Friday, June 03, 2011

This Is Not a Game


As regular readers of this blog know, here at the Burning House we often try to engage telemarketers and pollsters in conversation. Do not underestimate the potential for a living encounter to emerge from a dehumanized relationship.

The phone rang and the first thing I heard was a long recorded message from Dick Morris, a disgraced member of President Clinton's inner circle who has remade himself as a writer and Fox News personality. The gist of it was that I should hold the line to participate in a survey, because I have been selected as a leading conservative or Tea Party activist in my area. (News to me.) There was stuff about Obama's "socialist agenda" and his alleged failed presidency, a promo for Morris's forthcoming book release, and another plea to stay on the line and talk to "Morris's assistant" to participate in a conservative poll.

In other words, they were pretending to be taking an opinion poll, but were only interested in talking to people who identified as "conservative."

So I waited and a man in his thirties (I'm guessing) thanked me for taking his call.

His first question was: "Who among our conservative leaders do you feel most confident about?"

To which I responded, "Conservative is a label. I don't care how a leader is labeled by the media. I am concerned with their analysis of our problems, and whether their solutions are effective and fair."

He continued, from his script. I imagined him on a headset device with his script laid out on a cheap fiber-board desk at some call center in Virginia or Maryland. "Which leader do you think will do the best job defeating Obama's agenda?"

"Let me ask you, what part of Obama's agenda do you oppose? There's probably more than one, so pick the worst thing."

"Well, obviously, there's his socialist agenda."

"Obama is not a socialist -- at least, not any more than George W. Bush or his father were. Has Obama nationalized any industries? Has he democratized economic policy? Are you telling me Larry Summers and Tim Geithner are reds?"

He was well-trained. Instead of arguing the point he moved on. "There's our pro-muslim foreign policy!"

"First of all, the Islamic religion is not our enemy. Secondly, we don't have a 'pro-muslim' foreign policy."

"What Dick is saying is, we need to find the leader who can win our battle against Obama's agenda."

"Okay. Let me go back and ask you this again: put your script down for a second. You're a smart guy and have your own convictions. I could tell you why I'm unhappy with President Obama, but tell me your own thoughts. Tell me something about Obama's agenda you want me to oppose."

Loooong pause. These guys aren't supposed to think for themselves and speak those thoughts aloud. It's the same pressure we put our candidates under: don't veer from the packaged message, no matter what. If you think and speak spontaneously, you might go "off-message."

After his pause, his tone of voice had a sense of bewilderment. And he said: "What's not to oppose?"

After that sank in, I spoke. "Is that your answer? What that sounds like to me is that you oppose Obama just because he's Obama, or a Democrat, or a liberal, or whatever. It doesn't matter what he says, thinks, or does: you just oppose him."

"Right!"

"This is not intelligent. This is what you might call 'opposites thinking.' You divide us up into 'conservatives' and 'liberals' and you only want to hear from 'conservatives.' This does not help people, and where I live, people are truly suffering."

"Um."

"This is one of the poorest counties in the entire United States, did you know that? Luna County, New Mexico. Look it up. Do you think the children who go to bed hungry in this area care who is a 'conservative' or a 'liberal?' You work for people who are playing a game. To us, this is not a game. We need fact-based analysis of our problems, and solutions tested in the real world. Your game makes money for political handlers and media figures. It does not feed one hungry child."

"Um."

"That's nothing about this in your script, is there?"

"Thank you speaking with me."

"Good luck."

6 comments:

Kelly said...

I just don't think I'm ready to face another season of campaigning.

Nathan said...

Man, you've gotten good at talking with these guys. I cringed at least twice at the painfully sorry responses he gave to you.

NellaLou said...

It is fruitful sometimes to keep these folks on the line. Not only politicos but marketers and religioneers as well. I had a good talk with a couple of Mormon lads yesterday. They were new to the job and feeling a little scared being in a foreign country (Canada) for their missionary work. Both were from Salt Lake City, Utah. Nice kids and not scared of Buddhists now.

My take is even if they don't listen to what I'm saying at least I'm keeping them tied up long enough so they're not bothering 2 or 3 other people during their shift. I consider it a counter-propaganda effort.

Adam said...

Last time a pollster called me, it was on the day of the BP oil spill in the gulf. They were calling about how I felt the democrats were doing, and if I'd be more or less likely to vote for them next time among my positions on some issues like healthcare (i'm for health care, by the way:) ). One of the questions happened to be about something along the lines of if we needed the EPA or if we should just trust private industry to look out for our best interests and we both just started to laugh.

quid said...

I don't get these calls... not sure why. I'm feeling pretty lucky about that, after painfully going thru your exchange with this guy.

Nathan said...

the only calls i seem to get are either from people telling me i just won a cruise in the caribbean, or would i like to get new siding put on my home (i live in an apartment building).