Thucky and the Gish Gallop


Frequent commenter Thucydides, who is affectionately known as Thucky around these parts and who may or may not be Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, has a familiar arguing style. DailyKos diarist AmBush referred to it after the first Presidential debate in 2012, where Mitt Romney “won” by spewing out a barrage of lies and distortions of his own positions. The technique is 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 lies…it’s all about the same. But it is a known debate tactic. And, like Romney, it is dishonest.

Thucky’s iterations of the Gish Gallop typically involve putting forth absurd assertions and citing authority figures (the more obscure, the better for Thucky) to back them up. Examples:

You are avoiding Prescott’s empirical research. Tax rates affect everything: the age you start working, the age you stop working, the ratio of the second earners income to the first, the number of hours you work in a year, the intensity of your work, the growth in your intelligence.

180 degrees from reality? Rational expectations is established science, winning a nobel prize. Highly ranked economist Ellen Mcgratten has mapped the great depression in research papers helping to unravel it role and creating a model for mapping this great depression. Are the policies in place right now, strongly supported by this administration damaging to job creation? We now have n increasingly overwhelming body of evidence that aays yes. Was it forceable in 2008? Yes.
In fact, i would argue that rational sxpectations is on the march again. It is already predicting this years elections results and producing record stock market gains. Rational expectations are that policy changes are coming and that they will be positive for the economy.

Well, ill give you points for politeness. But, it takes more than a sneer to win the day. We know that Lucas’s Nobel prize gives validity to the concept of rational expectations. So what were the rational expectations of Obama? Lucas thought Obama was just kidding when he gave all those speeches on single payor health systems and shutting down coal plants and ending the Bush tax cuts. I know, because i talked to him about it.

But, now we know that he wasnt kidding, he was dead serious and those ideas wiped out 10 trillion dollars of economic activity. When would the stock market rationally have been able first expect the reality we now live in? That date was October of 2008 when he gained the political upper hand. That is precisely the moment the stock market collapsed

The last three comments were Thucky making the preposterous claim that the economy crashed in 2008 because InTrade, the popular internet betting site, predicted that Barack Obama was going to win the Presidential election. Note that Thucky, like most pedants, tends to lecture those who rebut him about their tone. Also, extra points for dropping how he knows the authority he cites personally. You can begin to see from this first example that arguing with Thucky is an exercise in futility on a par with debating a Young Earth Creationist.

But wait, it gets so much worse. The Thuck-ster has a fetish for “data”, so we get many, many streams of bullshit like this:

The employment to population ratio was 58.9% up from 58.2% in June of 2011 but down 6.5% from 64.7 in April of 2000. That is the key number to evaluate the quality of the economy at providing for the working man and woman.

The quality of the jobs is improving, albeit ever so slightly, at 34.5 hours per week up from 33.8 in may of 2009 but down from 34.7 in 2006.
Average hourly compensation (1982$) WAS 10.32 UP FROM 10.17 IN 2012 but down from 10.38 in 2009.
We are stuck until tax rates are reduced, welfare is made less sticky for the 50 million and regulation is reduced from 90,000 pages to something smaller.

Thucky is attempting to overwhelm you with numbers here but the gist of his argument is that poor people need to be kicked off “welfare” so they’ll stop being so lazy and get jobs and our rich heroes need more tax cuts and fewer regulations.

Thucky regularly shares his theories on race and crime too:

Lets go over the data one more time. Since SB1070:
12 month murder rates in the city of phoenix have fallen from 340 to 109
Car thefts in AZ have fallen from 50,000 to 25,000
Auto crash deaths of children have fallen from 140 to 70
(Half this reduction is Hispanic)
DUI fatalities have dropped by over 30 percent
Intellectual corruption in our media, our universities and this blog have spun the fiction that 1070 was racially motivated. No, it was motivated by the horrific crime wave that low income Hispanics were experiencing flowing out of illegal immigration.
Illegal immigration was causing the equivalent of ten Sandy Hook massacres per year in Arizona.
As for racial motivation, lets quote Joe Arpaio circa 1992, “why should I harass gardeners?”

It’s neat how Thucky completely ignores Arpaio’s well-known pivot to immigration enforcement in the mid-2000s (when it became trendy) and seems to believe that anyone behind the SB1070 scam was remotely motivated by a desire to protect low income Hispanics from crime.

Ultimately, if you must engage with Thucky you should know that you’re being Gish Galloped and that there’s no need to go down the rabbit holes he puts in your path. My suggestion is to respond to everything he says with this:

paul krugman


  1. William, thanks for that extended quote. I’ve often wondered, “Why Thucydides, of all handles?” Now I understand how his name connects with all kinds of conservative and neoconservative figures.

  2. Fascinating research, Ms Gratehouse!

    Your detailed treatise drove me to do a bit of superficial research.
    (Yes, I can’t believe I’m delving into 2400 years of deep political thought, either)

    The below excerpt from the Wiki page for the Original “Thucydides” may shed further light on the convoluted thought process of our not-so-noble opponent(s).

    I LOVE the last paragraph!

    “In the seventeenth century, the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, whose Leviathan advocated absolute monarchy, admired Thucydides and in 1628 was the first to translate his writings into English directly from Greek. Thucydides, Hobbes and Machiavelli are together considered the founding fathers of political realism, according to which state policy must primarily or solely focus on the need to maintain military and economic power rather than on ideals or ethics. Nineteenth-century positivist historians stressed what they saw as Thucydides’ seriousness, his scientific objectivity and his advanced handling of evidence. A virtual cult following developed among such German philosophers as Friedrich Schelling, Friedrich Schlegel and Friedrich Nietzsche, who claimed that, “[in Thucydides], the portrayer of man, that culture of the most impartial knowledge of the world finds its last glorious flower.” For Eduard Meyer, Macaulay and Leopold von Ranke, who initiated modern source-based history writing,[44] Thucydides was again the model historian.[45][46]

    Generals and statesmen loved him: the world he drew was theirs, an exclusive power-brokers’ club. It is no accident that even today Thucydides turns up as a guiding spirit in military academies, neocon think tanks and the writings of men like Henry Kissinger; whereas Herodotus has been the choice of imaginative novelists (Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient and the film based on it boosted the sale of the Histories to a wholly unforeseen degree) and — as food for a starved soul — of an equally imaginative foreign correspondent from Iron Curtain Poland, Ryszard Kapuscinski.[47]

    These historians also admired Herodotus, however, as social and ethnographic history increasingly came to be recognized as complementary to political history.[48] In the twentieth century, this trend gave rise to the works of Johan Huizinga, Marc Bloch and Braudel, who pioneered the study of long-term cultural and economic developments and the patterns of everyday life. The Annales School, which exemplifies this direction, has been viewed as extending the tradition of Herodotus.[49]

    At the same time, Thucydides’ influence was increasingly important in the area of international relations during the Cold War, through the work of Hans Morgenthau, Leo Strauss[50] and Edward Carr.[51]

    The tension between the Thucydidean and Herodotean traditions extends beyond historical research. According to Irving Kristol, self-described founder of American Neoconservatism, Thucydides wrote “the favorite neoconservative text on foreign affairs”;[52] and Thucydides is a required text at the Naval War College, an American institution located in Rhode Island. On the other hand, Daniel Mendelsohn, in a review of a recent edition of Herodotus, suggests that, at least in his graduate school days during the Cold War, professing admiration of Thucydides served as a form of self-presentation:

    To be an admirer of Thucydides’ History, with its deep cynicism about political, rhetorical and ideological hypocrisy, with its all too recognizable protagonists — a liberal yet imperialistic democracy and an authoritarian oligarchy, engaged in a war of attrition fought by proxy at the remote fringes of empire — was to advertise yourself as a hardheaded connoisseur of global Realpolitik.[53]

    Another author, Thomas Geoghegan, whose speciality is labour rights, comes down on the side of Herodotus when it comes to drawing lessons relevant to Americans, who, he notes, tend to be rather isolationist in their habits (if not in their political theorizing): “We should also spend more funds to get our young people out of the library where they’re reading Thucydides and get them to start living like Herodotus — going out and seeing the world.” (Unquote)

  3. He’s going to think we don’t love him anymore.

    Nice analogy to Romney’s lies, but don’t forget Paul Ryan’s VP acceptance speech at the convention. I believe it was Jon Stewart who asked John Oliver when he realized that Ryan was lying. Oliver’s answer: when he opened his mouth. 🙂

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