My wife and I don’t argue often because we’ve been married so long we know each other’s positions on most matters. She thinks dogs on couches are a bad idea, while I think they’re great. She’s thumbs down on watching “Tin Cup” for the millionth time, while I believe such cultural enlightenment is always a fine notion. And as for a Krispy Kreme doughnut run at midnight; well, we both like that, but she pretends she doesn’t.
That said, she will readily tell you that when I debate you’d better strap your helmet on. I think quickly, I manipulate words like a 12-year-old playing "Grand Theft Auto," and I can rapidly reduce even well-positioned opponents into drooling zombies of self-doubt. As a friend once told me with a scowl after I had gutted and skinned her in an argument, “You know you are wrong. You just have a way of sounding right.”
I’m not proud of this. It is an inherently unfair way to fight, and it can send genuine information scattering out of the discussion. But I mention it because the political debating season starts in earnest this week, and you’re going to see a lot of people pulling this trick.
Oh sure, on the surface, these clashes are supposed to be about plans, policies, and facts. But these days debates are more like Ronda Rousey bouts; the coverage is all about quick strikes, verbal judo, and the arm-bar-take-down of Jeb Bush by Rand Paul. (Which won’t happen, but would be hilarious!) In other words, what matters is the general impression that each debater leaves — not whether he or she is right, has good ideas, or sticks to the truth.
So my advice is to watch all these debates with skepticism. Don’t be fooled by how the candidates speak, but at the end of each applause line ask yourself “What did that candidate actually say?”
And let the dog onto the couch to watch with you.
Tom Foreman is a CNN correspondent and author of the upcoming book “My Year of Running Dangerously”