Editor’s note: The following is a conversation between Dana Perino and Greg Gutfeld, co-hosts of “The Five” on Fox News Channel about his new book, “How To Be Right: The Art of Being Persuasively Correct” (Crown Forum, October 27, 2015).
DANA PERINO: How hard is it to be right all the time? It must be exhausting.
GREG GUTFELD: It’s very hard, which is why in between those long vast expanses of being right, I insert periods in which I am wrong, on purpose, just to rest. For example, on page 60 of the book, I said that Scott Walker would be in the top tier of Republican candidates for president by the time this book comes out.
Obviously he has dropped out. This incorrect prediction was inserted to give myself and the reader some welcome rest from all my perfections. I also said that if he wasn’t in the top tier, I would eat my hat. And I plan to, because my hat is made from delicious Kobe beef. And true to my word, I will eat that hat. With some onion salt.
DP: We’ve been doing “The Five” for four years, and you are constantly, and with good reason, getting frustrated with people who fail to make their case effectively. Is that your point about needing to be “persuasively correct?”
GG: Yes. Because we often share the same opinions with those who cannot make the case for themselves, and it taints our own attempts to persuade people that we are right. For example, immigration.
Always ask yourself – is there another way to say what you’re saying that’s part of general life?
I know good folks who believe strongly that immigration hurts job prospects for minorities. I agree …. sometimes. Then I read other research that moves me in another direction. They point to the idea that new blood creates more jobs and commerce – which raises all boats. So the area is grey, and we should admit it for god’s sake. I don’t get the crazy desire to scream that you have the answer. Your only desire should be to reject dishonesty. Not to win, as if it’s some team sport.
Getting mad only leads to madness. The immigration question is a serious one, and shouldn’t be left to nativists and finger sniffing weirdos on Twitter (you know who you are).
As for leaders, I don’t want to spend my time explaining people who, as my leaders, should be explaining stuff to me. You never had to explain Reagan - you just got it. But now, every candidate requires a translator….
“No Trump didn’t mean this, he meant that.” “What Ben Carson was trying to say is this.” “Jeb was trying to express this, not that.”
Mind you, this is far from demanding people to be politically correct – but rather to be persuasively correct. There’s a difference between being politically incorrect, and boorish. And we’ve seen that line crossed a dozen times by smart people who’ve mistaken politics for punditry. How do you not fall for that? I bet in Chapter 4 I have an answer.
DP: Chapter 4 of your book is about using The Left’s dirty tricks to win – that isn’t in our nature, so how can we get comfortable doing it?
GG: Try it once, and you’ll like it. I get it: we find it awkward to argue, especially when you know the left has pop culture, a likeminded media, and an irrational immature celeb cult to back it up. You will always be the bad guy. SO why not appropriate their gimmickry. Why not call them the heartless? The bigoted? The insensitive? But as always, you must do this with a smile, and facts. Lots a facts. If they call your party racist: remind them where the original sin of racism came from: the Democrats. Slavery was their bread and whipped butter. These self-righteous lefties were more likely the offspring the slave owners than you. I mean: Ben Affleck. He tried to cover that shit up. If that came up in my life, I’d cop to it, because righties are honest fuckers. The left need to bury their past and their lies in order to present themselves as good, and present you as evil.
DP: I love the idea of “out-compassioning” The Left – nothing leaves them stuttering like using their own arguments to make them look mean and unfair. This is one of the best pieces of advice – what are some of your best examples of using facts and “flipping the language” on them to make your case?
GG: An obvious and successful one: windmills. Windmills!! These symbols of natural energy: they get it from the wind, and they spin! They’re like giant toys that help create energy! Except they don’t. They’re a bust for every country, but worse – and this is where the compassion comes in: they kill billions of birds. Billions, including bald eagles (an attack on the hairless, by the way).
Where is PETA in all this? Coal doesn’t create a fowl holocaust, but windmills revel in it. They’re masters at mutilation. By the way, if anyone tells you coal is evil, ask them how many people die in poor countries from burning substances that AREN’T coal. Try millions. If coal was used worldwide, roughly 3 million extra people in poor countries would be alive every year, instead of dead.
DP: Your use of “metaphors, similes, and other crap” is one of your signatures – can you teach someone to do that? Because it is very effective but hard to do.
GG: Always ask yourself – is there another way to say what you’re saying that’s part of general life? A good example, is something Jonah Goldberg said recently. He had written on the changing beliefs and stances of Hillary Clinton. He said – if you don’t like what she believes in, just wait – she’ll change….and compared her constant morphing to a lava lamp. She’s a human lava lamp.
I thought that was a great way to describe her. Any person who grew up in the 1970s remember being stoned out of their gourd staring at a lava lamp in someone’s rumpus room, or basement, listening to Styx or worse, Emerson Lake and Palmer.
A Lava lamp is the perfect metaphor for Hillary. She changes daily, and will change again if you just stick around. Now when I see Hillary, thanks to Jonah, I see a lava lamp.
DP: Is there anyone, besides you of course, who you think does a good job of being persuasively correct?
GG: Goldberg is funny and sharp. Kevin Williamson is the next Buckley. Mark Steyn is unmatched. Jo Nosuchinsky is a huge star waiting to explode. John Lott is a fountain of facts. Kat Timpf is on top of the lastest, idiotic campus stuff.
I think most of the writers at Hot Air and Ace of Spades are persuasive. I lean toward places where I feel like the author isn’t shouting at me in ALL-CAPS. And I never feel like I’m being yelled at- even when they’re pissed off about shit.
When Ms Perino is not obsessed over dogs, you can be very persuasive.
When Kimberly Guilfoyle gets pissed off about a criminal issue, nothing gets in her way.
When Bolling gets his teeth into something with numbers, he can build a prison around you with it.
The truly persuasive must step out of themselves and see their own flaws first, and admit they could be wrong. Then, when they correct for that, you can be truly persuasive.
That’s why I think the most persuasive people tend to be more secure, self-deprecating and thoughtful – rather than loud and bombastic.
DP: You don’t like “scolds,” the “Get off my lawn!” guys (though, let’s be honest, if you had a lawn, you’d be that guy). Do people stop listening if they bristle at the tone?
GG: You make yourself a comic’s easiest target. It’s pointless to get all huffy about stuff. That’s how jon stewart made his millions - -he poked a stick at the right, the right gets mad, he laughs, cashes a check.
Why should you care? Your time is too valuable to get mad all the time. Better to think about doing laundry, than traffic in emotion. Anger passes, and when it does humor takes over.
Remember, we mock the left for putting feelings before facts. We can emulate them in some areas, but please, not in that one. Once we become shrill, I leave and become an anarchist.
DP: We’re in the primary season before a presidential election – the Big Tent idea isn’t taking hold yet, and still you recommend that conservatives stop eating their moderates. To me, that’s about math – you want more people to vote for you – but the instinct to push for purity is strong. Do you think the purists will listen to your advice?
GG: Yes. I am against exclusion – I want everyone. And I do believe it’s a weakness to traffic in this kind of “I’m more right than you are, you dumb RINO.” It’s an adolescent pissing contest among amateurs.
In my book, I talk about how a team must be made up of different types of people, with different talents and so on. If you want to win, you might need an establishment type, a libertarian, a tea partier, an unemotional bean counter, and so on – all ON the same team.
Why not? You’re a team! Teams have halfbacks, fullbacks, linebackers – everyone has a different role. Hockey has goons! Exclusion guarantees loss. It feels good to reject those around you, but you lose.
It makes me think that some right wingers want to lose, because it gets them off the hook. They can continue, sitting on the fence, gawking, rather than working.
I call this bulimic politics. You throw up every one, without replenishing new blood. You starve.
DP: Is it safe to say that it’s better to “find your inner drunk” than exposing your outer drunk? Seriously, though, what do you mean by that?
GG: Pretending you’re drunk allows you to think things you otherwise might overlook. It loosens the screws in the back of the tongue, to quote Joe Strummer.
For example, today I had to come with something about aerobic exercise. Imagine trying to go to the bathroom, when you don’t have to. It’s the same feeling thinking of crap. So to come up with an opinion, I imagine myself drunk. Because when you’re drunk, you always have an opinion. And it’s always honest.
I close my eyes and go to that happy drunk place, and imagine myself at a bar, and start writing -- and I think “the reason why we’re exercising more is because we sit on our asses all day looking at porn and cat videos.” That was a drunk opinion, concluded when fake-drunk. And it’s true.
DP: This is the first book you’ve published since your mother passed away, and in the acknowledgments you pay tribute to her, and for good reason. I always admired how she raised you to be the full Greg Gutfeld – she recognized early on that you had a gift for language. For parents today who want their kids to grow up able to express themselves effectively, to be persuasively correct, what would you advise them to do?
GG: Just because someone is shy or timid doesn’t mean they don’t have an interest in the world. You might have to introduce things to them.
I didn’t come out of my shell until my mother gave me Mad Magazine.
It all happened at once: reading Mad, listening to Dr. Demento, taping crank calls after school (I believe that any kid who participated in elaborate prank calls is destined for something good), watching Monty Python, listening to records by Mel Brooks or Cheech and Chong, diving head first into 70’s punk rock and psychobilly like the Cramps and Panther Burns- and so on.
I immersed myself in funny weird, subversive stuff.
I think it started with my mom buying that first copy of Mad. Because of that gateway drug, I started to assert myself and take risks with my friends.
Crank Calls. Pranks.
It was then I started my life as the fool. And I am, at heart, a fool. Fools are foolish, but they’re also untethered to the usual restrictions fostered upon others. It guided my life as a writer, and editor, a talker.
My mom taught me to be a fool – a thoughtful one, I hope – but a fool nonetheless. I think she understood that the world was difficult -- especially for an introvert who thought too much about crap. And the only way out of this introversion was to express these things. To break out and not give a damn about what people thought.
My mother simply did not give a sh*t. She was politically incorrect before the term was created.
I owe my life to my mother, but my career too.