Debate Opportunities and How to Become an Expert in Debate… Each Round by: Eric Meinerding

There are two opportunities this week for digging deeper in the debate realm of Speech and Debate… specifically for our NCFCA friends (don’t worry Stoa friends… we are working on it)! If you want a little more guidance and direction come join one of the Debate Workshops or Second Semester Clubs start in February. Until then, here is how you can become an expert in Debate (video recordings HERE-

In retrospect, there was one basic issue with how I prepped for debate tournaments I had in high school. I had a lack of motivation to research tons of cases when I knew there was a pretty low chance I would even be able to use those briefs. And then in rounds where I was able to actually read a brief I had personally researched, I felt like my briefs only half-applied or I had to mix and match different briefs in order to craft my argument. In college, I learned a different method to research and organize arguments by. On the negative side we are able to read the same negative argument in almost every round with minimal or no modification. The professional coaches who guided me had been using this method for years with great effect. It saves college teams crucial time while preparing for tournaments and allows their arguments to be more lethal in round.

This method can apply very well to high-school debate as well. In the NCFCA or STOA, the 2018-2019 resolutions may seem very broad. How on earth would you be able to craft a good argument that can be compelling and specific enough to apply to every round? However, briefly consider LD resolutions for one moment. How broad is the term “nationalism” or “privacy” or “nations in need”? Although the terms may appear very broad at first, many LD debaters still read the same arguments every round without sacrificing specificity. Knowing what arguments you will be presenting before the round even starts is very calming and confidence-building. Even when handling the broad policy debate resolution, one can reach a similar state of preparation. This is because of the “bidirectionality” of the topic…

Understanding a bidirectional topic.
What is a bidirectional topic? In laymen’s terms, it means that there can basically be only two directions a topical affirmative can go in a given round. For example, an AFF could be an anti-terrorism operation that increases U.S. involvement, i.e. eliminating opioids in Afghanistan, funding rebels to fight ISIS, increase drone strike usage, engage in anti-piracy activities in Somalia, etc. What do all of these cases have in common? They all of these increase US involvement in foreign affairs. The other direction is decreasing US presence through actions such as cutting anti-terrorism budgets, halting drone strikes, stop funding Syrian rebels, cut aid to Palestine, withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Each of these cases decrease US involvement in some substantial way.

Throughout the rest of the article, I’m going to be calling US presence, “Hegemony.” That basically means “world leadership”. It’s a term a lot of international relations experts use so it’s very helpful to know this term while researching. So looking at the examples above, it’s very clear that the resolution appears to have to categories of topical aff cases. Those that increase US hegemony, and those that decrease it. If they don’t fall into either of these categories, they are most likely not significant, or not topical. In those rounds, research shouldn’t matter, because you aren’t responsible to research non-topical cases.

So what? How to take advantage of bidirectionality…
We have now narrowed what the affirmative team can do into two categories, so what? The application here is substantial. If you know going into a round, that the AFF is either going to increase US involvement in anti-terrorism activities, or decrease it, that gives you a huge advantage while preparing for a tournament. You can create two different, well researched disadvantages. One is going to be a folder full of all of the reasons increasing US involvement is bad. And the other withdrawing would be good.

But if you have debated before, or heard about “generics” from older debaters in your club, you may not have the highest opinion of them. But the style of generic argument used in college is rather different than the traditional generic arguments used in homeschool leagues. This is where the “Generic DA” comes in. Despite their name these disads can be very specific. They are only generic in the sense they may not mention the hyper-specific plan text or legislation the AFF is proposing. But they do represent the specific theory that the affirmative is based upon.

Basic Argument Structure

There are three components to the argument policy debaters use in college. Uniqueness (which is a similar concept to the stock issue of inherency), the link, and the impact.

1. First, Uniqueness/Inherency.

This is basically what’s going on well right now that the aff case dismantles. Your argument is that currently, the US is handling international terrorism properly. Depending on the round it may be that the US’s lack of involvement is working well right now, or their substantial involvement is good for x, y, and z, reasons. Whatever those reasons may be, you will eventually be demonstrating that the affirmative case “breaks” whatever is working right now. This is based on the simple figure of speech “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

This argument is something you can always fall back to. If you have a good UQ (shorthand for uniqueness), than there isn’t as much of a pressing need to pass the AFF case, because across the board, the current strategy is doing well. Meaning all you have to prove to the judge is that they are risking breaking a working system.

2. Next, the Link.

This is how the aff case changes the status quo and causes your impact. Or more simply, this is how the aff team “breaks” what is currently working. This is the argument that will vary the most between rounds, and the one you will be spending the most time researching. Applied again to the idea of bidirectionality, this link will either say the AFF increases US hegemony or decreases it. Sometimes no evidence is needed because the affirmative team may actually concede that they do either of these actions, and may consider that to be a good thing. In that instance, you are “straight-turning” the affirmative case. “Straight-turning” basically means you are turning the affirmative team’s case on their head and everything that they argue is a good thing, you are arguing is bad for the world.

Although there are in fact rounds where no evidence or a generic link card (Note: Card is the another term for a piece of evidence, referring back to when evidence was actually written on 3×5 cards), can be used, this portion of the argument is where an element of specificity would be strategically beneficial. If you have a piece of evidence that directly states the affirmative team’s plan text, it supercharges your argument and makes it all the more compelling.

3. Finally, the Impact.

So far we have two components, we have the “thing that the affirmative team breaks” and “how the affirmative case breaks it.” Finally we must answer the “so what?” question. Why does it matter? The impact is the net “bad thing” that happens when the affirmative team breaks the status quo. Impacts are your get out of jail free or trump card. As long as you have an impact alive in a round you have a chance of winning, even if you are losing almost every other argument. And conversely, if you don’t have an impact at all, your chances of winning decrease drastically. Example impacts could be: Loss of US hegemony causes riots and wars, like when the US pulled out of Iraq and ISIS filled their power vacuum. Or maybe increasing US hegemony is dangerous because they lead to civilian casualties and resentment, such as the US involvement with replacing Iranian leadership years ago.

In order to demonstrate that your impact is the most important argument in a round, there are three weighing mechanisms you have at your disposal. They are probability (the likelihood of the impact), timeframe (how soon will the impact happen), and the magnitude (how substantial is the impact). You should become very good at explaining why your impact is always worse than their impact. So even if they prove for example, that they save ten million dollars over five years, you can argue that they destabilize the middle east by using cheaper drone strikes. We get our oil from the middle east, so that probably will hurt our economy as well. This is the crux of a winning impact and strategic debater. If you can explain why your impact is more important than your opponent’s it doesn’t matter if they have won other elements of the debate, you’ve demonstrated that those elements are ultimately insignificant when faced with reality of your impact.

Advantages of this argument

1. Practice makes perfect. As previously mentioned, in LD, debaters get to re-use arguments on the negative in every round. Which allows them to practice it far more. About half of their NC they are able to give in every negative round and thus get very comfortable presenting it and have a good understanding of its strengths and weaknesses. Experts say that in order to become a master of a certain skill, you have to practice it for hundreds of hours. A similar concept applies to this style of argument. There will be rounds where your opponent pulls out some crazy new squirrel case that you don’t fully understand. But because of the bidirectionality of the topic, you know they can either increase or decrease US hegemony. And since you have been researching and debating US hegemony for months, you are the smartest person in the room when it comes to that topic. You are an expert. In the information war, “generic disadvantages” are a silver bullet.

2. Efficient research. You still have to research your normal case negs, and that’s okay. When your club evidence captain assigns you a brief, you can narrow down that research a ton. Instead of just putting “reasons why cutting aid to Syrian rebels is bad” into google, you have a basic understanding of how US actions generally impact the world. So instead you can research, drone strikes “Syrian rebels are key to US hegemony.” And if you accidentally find evidence that says the opposite, you can still apply that to half of the cases people will be reading! I accidentally found awesome cards all of the time while researching some other topic all of the time in college.

3.Coherent strategy. It can be very easy to become disorganized in a around and be unsure of what you have to do to win the round. You may just end up picking a stock issue out of a hat and going for it. This structure makes that much more uniform. You just have to prove the aff increases/decreases US hegemony and that is a bad thing. If you do that and have proven the goal, you should win the round.

Offense wins rounds. A disadvantage is the strongest argument you can present in a debate round. While the core stock issues all have merits within themselves, they don’t have the inherent appeal that a disadvantage that says the aff is going to make the world a worse place does. While winning a significance debate may seem like a good idea initially, all you are basically saying is that “yeah the aff is good, but it isn’t super good,” – not very compelling. But if you prove that the AFF breaks something that is working and causes a detrimental impact, suddenly, a negative ballot seems much more compelling.

This may seem like a ton of information and debate theory to think through right now, but in actually this is all quite simple. In summary:

1) The resolution is bidirectional, the AFF can either increase or decrease US hegemony or they are not topical.

2) That allows you to narrow your research areas to two areas, the pros and cons of US hegemony.

3) The way to utilize that research is through a simple disadvantage that is composed of three parts; first, what is currently working that the affirmative case breaks, second, how the affirmative team breaks it, and third, why that’s a bad thing.

Policy debate appears very intimidating at first, but this style allows you to become the expert in the room. By the end of the year you will have an incredibly well developed understanding of a key part of the topic area that will allow you to debate credibly on any affirmative case.

If you want to work through some examples of this style of argumentation, get help researching, or need help with your debate prep in general, Lasting Impact! offers one on one, club-wide, team-based coaching as well. Schedule a coaching session today to get ahead of the competition and deploy a tried and true argument that has been used by professional debate coaches at some of the largest universities in the country for years!