How Joe Biden Broke The Gish Gallop

How Joe Biden Broke The Gish Gallop

You can tell who won a debate by which side ends up complaining about the moderator.

Going into the debate, the Drudge Report and the Daily Caller harped on the fact that President Obama had attended the wedding of vice presidential debate’s moderator Martha Raddatz in 1991. That marriage ended more than a decade ago, but apparently Drudge had a suspicion that he was going to need to run some defense for Paul Ryan. And he was right.

Paul Ryan didn’t embarrass himself so much as he let the vice president embarrass him. With Biden’s help, Ryan came off as naïve on foreign policy, sketchy on economics and scary on women’s issues.

How did Biden succeed in neutralizing Paul Ryan when Ryan was making nearly the same case in nearly the same way Mitt Romney did last week? He broke the Gish Gallop.

Named after the creationist Duane Gish, the Gallop is a tactic wherein a debater spews so many lies and half-truths that rebutting each one is impossible. The technique leaves their opponent shaken and unable to make clear arguments.

Biden clearly made the decision that he was going to impede Ryan’s ability to lie confidently. Ryan went at the vice president with distortions on every issue from Iran to abortion. And Biden refused to let any go. He used his facial reactions and interjections to contest the lies, demanded his equal time and tied it all together with his somewhat mocking, Senatorial use of “my friend.” What was key to his strategy is that he actually spent little of his time rebutting facts. Instead he quickly bridged to his own arguments.

Biden—like Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention—presented a cohesive narrative of the last four years. But his history built to an attack on Ryan’s values, which will linger after the facts and figures are forgotten. Biden spoke on behalf of the middle class, asking, “When will these guys take responsibility?” By saying “these guys” he effectively connected Ryan and Romney to Bush-era Republicans who created the financial mess we’re now in.

The former senator from Delaware resisted unpacking most of the canards Ryan threw out. And when Biden decided to focus on a substantive rebuttal, he was armed with evidence that tied in with his “responsibility” theme. Responding to Paul Ryan’s criticism of the stimulus, Joe Biden pointed to two letters Ryan’s office had sent asking for stimulus funds—now we know there were actually four stimulus letters Ryan signed.

When you contrast the Joe Biden who debated Sarah Palin with the man we saw Thursday night, you see that the vice president is completely in control of his style. Against Palin, he was reserved, giving her room to make mistakes. Thursday, he was determined to stop the Gallop before it got going.

Can President Obama simply repeat what Biden did to take on Mitt Romney more effectively in the next two debates? Yes and no.

The president should stick to the themes of responsibility to the middle class. But he cannot use his face and body language to contest Romney’s lies the way Biden did. Why? An unfortunate fact of our society is that angry African-Americans suffer much more scrutiny than senior citizen Joe Biden shouting “Malarkey!”

By contesting quickly and reframing as Biden did—”Let me translate”—and then moving into his arguments, the president can have much the same effect, especially if he is able to raise doubts about Romney to those who have the most at stake in this election—unmarried women, working parents and those who worry about health care for themselves and their families.

We know Joe Biden won because Republicans have resumed attacking the moderator.

They’re also trying to characterize Biden as smug or inappropriate.

Rush Limbaugh—who is apparently now the proprietor of the Rush Limbaugh Finishing School—said, “I am aware that the consensus opinion seems to be that Biden was mean, rude, disrespectful. What I want to say to you is that the Joe Biden that you saw last night is the Democrat Party.”

Of course, Limbaugh and Republicans value nothing more than decorum and politeness. That’s why he emphasizes the “rat” in the Democratic Party.

What you’re really hearing there is jealousy and frustration. Romney was able to deluge the president with half-truths, insults and incredulousness. Biden wasn’t having any of that. If Republicans can’t brag, they whine.

And thanks to Joe Biden, Paul Ryan gave them nothing to brag about.


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