I canvassed today for Scott Walker recall signatures. I hit about 100 homes. Many were not home, and of those who were home some signed, some had already signed, and some refused. Overwhelmingly, people were polite, even those who had Scott Walker lawn signs front-and-center in their yards. Yes, I knocked on those doors too.
However, there was this one white guy. He was polite at first as his ~4 year old daughter hung on his leg. He refused to sign and told me that he really appreciated what Walker has been doing. He said that it was about time someone was correcting the problems here. I thanked him for his time and made that I was going to leave. He then engaged. He asked why I felt Walker deserved to be recalled. I responded that my primary concern was his severe cuts to education funds, that we need to invest in our children’s education rather than diminish it. I motioned to his daughter and said that we need to make sure our children grow up to think well.
He then embarked on a monologue about how bad teacher’s unions are. Interrupting him after many minutes of listening patiently, I acknowledged that there can be drawbacks to unions, but that my primary concern again is with the severe cuts Walker is making to public education. These are unnecessary cuts given the relative stability of our state budget, the cuts will hurt the quality of our education across the board, the cuts will affect who will get a college education as tuition rates have to rise, and there is no reason why Walker has to go after education specifically on a continual basis (shouldn’t everyone share the pain [even though this is an unnecessary pain]?).
So, yeah, he didn’t like that much. Starting to get redder in the face, he said that I was simply wrong. To paraphrase, though I think it is a direct quote, “Wrong, wrong, wrong! That’s what you are. You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Still keeping my patient face, I acknowledged that he doesn’t have to agree with me. And then I said that part of the reason why I don’t like Walker aside from the education stuff is that he has made the political climate in Wisconsin divisive. I asked him if he thought saying that I was wrong the way he said it was a good way to help our conversation. I noted that that just puts the other person on the defensive and that communication will usually break down. He sort of acknowledged that, but followed up with, “But that’s what you are. Wrong!”
Sorry for the play-by-play, but here is where it escalated. He then wanted to talk about the union stuff again, to which I replied politely that I really should be going and that I will neither convince him to change his mind nor will he change mine. Then in front of his daughter who was still lurking he nodded and yelled,
Him: Get off my porch! Get the fuck off my porch!
Me: What? (in disbelief)
Him: You heard me! Get the fuck off my porch! Get the fuck off my property!
Me: Are you serious? Do you realize how rude you are being?
Him: LEAVE NOW! GO! FUCK OFF! NEVER COME BACK!
I left. I had been trying to leave the past 7 min of the 7.5 min I had been there. Everything in me wanted to yell back at him and say that it is people like him that are bringing down America (regardless of political affiliation!). But I played my role of polite canvasser. I got a little satisfaction when I got two signatures from the house next to his.
Here’s my argument: if you want to converse with someone in hopes of persuading the person to your position or at least getting the person to be sympathetic to your position, there are certain unspoken rules to abide by. Be polite. Be respectful. Do not yell. This guy violated these rules by a wide margin. Thus, he neither persuaded me nor did he get me to be even slightly sympathetic to his view. While his intention may never have been to persuade me (he might have just wanted to piss me off from the start – that’s my guess), he only succeeded in entrenching me further in my beliefs, which only hurts his overall project.
The moral: you don’t gain anything by being an asshole in argumentation. You will always come off as the loser. Learn to argue effectively and responsibly.