Romney's Debate Technique

Mitt Romney's over the top October 3rd debate performance used a technique forbidden in policy debates known as "spreading" taken to a creationist extreme.
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Mitt Romney's over the top October 3rd debate performance used a technique forbidden in policy debates known as "spreading" taken to a creationist extreme.

Policy debaters started talking fast in the 1960s, when a team from the University of Houston figured out that speed allowed them to cram more arguments into a timed speech than their opponents would physically be able to negate. -- Jay Caspian Kang Wired, "High School Debate at 350 WPM"

Romney's version of that technique, known as the Gish Gallop, developed by Duane Gish, the creationist, combined spreading with purposeful lying, resulting in the "flood of B.S. technique" that Romney used to dominate the first debate with President Obama. It's common among creationists and climate science deniers refuse to debate on the merits by flooding their opponents with false information leaving them without time to keep up with the lies and, as a result, appearing pedantic and professorial in their responses.

From Rational Wiki:

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.

It's unclear whether team Obama was aware of the technique or if they expected Romney to act like an actual presidential contender instead.

The "Gish Gallop"... usually characterized as "lists", titled "100 reasons why..." or similar. Thus, the points raised in the gallop are often very short and non-specific. It takes a lot of effort to fully refute everything and it is far easier for the galloper to add another question than it is for the respondent to formulate a suitable answer, which is the point behind the tactic.

An example in the climate science arena, a "Climate Gish Gallop of Epic Proportions," shows how climate change deniers flood the debate with so many points already proven false that the person listening to or reading their presentation simply can't keep up with all the rebuttals.

The lies win.

The Rational Wiki lists the prime current abusers of this technique as:
Dinesh D'Souza
Scott Huse
Mitt Romney

From the Talk Origins Archive, on how to debate a creationist:

On Monday, March 14, 1994, Kutztown University astronomer Carlson Chambliss debated Institute for Creation Research biochemist Duane Gish. Chambliss defended evolution and Gish defended creationism. The debate was a typical example of Gish's ability to control the terms of the debate and make outrageous statements of "fact" seem perfectly reasonable to a sympathetic audience.

Talk Origins has the following points for anyone debating a Gish Galloper:

Point #1: Know your audience
Point #2: Don't be the dull lecturer
Point #3: Be prepared for standard Gish evasions
Point #4: Avoid arrogance, appeal to authority, and similar attitudes and tactics

President Obama was clearly acting on point #4. On the other points, it's difficult to know if his debate prep included Gish Galloping. Since Romney's use of the technique is bound to be exposed by more than just this post, it's also difficult to know if he'll try it at the next debate or if the next moderator will be as badly equipped to deal with it as Jim Lehrer proved to be.

The president will need to prepare for the possibility of a flood of Gish Galloping, as Romney is reading from a script and is not a spontaneous man. President Obama will also have to consider that Romney might not use it again and prepare for the copious other techniques, equally as despicable, that may be brought to bear.

For the good of the American people, I hope Romney will consider foregoing the flood of galloping lies. President Obama is correct. We deserve to be told the truth. I won't count on Romney doing that and neither should the president. He needs to be ready for whatever Romney brings next.

One last note, to the pundits, if you don't know what Romney was up to, learn about it. Don't sing his praises and call him authentic, the real Romney, found his voice. He wasn't and he didn't. Romney was channeling an extreme right- wing creationist who took the illegal debate technique called spreading -- talking fast, not giving your opponent a chance to react -- and modified it to make that fast talking full of one lie after another, as evidenced by Mitt Romney last Wednesday.

To the next debate moderator, if Romney does it again, ask him he's Gish Galloping or spreading. Remind the audience the debate technique is forbidden in schools because it's considered in violation of the spirit of debate, which is supposed to be an exchange of ideas.

In other words, it's cheating and will get the debater thrown off the team. Hopefully, the American people will be smarter than the pundits and moderators and do exactly that to Romney, throw him out for cheating, lying and not acting in the spirit of our democracy, in November.

Note: "spreading" is not yet forbidden in school policy debates, where the practice has become widespread.

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