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Jack is a graduate of Rutgers University where he majored in history. His career in the life and health insurance industry involved medical risk selection and brokerage management. Retired in Florida for over two decades after many years in NJ and NY, he occasionally writes, paints, plays poker, participates in play readings and is catching up on Shakespeare, Melville and Joyce, etc.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

June 29, 2024 - RandomThoughts About Thursday Evening's Presidential Debate

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The Presidential Debate, Tom Friedman’s View of it, the ‘Gish Gallop,’ and my Recommendation

I am eleven years older than Joe Biden and, like his, my brain has slowed down a bit.  But I still have no problem grinding out a posting on Jackspotpourri a couple of times a week.  Sometimes a thought that would have formed practically instantly a few years ago takes a minute or so to fully kick in.  Even some people’s names and some place names sometimes elude me for that minute or so.  That’s one of the reasons I appreciate Joe BidenBut it doesn’t mean that we’ve lost any of our marbles.  They just roll a bit slower than they used to.  (More about that later.)

Joe manifested this slowing down during the debate on June 27 when he apparently did not remember, for example, Charlottesville as being the site of the 2017 right-wing demonstration after which Donald Trump had remarked that it involved ‘good people on both sides.’  Biden, after a short pause, settled on referring to it as taking place in Virginia, where of course Charlottesville is.  I know the feeling and I am sure Charlottsville as the more precise location popped into Biden’s mind a minute or so later, but by then the ‘debate’ had moved on.  But more importantly, the President recognized that what he was talking about was solid evidence of Donald Trump’s legitimizing of bigotry and racism.

Similarly, when the President said that ‘we beat Medicare,’ all knew he meant that ‘we beat the foes of Medicare,’ or perhaps that ‘we saved Medicare,’ but the hurried format of the debate didn’t give him the opportunity to go back and make the obvious corrections.    

Most importantly, bear in mind that on Election Day, we are not judges in a debating contest, but rather, picking who is best to manage the nation, executing the laws passed by Congress.

Which leads me to a more detailed commentary on the debate.

Let’s start with Tom Friedman’s New York Times column in which he recommends that the President withdraw from the 2024 election.  It is representative of other similar views and even that of the editorial board of the New York Times itself.

Friedman wrote that ‘I had been ready to give Biden the benefit of the doubt up to now, because during the times I engaged with him one on one, I found him up to the job. He clearly is not any longer. His family and his staff had to have known that. They have been holed up at Camp David preparing for this momentous debate for days now. If that is the best performance they could summon from him, it’s time for him to keep the dignity he deserves and leave the stage at the end of this term.’

I agree that the President’s ‘prepping’ for the debate was at fault in concentrating on facts and issues rather than on the nature of his opponent.  While calling him a liar and referring to much of what he was saying as ‘malarky,’ was accurate, it wasn’t the far stronger responses the occasion demanded.  You don’t divert a firehose of falsehood with the squirt gun of truth (as pointed out further on in this posting) or combat a howitzer with a pistol. 

I think Friedman’s comments are premature, but worth considering.  We must wait to see how President Biden and his family react to sincere advice like Friedman’s.

Read his column in full by visiting https://www.nytimes.com/2024/06/28/opinion/joe-biden-tom-friedman.html or by CLICKING HERE. 

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A more thorough summary of the debate was provided by Professor Heather Cox Richardson in the ‘Letter from an American’ dated June 27, 2024.  Read it by visiting https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/june-27-2024 or by CLICKING HERE.  Of course, a pro like HCR was able to filter out the garbage that Trump spread throughout the ninety minutes, telling lies, avoiding answering the moderators’ questions and beclouding the issues.  She thought the President eventually made his points better than Tom Friedman apparently thought he did.  But most of the debate’s viewers were not as discerning as Professor Richardson.

In her summary, Professor Richardson attributes President Biden’s less than ideal performance to the ‘Gish Gallop,’ a recognized tactic in debate whereby a debater overwhelms an opponent by burying them in a torrent of incorrect, irrelevant, and idiotic arguments along with many supposed facts, charges, allegations, and insults, rapidly piled one on top of another, leaving the opponent momentarily bewildered and unable to sort them out and coherently respond to them in the short time a debate provides for rebuttals.  That should sound familiar to those who watched the debate.

There is a lot about the ‘Gish Gallop’ on the internet.  Do a ‘google’ (or similar) search to learn about it (Gish was actually a person.)  A brief article describing what amounted to Donald Trump’s historic use of the ‘Gish Gallop’ appeared in the Atlantic magazine in February of 2023.  Please take the time to read it.  IT FOLLOWS IN ITS ENTIRETY, without your having to click on a link to see it!  (It was an excerpt from a book the author was working on at the time.)

It is inexcusable that those ‘prepping’ President Biden at Camp David for the debate did not seem to have paid any attention to this and how it might affect President Biden’s responses to Trump’s ravings. 

Here’s the article I am sure they did not read: 

How to Beat Trump in a Debate

Unprepared and weak-willed opponents continue to play right into his hands.

By Mehdi Hasan

FEBRUARY 16, 2023 – Atlantic magazine

“Donald Trump is probably unaware that he’s an avid practitioner of a debating method known among philosophers and rhetoricians as the Gish Gallop. Its aim is simple: to defeat one’s opponent by burying them in a torrent of incorrect, irrelevant, or idiotic arguments. Trump owes much of his political success to this tactic—and to the fact that so few people know how to beat it. Although his 2024 campaign has been fairly quiet so far, we can expect to hear a lot more Gish Galloping in the coming months.

Let’s take as an example the first televised presidential debate of the 2020 election campaign. The Fox News host Chris Wallace invited Trump to deliver a two-minute statement. And he was off:

… So when I listen to Joe [Biden] talking about a transition, there has been no transition from when I won. I won that election. And if you look at crooked Hillary Clinton, if you look at all of the different people, there was no transition, because they came after me trying to do a coup. They came after me spying on my campaign … We’ve got it all on tape. We’ve caught ’em all. And by the way, you gave the idea for the Logan Act against General Flynn. You better take a look at that, because we caught you in a sense, and President Obama was sitting in the office. He knew about it, too. So don’t tell me about a free transition. As far as the ballots are concerned, it’s a disaster. A solicited ballot, okay, solicited, is okay. You’re soliciting. You’re asking. They send it back. You send it back. I did that. If you have an unsolicited—they’re sending millions of ballots all over the country. There’s fraud. They found ’em in creeks …

And so on, until the end of the second minute, when Wallace attempted to break in and end the monologue. He tried five times before regaining temporary control.

Trump’s statement was the oratorical equivalent of the media-management approach famously summed up by Trump’s former strategist Steve Bannon—“flood the zone with shit.” This is exactly what the Gish Gallop is designed to do: drown you in a deluge of distortions, deflections, and distractions.

As one pithy tweet—now known as “Brandolini’s law”—put it, “The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.” The Gish Galloper’s entire strategy rests on exploiting this advantage. By the time you’ve begun preparing your rebuttal of the Galloper’s first lie, they’ve rattled off another dozen. They want to trick the audience into believing that the facts and the evidence are on their side. (They have so many examples!) The technique is based on delivery over depth. Some call it “proof by verbosity.”

Trump may be the grand master of the Gish Gallop, but he is not its originator. That honor goes to the person who gave the method its name: Duane Tolbert Gish.

Gish was a biochemist at the Institute for Creation Research, a pseudo-scientific group that maintains all life on Earth was created in six days by the God of the Old Testament at some point in the past 10,000 years, with evolution playing no part. Gish publicized the ICR and its creed—and himself—by winning debates against evolutionists across the country. The writer John Grant explained the key to Gish’s approach in his 2014 book, Debunk It! Fake News Edition:

Gish would insist his opponent go first. After his opponent was finished with his or her argument, Gish would begin talking very quickly for perhaps an hour, reeling off a long string of “facts.” His debating opponent, of course, didn’t have the chance even to note down all those “facts,” let alone work out whether or not they were correct. In his or her rebuttal, the opponent could either ignore Gish’s tirade altogether, which would look like dodging the issue, or try to answer as many of the points as possible, which meant looking as if he or she were floundering.

In 1994, after watching Gish run rings around scholars and scientists, a frustrated Eugenie Scott, then the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, coined the phrase Gish Gallop. In these debates, Scott noted, “the evolutionist has to shut up while the creationist gallops along, spewing out nonsense with every paragraph.”

The “nonsense” is an integral part of the Gish Gallop. Gish’s claims were repeatedly debunked, yet he regurgitated them again and again, at the same speed, in the same order, in debate after debate. As Skeptic magazine pointed out in 1996, “with a new audience and a new scientist to debate, who’s to know that his argument got shot down, with evidence, by that other evolutionist last week?”

Like Gish before him, Trump ceaselessly repeats claims that have been publicly discredited. In theory, rebutting these falsehoods point by point is the best way to stop a Gish Gallop. But in the real world, you rarely have the opportunity to do this.

So what do you do? From my days as a student debater at Oxford University to my decade as a TV interviewer, I’ve come across my fair share of Gish Gallopers. Here’s what I’ve learned about how to handle them.

1. Pick your battle.

Perhaps the first time I encountered a Gish Galloper in person was in 2013, during a debate on Islam and peace at the Oxford Union. One of my opponents, the far-right activist Anne Marie Waters, began her remarks with this word salad of an attack on my faith and my co-religionists:

‘Let me tell you what actually whips up fears of Islam. Let me take it from the top: 9/11; the London Underground bombings; Madrid; Mumbai; Mali; Bali; northern Nigeria; Sudan; Afghanistan; Saudi Arabia; Iran; Yemen; Pakistan; death for apostasy; death for blasphemy; death for adultery; death for homosexuality; gender segregation; gender discrimination; unequal testimony between men and women in legal proceedings; child marriage; amputations; beheadings; imprisonment for being raped; anti-Semitism; burqas; execution for this, that, and the other … This is what causes fear of Islam. It is not me; it is not my colleagues on this side … It is the actions of Muslims that are causing fear of Islam. That is the real world. That is where we actually live. Then we’ll be told this is just the extreme fringe of Islam. Well, let me have a look at Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam …’

She Galloped on in this vein for several more minutes, piling one “example” of evil Muslims upon the next, and not stopping to expand or elaborate.

There was no way I could address all of the supposed examples she cited to justify “fear of Islam”; she listed 33 items in less than two minutes—about one every four seconds.

This was no nuanced discussion about the problems of Islamist extremism. No, this was a screed that sought to taint all of Islam, and all Muslims—presumably myself included—as aiders and abetters of terrorism. Any effort I might make to draw distinctions and unpick some complex realities from this fabric of bigotry would be doomed. It would have taken several minutes, if not my entire allotted time. It also would have put me on the defensive, when the key to winning any argument is to put your opponent on the back foot. So, instead, I chose to zero in on the most ludicrous assertion: that Saudi Arabia was the “birthplace of Islam.”

“Just on a factual point,” I responded, “you said that Islam was born in Saudi Arabia. Islam was born in 610 A.D. Saudi Arabia was born in 1932 A.D. So you were only 1,322 years off! Not bad.”

By mocking and debunking that particular claim, I poured doubt on the rest of them—and made my opponent look foolish in the process.

When facing a Gish Galloper, going line by line is impractical, if not impossible. Instead, single out their weakest claim or argument. Highlight and mock it.

This sort of rebuttal isn’t always going to work, and I don’t recommend it when your opponent has put together a cohesive argument. But it works well against a common tactic for Gallopers: surrounding their central, wrongheaded argument with an array of irrelevant facts. Pick on the core claim and ignore the others.

2. Call them out.

Don’t let your audience be fooled into assuming that your opponent has special command of the subject because of all the “facts” they’ve just spouted. Explain to them what your opponent is doing, and that the Gallop is really just a sleight of hand.

Another devotee of the Gish Gallop is Russian President Vladimir Putin. In recent years, the former KGB agent and his acolytes in state-run media have perfected what a Rand Corporation study dubbed “the firehose of falsehood.” Whether justifying the illegal invasion of Ukraine or interfering in U.S. elections, the Russian government—to quote from the study—uses “high numbers of channels and messages and a shameless willingness to disseminate partial truths or outright fictions.”

But the RAND study also offers—albeit at risk of overextending its metaphor—this piece of handy advice for fighting disinformation: “Don’t expect to counter Russia’s firehose of falsehood with the squirt gun of truth. Instead, put raincoats on those at whom the firehose is aimed.”

Putting “raincoats” on your audience means making them aware of what a Gish Galloper is subjecting them to. Point out, for example, that the speed at which they’re speaking is a sign of deceit, not intelligence. Or even that they’re relying on a favorite tactic of the Kremlin’s.

3. Don’t budge.

Above all, make sure you stop Gish Gallopers midstream. And then don’t let them move on to the next falsehood. Keep pounding at them with a well-prepared rebuttal. They may not concede the point, but they’ve been derailed and are now forced to argue on your terms, not theirs.

For years, Trump ‘Gish Galloped’ unchecked, disorienting opponents and audiences alike. Unprepared, time-limited, or weak-willed interviewers and moderators would fail to interject, correct, or take a pause to respond to his nonsense. That is, until August 2020, when my friend Jonathan Swan, then a national political correspondent for Axios, sat down with the then-president for a televised interview.

Trump tried to recite a bunch of dodgy stats on COVID-19, to pretend he had the pandemic under control. But Swan wouldn’t let him. When Trump started waving a bunch of printouts of graphs and tables, Swan inspected them and debunked the president’s claims in real time. Throughout, Swan gave Trump plenty of openings to speak, but he never let him get up to Galloping speed.

As soon as it aired, Swan’s interview went viral. This was the rare moment that revealed Trump’s Gish Gallop for exactly what it was: a deliberate strategy to deflect and distract.

So when you’re faced with someone like Trump, who’s spouting lie after lie, pick your battle, call them out, and don’t budge. Beyond their bumbling and bullshitting, they actually do have a strategy—so you should, too.”

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My Bottom Line Recommendation:  Don’t leap to jump on any bandwagon suggesting that Joe Biden withdraw from the race.  I don’t think he would do that anyway unless his family pressured him to do so. 

1. Give him a chance to continue to articulate his vision of government’s role in serving the people of this country, all of the people, as he did in his State of the Union address.  2. Give him a chance to use the weapon of truth to take the offensive against the deluge of distortions, deflections, and distractions, and outright lies, that his opponent daily uses as the basis of his candidacy.   

President Biden did quite well in meeting both of these challenges at a rally the day after the debate in Raleigh, NC, where he wasn’t straight-jacketed into a debate’s format, something his opponent chose to ignore at will.  A debate, like the one on Thursday evening, is not the best environment in which President Biden can pursue these two avenues because the format of a debate unfairly elevates liars to the same platform which truth speakers occupy.  President Biden should avoid future debates, and depend on the presidential ‘bully pulpit,’ (a term coined by Theodore Roosevelt) to reach the public through avenues of communication open to him in his role as president. Think of FDR’s ‘fireside chats.’

I expect President Biden to continue to speak forcefully on these two points, as he did in Raleigh yesterdayIf he fails to do so, perhaps Tom Friedman’s words should be considered carefully.  And those following in the footsteps of Duane Gish should be called out as the charlatans they are and kept out of politics.

The greatest risk in following this recommendation is that sometime between now and November 5, the marbles referred to in the opening paragraph of this posting might crack or stop rolling entirely.  That would be bad news. That’s why those frequently mentioned as possible Democratic 'alternatives' to President Biden’s candidacy should take an increasing and more visible role in supporting him, knowing that one of them might be called on to come out of the bullpen to relieve him, even before Election Day.  

Included in that ‘bullpen’ should be Governors Gretchen Widmer (MI), Andy Beshear (KY) and Gavin Newsom (CA), Cabinet member Pete Buttigieg, Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as numerous Senators including Amy Klobuchar (MN) and Cory Booker (NJ).  But if those marbles still continue to roll, albeit more slowly than in the past, there will be no need for a call to the bullpen.   Of course then, President Biden’s vice-president for the next four years should be chosen from this list.


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June Ends

One of the things that bug me about months like June that have only thirty days is that old fashioned calendar watches, like the two I possess, require an adjustment from the thirty-one dates they display, in deference to the eight months with that many days, June not being among them.   Another thing about the end of June is that we finally are given a vacation from professional basketball and hockey, whose winter seasons should have ended months ago but seem to go on, and on, and on.


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(If you want a copy of this on a flyer to mount on a piece of sturdy cardboard and display in you car’s rear window, as I do in mine, just ask me for one!)


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Housekeeping on Jackspotpourri

Strange “Hits’!  The large number of those accessing Jackspotpouri from Singapore has suddenly ceased. In their place, however, there have appeared large numbers of ‘hits’ on each posting in the hundreds, and as was the case with those from Singapore, but this time from Hong Kong!  I suspect that the Chinese are playing around with internet transmissions, possibly to try to identify who is reading them.  

Email Alerts:  If you are NOT receiving emails from me alerting you each time there is a new posting on Jackspotpourri, just send me your email address and we’ll see that you do.  And if you are forwarding a posting to someone, you might suggest that they do the same, so they will be similarly alerted. You can pass those email addresses to me by email at jacklippman18@gmail.com

Forwarding Postings: Please forward this posting to anyone you think might benefit from reading it. Friends, relatives, enemies, etc.

If you want to send someone the blog, you can just tell them to check it out by visiting https://jackspotpourri.blogspot.com or you can provide a link to that address in your email to them.  

There’s another, perhaps easier, method of forwarding it though!   Google Blogspot, the platform on which Jackspotpourri is prepared, makes that possible.  If you click on the tiny envelope with the arrow at the bottom of every posting, you will have the opportunity to list up to ten email addresses to which that blog posting will be forwarded, along with a brief comment from you.  Each will receive a link to click on that will directly connect them to the blog. 

Either way will work, sending them the link to https://jackspotpourri.blogspot.com, or clicking on the envelope at the bottom of this posting. 

Again, I urge you to forward this posting to anyone you think might benefit from reading it, particularly if they are a registered voter.  This is an election year.  Spread the word.



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