How to Answer Twenty Tough Questions

The following questions are phrased from a relatively hostile point of view. Whether the questioner is actually hostile or just curious, your best answer always starts at a point of agreement and uses values.

  1. Do you favor abortion on demand?
Say . . .
I appreciate that abortion is a complex issue for the individuals involved. That’s why I feel that politicians should stay out of the very personal and private decision whether or not to have an abortion.

Note . . .

The first sentence agrees with the great majority of voters who hold conflicting feelings about the issue. The second sentence, by calling it a personal and private decision, brings to mind the value of privacy and works in poll after poll. However, keep in mind that most people are not persuadable and anyone who asks the question in such a biased manner is not likely to change positions. Give your best answer and move on. For a longer explanation, see Chapter 13.

  1. Should we give special rights to gay people?
Say . . .
If America stands for anything, it’s equal opportunity for all. If you have two children or grandchildren, and one is straight and the other gay, you still love them equally. You know the government should treat them fairly and equally. So LGBTQ people should be treated like everybody else and the law should ensure they’re not the victims of discrimination just because of who they are.

Note . . .

The equal opportunity frame usually works best. Appeal to love and finish with the antidiscrimination law that Americans overwhelmingly support. For more discussion, see Chapter 6.

  1. Do you favor “opportunity scholarships”?
Say . . .
We all want what’s best for our own children. If parents decide private school is best for their child, that’s great. But taxpayer dollars should not be taken out of our public schools to fund private schools. We need to focus our scarce tax dollars on the goal of having top-quality public schools so that each and every child has the opportunity to succeed, achieve, and live the American Dream.

Note . . .

The substance works because Americans oppose vouchers if they take money from the public schools. The bottom line: shift the debate away from failing schools and toward the importance of providing opportunity for all. For more about education, see Chapter 8.

  1. Aren’t public employees like teachers, firefighters and police getting too many health and pension benefits that taxpayers just can’t afford?
Say . . .
Our state/city/county should not waste a penny. We should pay fair wages and benefits, nothing more and nothing less. Based on what I’ve seen, I do not believe that the teachers, police officers and firefighters in our community are overpaid. But there are some government contractors with excessive subsidies or sweetheart contracts and we’ve got to crack down on those to save taxpayer dollars.

Note . . .

Polls show that die-hard conservatives think public employees are overpaid, but persuadable voters generally don’t feel that way. Refer to teachers and other public employees in our community because voters are much more supportive of public employees they know, especially schoolteachers, than faceless bureaucrats. Then move the discussion to the related issue of overpaid government contractors. This works best if you can show an example of corporations being overpaid in your jurisdiction. It shouldn’t be hard to find one.

  1. Do you favor gun control?
Say . . .
I support the Second Amendment. But like most Americans, I also support reasonable laws that help keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill. This particular gun violence protection legislation is just a modest, common sense measure to protect our public safety.

Note . . .

Persuadable voters support the Second Amendment. At the same time, 80-to-90 percent support closing the gun show loophole and requiring background checks for all gun purchases. By all means, appeal to common sense. For more about gun legislation, see Chapter 12.

  1. Do you favor prayer in schools?
Say . . .
I’m for freedom of religion. Children can freely pray in schools now, if it’s voluntary. The problem is government-sanctioned prayer, which was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court 60 years ago. It violates our freedom of religion for school boards, public schools or teachers to tell children how or when to pray.

Note . . .

People favor prayer in schools. But they also favor upholding our basic constitutional rights.

  1. Shouldn’t we lock up repeat criminals and throw away the key?
Say . . .
We certainly should lock up repeat violent offenders because that makes us safer. At the same time, we are safer if we prevent juveniles and petty criminals from becoming violent career criminals. We can lower the rate of repeat crimes if we send nonviolent drug offenders to addiction treatment instead of putting them in prison. Let’s focus on what works to make our communities safer.

Note . . .

Progressives tend to talk about helping criminals. We’re right, of course, but that won’t work with persuadable voters. Focus on public safety, not the criminal. For more about public safety, see Chapter 12.

  1. Do you believe in global warming?
Say . . .
We must protect the health, safety and security of our children and grandchildren. And they face a serious problem. Over 97 percent of climate scientists agree that humans are causing climate change. So we need to apply commonsense strategies now. We know how to implement clean energy solutions and we know that reducing fossil fuel dependence will make America stronger and our kids safer. It’s time to step up and get it done…our children are counting on it.

Note . . .

Progressives say climate change rather than global warming. It polls a little better and it more accurately describes the impact of excessive greenhouse gases. The one key fact that most persuadables don’t know is that there is a strong consensus among scientists that climate change is real and humans are causing it. Tie that to the security of your listeners’ children and grandchildren. For more about climate change, see Chapter 9.

  1. Shouldn’t we require drug tests for welfare recipients?
Say . . .
We should certainly discourage people from using illegal drugs. But we need to do it without wasting a lot of taxpayer dollars. States that have tried this policy have found that they spend much more tax money on drug testing than they save in cutting people off from assistance. Drug addiction is a problem across the nation and across income groups. Let’s focus on treatment and prevention programs that work.

Note . . .

Polls show that voters support drug testing for public assistance. Right wingers have introduced such legislation in dozens of states. It’s a tough issue.

  1. Illegal immigrants broke the law. Shouldn’t they be deported?
Say . . .
We should be true to American values and protect everyone’s right to due process and fair treatment under our Constitution. There are millions of immigrants who work hard and play by the rules, and they make our economy and our country stronger. Further, everyone agrees that it would be logistically impractical and outrageously expensive to seize and deport millions of people. The solution is for Congress to fix the federal immigration process, creating a roadmap to legal residence and citizenship.

Note . . .

Only the far-right base wants to deport all immigrants. Everyone else wants to fix the system.

  1. Shouldn’t schools teach the controversy between evolution and intelligent design?
Say . . .
The founders of our nation strongly supported freedom of religion. After all, many of their families came here to escape governments that imposed religion upon their citizens. So freedom of religion is the very heart of America. Virtually all scientists agree that intelligent design is not science, it is religion. That’s why children should learn about it in church, not in public school science classes.

Note . . .

Intelligent design is a difficult issue because half of Americans believe in some form of creationism, so you’ve got to lean heavily on their values. Religious people value freedom of religion.

  1. Do you favor the death penalty?
Say . . .
Our criminal justice system should be focused on making all of us safer. Since there is not an ounce of evidence that the death penalty deters any crime at all, we shouldn’t spend the enormous amounts of time and money needed to implement it. Instead, we should insist that our courts, prosecutors and police divert those resources toward efforts that actually diminish crime. Besides, there are so many people who have been sentenced to death who were later proven innocent. That’s an awful injustice, and it also pretty well guarantees that the real murderer remains at large and continues to threaten everyone’s safety.

Note . . .

Again, as much as possible, focus on public safety instead of injustice.

  1. Do you think that “corporations are people”?
Say . . .
Corporations are not people. They are pieces of paper; they are contracts with the state. Corporations are necessary for doing business and our laws should enable people to run businesses successfully. But corporations don’t deserve rights that are fundamental to people, like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly. Those rights belong to you and me.

Note . . .

It was Mitt Romney who said, “Corporations are people, my friends.” The idea that corporations have the right to freedom of speech is central to the Citizens United ruling that has resulted in uncontrolled spending in elections.

  1. Doesn’t environmental regulation lead to higher energy prices?
Say . . .
None of us likes it when prices rise. But I only support new rules that provide more benefit than cost. Environmental rules protect something that we all own together—our air, water, forests and parks—from abuse by just a few people. When they pollute for profit it is at our joint expense. We need fair and transparent rules to make sure environmental costs aren’t dumped on all of us.

Note . . .

Make the environment real to listeners. For more about the environment, see Chapter 9.

  1. Shouldn’t we stop the construction of a mosque in our neighborhood? They’re terrorists!
Say . . .
Freedom of religion is fundamental to America. The key to defending freedom is this: if we deny freedoms to other hardworking law-abiding people, that’s how we lose them ourselves. In this case, if a town can block construction just because it’s a mosque, then it can block Mormons or Seventh Day Adventists, Methodists or Catholics…or your own denomination. None of us are free unless all of us are free.

Note . . .

People adore freedom but honestly don’t understand it. You may have to explain it to them.

  1. Wouldn’t it hurt small businesses and cost jobs if we increased the minimum wage?
Say . . .
Our economy depends on small businesses. We have to encourage them. But all the evidence shows that increasing the minimum wage puts money in the pockets of people who will spend it almost immediately, which quickly generates business for the local economy. If we do it right, raising the minimum wage is a win-win.

Note . . .

American almost worship small businesses. Embrace them! The fact is, voters overwhelmingly support a substantial raise in the minimum wage, so this is not a difficult sell. To appeal to persuadable voters, focus on how the minimum wage stimulates the economy for everyone rather than how it helps the poor. For more, see Chapter 17.

  1. Why are you running for office?
Say . . .
The economy is terrible, people are hurting, and our state/city/county is not doing enough to solve the real problems. I’m running because we can do better. Our system works when everyone gets a fair shot, everyone gives their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules. My opponent’s policies are not fair; they rig the system to benefit the rich over the rest of us. My policies would ensure that everyone who works hard and plays by the rules has the opportunity to live the American Dream.

Note . . .

Everyone who runs for office must be ready to answer this question without hesitation. This is a generic example. If you run for office, personalize this to your campaign and your community, and then memorize it and repeat it every chance you get.

  1. Are you a tax-and-spend liberal?
Say . . .
I am a pragmatic and commonsense progressive. I support a balanced budget for our city/county/state. And I support tax fairness. We need to identify and cut tax breaks and loopholes that benefit the wealthy few at the expense of all the rest of us. Our overall goal should be to maintain and improve the quality of life here in [location], not just for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren.

Note . . .

Don’t get defensive. Smack this softball out of the park.

  1. Are you trying to knock down the free enterprise system?
Say . . .
No, I favor equal opportunity for everyone. That requires a system with rules of the road that make economic competition fair and open and honest. We need to ensure that everybody gets a fair shot, does their fair share, and plays by the same fair rules. Our goal must be to ensure that everyone who works hard and acts responsibly has the opportunity to live the American Dream.

Note . . .

Americans are opposed to economic unfairness. This harsh question gives you the opportunity to lay out your basic progressive economic theme.

  1. Are you a Socialist?
Say . . .
I support freedom, opportunity and security for all. We call that a Progressive.

Note . . .

If you’re in a crowd, smile. That ideologue just did you a favor.

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