Sunday, March 27, 2016

Election Rhetoric

There are books and even college courses in logic, argumentation, and the art of debate. But there are some techniques you probably won’t find in the schoolbooks, and this being a political year, we can look forward to seeing them. We certainly have in the past.
Some candidates will quote an opponent’s words or voting record selectively, or hint obliquely at scandals not proven, or use vocabulary with connotations known to the speaker’s followers.
But those are the sophisticated models. There are two that dispense with that kind of finesse and allow a debater to make his point without having to tap dance around the truth, because truth doesn’t enter into it. They’re pretty simple when you break them down, but it takes a practiced liar, a politician, or a corporate CEO to make them work.
One does depend on close timing, so it’s not always practicable, but it’s effective when you can manage it. Just as the debate closes, especially a time-limited one on television, you tell a whopper. The screen fades, the credits roll, the commercial starts, and your opponent is left with his mouth open but no way to refute the lie. 
The other one, you tell the lie in the first sentence, and then keep talking fast, loud, and long. You brush aside any attempt at question or correction, even if there’s a moderator ostensibly guiding the discussion. By the time your opponent gets a chance to answer, the original lie is buried under so much conversation it’s hard to get it back into focus to address it.
Against a persistent questioner it might not work well, but against someone inclined toward civility, for whom interrupting would be rude, it’s no contest. Your opponent writes notes to himself, rehearsing the stinging rejoinder he'll give when it's his turn to speak. But when he finally gets that chance, even though  he knows there was a pony back there at the beginning, he won’t be able to move enough verbal manure to uncover it for the audience in the time left.
Are there recognized gambits in debate, as in chess? I haven’t heard of any, but these deserve some recognition. Prevaricator’s Checkmate. Lie to Square One.