatcher in Tom Sawyer. Judge Thatcher ultimately settles matters about Injun Joe, and the Judge is fatherly AND Southern. Paternal Southernisms soothe right-wingers. You should say, "Son, I've notice y'all seem to think. . . thus and such." If you don't possess Southern nomenclature, and studying Twain discombobulates you, then just use lots of apostrophes. Apostrophes are soothing. You can even use them correctly, in chats and in written venues of all types. Despite what you may think, correctness does not intimidate a right-winger.

However, point three, they do NOT want to be condescended to. Never, never, never condescend. Any smack of arrogance will slay you. You may be tempted to condescend, you may find arrogance irresistible, you may find your head is imploding with the effort of not condescending. But. Never, never, never condescend.

What to do instead? Be humorous. Vent your spleen in humor! "Son, I've noticed that ya'll's definition of 'assault weapon' would scare the hide off a bear because your definition, son, is all screwed up! That bear would run nekked into the woods, blushing in his hindermost parts. . . " Be clever, and paternal, and Southern, do NOT condescend, and vent your anger in clever humor that will give you comfort. You may need some fruit juice at this point, for Vitamin C. Have it handy.

Finally, quote the Bible. I'm a preacher's daughter, so quoting is easy for me. But if you don't feel easy with the Bible, GOOGLE "Bible" and go from there. I suggest mostly passages about Jesus's kindly affiliation with the poor. Quotes about eyes of needles and camels and rich persons also come in handy. "Son, Dick Cheney has as much chance at heaven as a camel through the eye of a needle" will win you points. As a note: stick to the New Testament. The latter days of Christ are best. Stay away from virgin births, unless you want to dispute choice versus life with a right-winger, which NO one wants to do. We liberals should learn from Vietnam, to stay away from quagmires.

Finally, and this goes along with the "don't condescend" thing don't assume right-wingers aren't smart, just because they think blackly and whitely. I have a class of community college students George Bush might be said to slobber for, so disenfranchised are they, with poor prospects beyond being cannon fodder or working for Wal-Mart selling assault weapons. This same class worked out Existentialism in a New York minute. They're smart, all right. They just need a father figure, who loves and supports them, as I aim to be if W. doesn't get to them first.

As for 2008? We liberals need a paternal figure, male or female, with a good sense of humor and an ability to adopt a Southern twang. Hillary? Maybe. . . . But she'd better bone up on her Mark Twain between now and then.

Listener-Commentator Elizabeth Sachs teaches English Literature at Niagara County Community College.