Saturday, October 6, 2012

Mitt Romney and the Gish Gallop

From Daily Kos:
As fact checkers busily highlight the myriad number of lies and distortions offered by Mitt-Etch-A-Sketch-Romney during last night's debate, and the spinners spin their polls with impunity, I find it interesting that the debate tactic itself has not yet been discussed nor properly analyzed. In fact, the lies and distortions offered by Romney in last night's debate are the very ESSENCE of his tactic -- and is therefore quite pertinent to the discussion. Romney used a debate tactic known as the Gish Gallop.

The Urban Dictionary defines the Gish Gallop thusly:
Named for the debate tactic created by creationist shill Duane Gish, a Gish Gallop involves spewing so much bullshit in such a short span on that your opponent can’t address let alone counter all of it. To make matters worse a Gish Gallop will often have one or more 'talking points' that has a tiny core of truth to it, making the person rebutting it spend even more time debunking it in order to explain that, yes, it's not totally false but the Galloper is distorting/misusing/misstating the actual situation. A true Gish Gallop generally has two traits. 1) The factual and logical content of the Gish Gallop is pure bullshit and anybody knowledgeable and informed on the subject would recognize it as such almost instantly. That is, the Gish Gallop is designed to appeal to and deceive precisely those sorts of people who are most in need of honest factual education.

2) The points are all ones that the Galloper either knows, or damn well should know, are totally bullshit. With the slimier users of the Gish Gallop, like Gish himself, its a near certainty that the points are chosen not just because the Galloper knows that they're bullshit, but because the Galloper is deliberately trying to shovel as much bullshit into as small a space as possible in order to overwhelm his opponent with sheer volume and bamboozle any audience members with a facade of scholarly acumen and factual knowledge.

It is quite apparent to those of us who have closely followed this election, that this latest sketch drawn out by Romney completely contradicts major policy ideas stumped on the campaign trail by him over the last few months. Since Obama could no longer debate the substance (or lack thereof) of Romney's policy ideas, it threw Obama off his game. We have seen Romney do this before in the primaries. Obama needs to be prepared for it in future debates. Call it Etch-A-Sketch, call it the Gish Gallop, call it's all about the same. But it is a known debate tactic. And, like Romney, it is dishonest.

(Thanks to Jeff for the link.)

Yes, the fundamental trait of the "Gish Gallop" is dishonesty. This debate tactic is used by people who know they're being dishonest and/or simply don't care about the truth at all.

The truth doesn't matter to people who want to believe what they want to believe. And it doesn't matter to Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, or other Republicans who cynically want to gain power no matter what it takes.

We've seen this cynicism for four decades in the Republican Party's 'Southern strategy,' where they deliberately wooed white racists in order to take the South from the Democrats.

Well, politically, that was wildly successful. The South went from being solidly Democratic to solidly Republican. Today, there is no part of America as Republican as the Deep South.

But Republican leaders who thought to use those people discovered that filling your party with far right-wing extremists can have negative consequences. Now, those old Dixiecrats - and the people who think like them - are the Republican base.

Today, you can't get anywhere in the Republican Party without appealing to that loony base. Honest moderates have left the party (along with African Americans), leaving only the crazies and the politicians cynical enough to agree to be crazy, too, if they can only gain political power.

And that brings us to Mitt Romney.

During the primary campaign, even Republicans criticized Mitt Romney for flip-flopping. His mendacity was notorious. The right-wing knew that he was lying, and they were basically worried that he wouldn't stay bought. Would he shake that Etch A Sketch again once he won?

Well, he's still reversing position so fast that it's hard to keep track. But apparently, once you start lying, it just gets easier and easier. We saw nonstop lies - blatant, bald-faced lies, without even the slightest concern for the truth - during the Republican National Convention. So why not expect that during the debates, too?

And note that Romney won the debate by lying. Everyone agrees that he won, and every independent fact-checker agrees that he lied. Does the truth no longer matter in America?
In late August, Mitt Romney's chief pollster, asked about the campaign's welfare lie, said, "[W]e're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers." After watching last night, I guess he wasn't kidding.

What will be interesting to watch at this point is whether a meme starts to develop. Phase One of the post-debate analysis saw a consensus quickly coalesce: Romney won with relative ease. Perhaps Phase Two will consider how the Republican managed to do so well?

This is admittedly only a sampling, but this piece from New York's Jon Chait caught my eye:
Romney won the debate in no small part because he adopted a policy of simply lying about his policies. Probably the best way to understand Obama's listless performance is that he was prepared to debate the claims Romney has been making for the entire campaign, and Romney switched up and started making different and utterly bogus ones.

As did this one from Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson:
Mitt Romney turned in a polished performance in last night's presidential debate – and revealed himself to be an accomplished and unapologetic liar. In an evening where he sought to slice and dice the president with statistics, Romney baldly misrepresented his own policy prescriptions, made up numbers to fit his attacks and buried clear contrasts with the president.

CNN's David Gergen, hardly a liberal, was thinking along the same lines as Chait, saying last night he thinks Obama was surprised that Romney was "flat out lying" during the debate. Plenty of others were thinking along the same lines.

Romney's critics should probably keep expectations low, but if this line of criticism starts to catch on, it could, in theory, step on the Republican's post-debate glow. In fact, the tactics that led to the win could even backfire, doing more harm than good.

As Jonathan Bernstein noted today, "Paul Ryan's convention speech wound up being covered mainly for its mendacity, and that became the story. It seems that there are at least as many factually challenged comments from Romney's debate performance as there were in Ryan's speech."

Yeah, maybe. But I suspect that far more people watched the debate than will ever pay much attention to the fact-checkers. If you're curious, here are 27 specific lies told by Romney during the debate.

Or check out this list of Romney's "whoppers" just about clean energy.

But will that really hurt him? America has been reality-challenged for years. We went through eight years of faith-based presidential policies during the Bush administration, and that still hasn't seemed to convince Americans that the truth, whether you like it or not, matters.

Creationists use the Gish Gallop because it works (and because they can't back up their beliefs with real evidence), and it certainly worked for Mitt Romney during the debate. Will most Americans care that it wasn't actually true? Or will we just believe what we want to believe?

I was furious with the media during the Republican National Convention, because we kept hearing widespread praise for the effectiveness of Paul Ryan's speech, rather than criticism for it being one lie after another.

Oh, media pundits generally recognized the lies (not on Fox, of course), but they didn't seem to think that was important. No, apparently it was a great speech, because the lies worked. And that was generally the reaction - the immediate reaction - to Mitt Romney's lies during the debate, too.

Shouldn't we be better than that? Shouldn't we expect our media to care about the truth? Shouldn't we care about the truth? Liars normally lie because the truth isn't on their side. And what does it say about us when style matters more than substance? What does it say about America when the Gish Gallop continues to work?

If you haven't had enough of this, here's a brief clip from The Young Turks:

Note that President Obama was not entirely honest, himself. I don't like that any better than Romney's lies. And I think it's a terrible tactic, too (if you're cynical enough to make that the critical point), because it makes it harder to criticize the Republicans.

But check out, and don't just rely on the summary, which is misleading. They say that Obama's claim of Mitt Romney proposing a $5 trillion tax cut is not true. But the reason they say that is because Romney promises to offset those cuts and promises that he won't add to the deficit.

Of course, if you read further, you'll discover that Romney doesn't say how he'll do that and, indeed, that independent experts verify that he can't do what he says. The numbers just don't add up.

In reality, what Romney has promised would create a $5 trillion tax cut (over ten years) and would be heavily weighted towards cutting taxes on the wealthy,... unless you believe his vague promises that somehow that won't happen.

But few people are going to get that far into the details of it, and I guess that's one of our problems as a nation, isn't it?

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