The more I watch the talking heads on TV, the more I’m convinced you don’t need a degree in political science to discuss the presidential campaign; you need a degree in adolescent psychology.
Joe Scarborough, a former Congressman from the panhandle of Florida — which means he’s a Republican — demonstrated this theory very concisely last night on MSNBC during a panel discussion about the election. When Rachel Maddow said that the deck was stacked against Barack Obama for questionable allies such as Jeremiah Wright and said that John McCain wasn’t held to the same standards, Joe got huffy and walked off the show. (See the clip here.)
I spent enough time as both a teacher and camp counselor — not to mention an adolescent — to know that when you conclude an argument by storming off, you lose even if you’re right. You also lose the argument when you change course by saying you don’t like the format of the discussion. It’s irrelevant but effective, and kids — and right-wing pundits — are very adept at it. It makes the discussion not about the topic at hand but about the discussion itself, and the main point is soon forgotten. Mr. Scarborough should know this very well; he’s the host of his own program on MSNBC, so his little hissy-fit comes across as both over-wrought and staged. (“Hey, Joe stomped off David Gregory’s show! Tune in tomorrow to see the aftermath!”)
The solution is very simple: don’t let them get away with it. Call them on it, get them back on the subject, and if they continue to engage in disruptive and distracting behavior, give them a time out. (Interrobang has a handy guide to the typical behavior of disruptive and distracting techniques. Study it well.)
I said the solution is simple. I didn’t say it was easy.