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Donahue vs. O’Reilly

Did anyone else catch the debate with Bill O’Reilly and Phil Donahue?

Donahue might be a wimpy liberal, but he knows a good literary device when he sees it. According to Phil, Bush "swaggered us" into war – and Cindy Sheehan is "one tough mother." These are both great sound bites (clearly Phil was well rehearsed.)

His most effective tactic, however, was his constant re-framing of the debate. He accomplished this by asking the questions. Read the transcript and count how many times Donahue asks the questions (rather than the other way around).

Here’s just one example:

DONAHUE: "You want to send more people to this war? Is that your position?"

O’REILLY: "If we cut and run out of there like you want to do, we would be putting every American in a thousand times more jeopardy than they’re in now."

Asking if you want to send more people to war (no President wants to do that) is kind of like asking, "Are you still beating your wife?" It’s hard to answer a question like that – and that’s just the point. Liberals know the way to control the debate is to ask the questions. This puts the other guy on the defensive, and it places the argument on your turf.

In politics, the question is more important than the answer. Be the guy asking the questions, and you control the agenda. (That’s one of the reasons liberals are attracted to becoming part of the media.)

Granted, we have a natural disadvantage when it comes to debates; Conservatives feel obliged to answer questions. Liberals have no compulsion to do so. Thus, they have a rhetorical advantage. Phil Donahue came prepared.

Let’s look at that exchange one more time:

DONAHUE: "You want to send more people to this war? Is that your position?"

O’REILLY: "If we cut and run out of there like you want to do, we would be putting every American in a thousand times more jeopardy than they’re in now."

Note: Donahue’s question is based on emotion. O’Reilly’s answer is based on logic. In politics, emotion always trumps logic.

As Phil learned during his stint at MSNBC, when it comes to TV ratings, Bill can’t be beat. But when it comes to debating, Phil is (in his own words) "one tough mother."

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Written By

Mr. Lewis has managed political campaigns and served as director of grassroots for the Leadership Institute, as well as political director for GOPAC. In 2002, Campaigns & Elections magazine selected him as a "Rising Star of Politics." He is the author of "Teaching Elephants to Talk." His blog can be read at MattLewis.org.

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