*Never answer the question.
That’s where you begin. When someone asks you a question you don’t want to answer, don’t answer it.
This is not to say that you don’t respond to their question; you do. Just not with an answer to the question they asked. No matter how many times they ask it, don’t answer the question.
No matter how they ask it. No matter how they couch it, no matter that you look insincere or, God forbid, as if you are evading their question, don’t answer the question.
Talk around the question. Talk under it, on top of it, on the sides of it, near it, behind it, in front of it, caddy corner from it. Use the term, “Let me be clear,” and then proceed to be anything but clear. When someone points out that you aren’t answering the question, still don’t answer the question. Even as you take on the attributes of a pure dee fool, don’t you answer that question.
And never, ever, say these three words: I don’t know. If you truly want to talk like a politician, remove these from your vocabulary. Never mind that to admit ignorance regarding a subject is to be human; having a puffed-up, glib-tongued opinion on positively everything is the politician’s parlance.
Instead of answering a question, launch into a soliloquy designed to make it seem as if you’re answering it. For instance, when asked if you’re the one who left the empty milk carton in the fridge, respond by launching an overview regarding the price of milk.
Question your questioner: When they shopped, did they ever think to buy a gallon of milk instead of only a half gallon? Declare that you don’t drink that much milk, anyway. Anything not to answer the question.
The following is an example of how the pros do it:
QUESTION: “Senator, what is your position on the mosque being built in New York City next to Ground Zero?”
ANSWER: “Well, as you know, what happened on 9/11 threatened the liberties of every American….”
Q: “Yes. But how do you feel about a mosque being built at Ground Zero?”
A: “…and it was a horrible, horrible episode in American history–well, actually world history, too, since America is part of the world….”
Q: “Right. But what is your….”
A: “…and since planet earth is part of the universe, you could say that 9/11 was a horrible episode even in the history of the universe….”
You wear them down with that kind of thing until they move on to the next question that you may or may not answer.
And while you’re creating the verbal illusion of answering questions, make sure you smile. Smile even though it’s okay not to be smiling. Smile when there is nothing to smile about. Smile that manure-munching grin until you begin to look creepy.
But don’t you dare answer that question. Don’t you do it. You place your thumb inside the hook of your index finger–the unofficial hand gesture of the politician–and you shake it at the person you’re speaking with as you say whatever it is you’ve decided to say. But don’t answer that question.
One of the best ways to learn how to run your mouth without saying a motherfucking thing is to watch NBC-TV’s “Meet The Press.”
There, every Sunday morning you can witness masters of the game bend, twist and knead words to reality’s absolute outer limits–not mental or emotional limits, but literally “Outer Limits,” the ’60s TV sci-fi series that was the poor man’s “Twilight Zone”–as a pageant of congressmen, senators, governors, mayors and other “Washington insiders” give new meaning to the term “artificial intelligence.”
Here, against the dogged interrogation of “Meet The Press” moderator David Gregory, upper lips purse and quiver and the might of antiperspirant is tested as men and women boasting assorted levels of political power sit before scrutinizing cameras and hot studio lights and audaciously offer everything but real answers to the questions they are asked.
In the vernacular of the politician, there is no simple yes or no. Ambiguous, cliche phrases such as “the wrong side of history”–on track to be this year’s “Under the bus,” itself spoken ad nauseam during Obama’s Presidential campaign–are tossed about with matter-of-fact authority.
It doesn’t appear to matter to these people the gutless wonders they must resemble to their children, in-laws, mistresses and man-toys who watch as they boldly don’t answer questions.
Learn how to talk like a politician, and you’ll never have to tell a lie. Now, to be sure, what you don’t say and how you don’t say it might forever be suspect, but that’s not lying, is it? Don’t answer that.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected].