Being a Pundit on Campus

How to argue about politics and how to absolutely nail it.

Being a Pundit on Campus

Owen Longstreth, Staff Writer

It was the day of an important Palo Alto City Council meeting — when the councilors would decide whether Foothills Park should be opened to the public. I spent upwards of an hour waiting for my slot. Two precious minutes to speak my mind. When the opportunity finally arrived, I used all two minutes to bring up the history of redlining and systemic racism before finishing with emphatically saying the park should be opened.

It is a routine I have before and after, speaking at school board and City Council meetings, on top of discussing and arguing about politics in many other settings. Throughout my time here, I have essentially become known as the guy that won’t stop arguing incessantly.

I have been called a cockroach, told I was naive, unpatriotic, anti-American, or best of all, that I am going to hell for what I think.

As I near the end of my days as a Viking, I want to take time to share some of the lessons that I have learned throughout my four years here.
One of my first forays into this field was as a sophomore, when I interviewed Alexandr Ionov from the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia as part of an Anthro story I was writing on Calexit — a California secessionist movement that sprung up around the 2016 presidential election.

After emailing with him for a few weeks, we finally set a time and I sat down to interview him. Because of the peculiar nature of the person I was interviewing, a Beginning Journalism class sat in and watch on that interview as well. So not only was I interviewing someone who would be a key source in my story, but a class of more than 20 people was going to watch me.
It is here where I want to share my first lesson: the importance of remaining calm. It takes courage to have a difficult conversation, but over the years I’ve found this process gets easier with research, and just being ready for anything.

In the case of my interview with Ionov, I spent a lot of time the night before reading up on his organization and the work that he does. I was thinking of him as one of Putin’s many henchmen but when I sat down to talk to him, I felt comfortable enough having an honest conversation with a man who — between many anti-Western diatribes — told me that he takes money from the Russian government.

One of the other lessons I have learned is the importance of taking your audience into consideration. This country is pretty moderate and at times it is easy to come across as radical. Because of this, putting the right spin on any discussion is key.

Throughout my high school career I was a member of the speech team and because one of my topics was Medicare For All, I have learned firsthand how to take this into account. Speaking at tournaments to a crowd of largely moderate parent judges taught me the importance of positioning my ideas to be anything but radical. I devoted a whole paragraph of my speech to essentially just explaining the differences in healthcare costs around the world for this sole purpose. I still did not do super well with this speech, — I ad-libbed most of it — but at least now I know that it was not because my message was extreme.

The final lesson I have to share is the importance of having thick skin. Arguing can make people abrasive, but dealing with this is part of the game. I have been called a cockroach, told I was naive, unpatriotic, anti-American, or best of all, that I am going to hell for what I think. It stings, but this is part of the experience and what is equally important is to keep going after moments like these, or to just laugh it off.

My time as a Viking is coming to a close, but it is my hope that these lessons will help more people become amateur pundits, as I have during my time here. With great power comes great responsibility. Hopefully people use these skills for good.