Saturday, October 6, 2012

Gish Gallop - Romney Style

The other day, I introduced the gentle reader to the phrase "Gish Gallop", which is another term for spreading, which in turn can be defined thus:
The Gish Gallop, named after creationist Duane Gish, is the debating technique of drowning the opponent in such a torrent of half-truths, lies, and straw-man arguments that the opponent cannot possibly answer every falsehood in real time. The term was coined by Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education.

The formal debating jargon term for this is spreading. You can hear some mindboggling examples here. It arose as a way to throw as much rubbish into five minutes as possible. In response, some debate judges now limit number of arguments as well as time. However, in places where debating judges aren't there to call bullshit on the practice, like the internet, such techniques are remarkably common.
Another way to put it all into context is this rather strongly worded review of the first debate:
It is curious that any observer was surprised that pathological liar Willard Romney came to the debate armed with a mountain of lies. One has to wonder if any spectator expected Willard to stand on that stage and tell the American people he intended to slash education, give $5 trillion in tax cuts to the wealthy, reduce the number of police and fire fighters, or admit that he has contempt for 47% of the population, and yet the blogosphere was rife with articles recounting the number of lies and flip-flops Romney is best known for. It was also somewhat surprising to see critics assailing President Obama for not calling out each of Romney’s lies, and if they looked at the bigger picture, or understood the nuances of debate, they may have couched their criticism and gave the President the credit he deserves, and he does deserve credit for not succumbing to Romney’s tactics.

Of course Willard lied, it is what pathological liars do, and as a master liar, Romney distinguished himself as the best. He took his lying seriously too, even resurrecting a Sarah Palin lie that won distinction as “Lie of the Year” in 2009 regarding the dreaded “death panels.” Romney has not come up with any novel ideas throughout the campaign, but up until Wednesday night he primarily parroted Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush rhetoric in hopes of appealing to conservatives stuck in the 1980s and early 21st century. However, when he complained that the Affordable Care Act contained a provision to ration healthcare, he put himself on the same level as Palin.

It was not the first time the Romney-Ryan tandem entertained the notion that a group of appointees would decide if grandma was worthy of healthcare or lifesaving medical attention, because last week in Florida Paul Ryan took the opportunity to expound on Palin’s death panel sophistry. For the record, the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a panel of Senate-confirmed experts, are explicitly prohibited from rationing care, shifting costs to retirees, restricting benefits, or raising the Medicare eligibility age, so obviously they do not have power to dictate to doctors what treatments they can prescribe. However, Willard did not mention the truth about the panels and the President did not waste valuable time debunking 2009′s lie of the year again, and it leads to why President Obama did not squander his time discrediting each and every Romney lie.

There is a tactic in debating called “spreading” that involves throwing as many unproven assertions as possible at an opponent in hopes they waste time refuting lies instead of expounding their message. If the President had spent his limited time refuting every lie Romney told in Wednesday’s debate, he could not have shared his vision for America’s future or how he intended to fight for Americans who are not in Willard’s wealthy elite class. What Americans were treated to, was a President with a clear vision and message, replete with specifics, that the people have come to expect from Barack Obama. Romney’s tactic was popularized by a creationist maniac, Duane Tolbert Gish, who without facts or valid arguments to back up his creation myth ideology, drowned his opponents in lies, half-truths, and straw-man arguments in rapid bursts they could not answer in real time. Romney utilized the tactic well, but he failed to take one simple fact into account. His lies on Wednesday night do not square with his campaign rhetoric and he came off looking more transient on the issues than ever, and it is a misstep he has made throughout his run for the White House.

Romney and, indeed, all Republicans fail to understand that in the information age of instant reporting and video tape, every statement a candidate makes is easily verified or, in Romney’s case, debunked within minutes of uttering a contrary position or outright lie. On Wednesday night, Romney not only lied as pathological liars are wont to do, but he contradicted his own position and statements he made just a day earlier and that is the peril for pathological liars; they lie with such ease that they lose touch with reality and forget the lies they told just a minute earlier, and one has to wonder if President Obama knew Romney was digging himself into a pit of mendacity with no way out.
This rather well sums up the whole Republican philosophy as well, doesn't it.

Even when they think they're winning, they are really losing. It's just that they are taking the rest of us down with them.


  1. It also goes a long way toward explaining RW talk radio- throw a bunch of unchallenged BS out there without giving the other side a chance to respond....or talk over them when they do and veer off into something off-topic.

    This may work with weaklings and may work for a couple olf hours, but fails miserably when there's time to check and respond, and leads to major backlash from the vast majority of voters.

    Which is why the GOP and Romney were screwed within a week of the debates...and that's before the unemployment drop yesterday

  2. Is the "Gish Gallup" a direct descendant of "Lying for Jesus" or did they coevolve?

    It's common wisdom that the Big Lie must be repeated persistenly for maximum effectiveness, but in reality it is sufficient to reinforce it with a fog of small lies --Fox News, Sykes & Shite-- until it's unneccesary mention the Big One at all. The human brain is wired for pattern recognition and will readily create it's own deluded world view if provided with the raw material.

    If the fear response is then activated to create a surge of cortisol and adrenaline, people will quickly disengage from rational thinking. Often this can be done by the use of a hot word that triggers a conditioned response, such as: Communist, Muslim, fag or even a number which is resonant with implied meaning...9-11. Rationalism may even come to be seen as the enemy, a weakness of the will or the devil speaking.

    In my opinion, journalists who fail to call out politicians on their outright lies, or even worse, aid the mainstreaming of those lies, are a greater danger to American democracy than all the terrorists in the world.

    I know we aren't supposed to mention this guy's name, but Hitler would have wowed today's pundits in a debate, with his great body language, eye contact, confidence and charisma.

    Even Bush II did it and he was a freaking idiot.

  3. Or another way to think of R-money's technique is "wild monkey flinging poo" to see what sticks...

    If he does this at the next debate, Obama should look straight at him and tell him the subject is XYZ and that's what HE'S going to expound on. ABC will be debated in another segment.

  4. Capper great post "Gish Gallop-Romney/Ryan Style"

    Keep writing and fighting.


  5. I saw Gish debating creationism a number of times in the early 1980's. He presented a vast number of arguments, augmented by slides. His arguments were simple, superficially convincing and not easily countered on the spot. He did this in a quiet unassuming way with an genuine air of objectivity.

    In front of him he had boxes of cue cards with responses to every conceivable argument. As his opponent spoke he pulled cards out and used them as the basis of his response. Basically he crushed his opponents who left the room looking shell shocked.

    In the 1980's he created utter furor in Academia by traveling the world systemically crushing its best minds. This was compounded by the fact he was a short, unassuming, older conservative man who couldn't have cut a less impressive figure if he tried.

    Ironically he brought more publicity to anti-creationism than he bargained for. He was probably responsible for the present day Atheist movement and the likes of Richards Dawkins coming to the for. Because of his notoriety people analyzed his debates and eventually realized what he was doing. His technique is probably as old as time, but he was its consummate practitioner; now we have a name for it and we can thank him for it.

    He struck me as a rather cold unemotional man and left me with a slight uneasy feeling, this may of been cause of the hostile environment he found himself. To his credit he never gratutiously made his opponent look a fool, even though he had every opportunity to do so. He is a historical figure and still alive aged 91.