US – Election 2012 – Don’t Make Anyone Your Attack Dog, Mr. President, Or Your Next Debate Will Be Romney’s Next “Gish Gallop” – 12 October 2012

Some analysis from the University of Miami’s debate director: “Biden did a great job of being the attack dog. Doing that, you sacrifice a little bit of likability and perhaps you don’t sway too many undecided voters at least in the moment but you certainly reinforce and reinvigorate the people who are already with you.”

What worries me is that President Obama possibly agrees. Obama has already used Bill Clinton as his attack dog, and now it seems we’re all pleased because now the attack dog is Biden. Never mind that neither Clinton nor Biden are particularly able statesmen, as Obama is. They’re great at being politicians. There is some danger that Obama might allow them to play to their strengths while he continues to play the “above the fray” game.

Obama may take this as a “stay the course” indicator – let Clinton and Biden continue to be the attack dog while Obama, personally, continues to let Mitt Romney lie his ass off in the next debate…so people will continue to like him.

That would be a serious mistake. Obama needs to give Mitt Romney hell in the next debate. He should view what Biden did as a model for what he himself should do.

Most importantly, Obama needs to ensure that the next debate is not a “Gish gallop”…a situation where one’s opponent is allowed to lie with such astonishing frequency that it is impossible to get in any points of one’s own. The “Gish gallop” technique is, essentially, lying so intensely in a debate that it drowns the opposing speaker in garbage. Obama avoided engaging the garbage in the first debate, preferring to spend time talking about his accomplishments. That’s great from a rationalist perspective, but the way to defeat the “Gish gallop”, as Biden demonstrated last night, is not to let it start. You don’t dignify the lies. You interrupt your opponent and you say, in clear terms, that what is being said is nonsense. Call it “malarkey” if you prefer. But interrupt, and let people know it’s a lie.

We’ve seen how otherwise rational people can be “Gish galloped” into submission. The St. Louis journalist Charles Jaco, as I noted earlier this year, missed an opportunity to ask a devastating follow-up question to Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin about his ridiculous beliefs about rape – because Akin had already snowed him under with so much nonsense that his obscene views about “legitimate rape” seemed like just one more unobjectionable bit of crazy.

Find a nice name for the word “lie” if you must. “Malarkey” is good. Maybe “oh, isn’t that inventive” or “you Republicans certainly have a good imagination”. But call lies out before their side of the debate becomes a giant normalisation of lies.

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