More Deliberation on NCFCA Debate Resolutions by: Kristi Eskelund

I’ve watched the webinars and listened to some initial discussion beyond the white papers for each of the proposed NCFCA debate resolutions.  As typically happens with me, the more I think about and talk about these proposed resolutions, the more I like them, the more depth I see for research and learning, the more value I see in having developed ideas about these topics.  This, actually IS the reason to debate in the first place.  After the webinars, here’s what I think, with the caveat that this is really just me thinking out loud here, so please take it with a grain of salt:

Team Policy Debate:

1.Resolved: The European Union should substantially reform its immigration policy.

Initially this was my least favorite of the three resolutions.  I didn’t like that it wasn’t really an American resolution.  I still am not sure we have the right to determine policy for another set of nations.  While America does need to maintain an international posture, I am not sure it is our best posture to determine how other countries should handle their borders.  Remember that much of the angst that enabled WWII goes back to the way outside nations managed and crippled Germany. Sovereignty being one of the issues to argue here, I think we have to ask who should be making these decisions for European nations.  I also believe that immigration is a very loaded issue.  People tend to have strong feelings about it. This is part of what makes it so very relevant, actually.  In a region of tightly packed nations like the European Union, immigration policy is even more critical.  How much sovereignty should each nation have concerning immigration? You could ponder this in light of allowing the various states in our own union to develop their own policies of immigration or requiring them to follow a national policy.  And in a world where turmoil and terrorism BOTH prompt immigration, it’s a policy issue worth weighing.  I wonder, does the US have a right to speak to the immigration policy of the EU when we haven’t resolved our own immigration policies and laws?  AND I wonder if we don’t have an interest in at least speaking to the EU immigration policy given our openness to citizens from most of its member nations.  I recognize that this resolution asks students to “become” the EU, not operate as US Govt., but I also know that we as Americans don’t think like Europeans. Our ways are not their ways. That doesn’t mean we can’t gain understanding of both the EU and impacts of immigration. So, there is definitely a viable debate there.  Underpinning that is the very survival of the EU itself.  How important is that to the strength of Europe?  A badly thought immigration policy could certainly shatter the EU and leave many separate nations all seeking the US as an ally.  US separatism is simply no longer possible in our mutualistic – if not global – society.  Furthermore, I like this resolution for the fact that it doesn’t specifically entail US economic policy and foreign aid – a tough sell in light of the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the whole world. 

2. Resolved, the United States Federal Government should substantially increase its development assistance to one or more of the following:  Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. 

 I like this resolution a lot.  A LOT. First of all, it is very new ground.  No one is going to pull out an old brief and dust it off.  I like that it focuses on our near neighbors – neighbors who perhaps merit more of our attention than they’ve been given.  It is from this region that the majority of our immigrants originate.  We trade regularly with this region (consider coffee consumption alone!), and there is legitimate social unrest in this region that could be improved by solid democratic leadership.  It’s a region smaller than either the EU or Sub Saharan Africa, so solvency seems more attainable.  I know the leadership in these nations is somewhat unstable, but not more so than that in Africa, and not necessarily more so than some of the members of the EU!  I particularly like that the resolution focuses on developmental aid – and I know that a lot of the chatter in the chat box during the webinar did not like this focus.  Here’s why I like it:  developmental aid really is a whole different manner of aid than just sending money.  It requires more creative thinking and planning and sense of purpose, and so does this northern triangle of Central America.  It is definitely beneficial to our own nation to have stable neighbors, friendly neighbors, neighbors who aren’t vulnerable to the promises and assistance of those who are our enemies.  Additionally, it is noteworthy that China is investing heavily in developmental assistance all around the world.  Developmental aid has a wealth of viable options to consider: infrastructure (roads, hospitals, schools, ports, bridges, airports); business and industry (unions, employee health insurance programs, start-up companies, increasing competition to reduce abuse); agricultural development (balancing coffee and deforestation, irrigation, crop diversity), or how about training and equipment for local law enforcement?  Developmental assistance – at least in theory – has a greater likelihood of benefitting citizens and not merely governments.  It answers the old proverb – going beyond giving a man a fish and rather teaching him to fish.  On the flip side, look at all the developmental aid that has been poured into the Middle East!  What has that attained? And given our enormous deficit, isn’t it more viable to provide developmental aid at home to revive our own economy and lift our own citizens out of poverty to get them off welfare.

3. Resolved, the United States Government should substantially increase humanitarian assistance to one or more countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

This too, is a very real problem, worth understanding in all of its complexities.  Research can help to uncover what has caused the long-standing poverty and humanitarian crises in this vast African region.  And it DOES feel vast.  Any kind of real solvency is going to have to get to these underlying causes, some of which are cultural and historical. Again, creativity is required beyond setting up vaccine clinics or sending food.  Real humanitarian aid – albeit hard to oppose – is a short-term fix, designed to relieve present suffering.  That is definitely important but not a sustainable long-term policy.  A creative solution here could be Nobel Prize worthy stuff, kids!  Wouldn’t I love for an NCFCA alum to get that!  Additionally, the far-reaching poverty in Africa is indeed a social blight, regardless of the causes.  Can we in good conscience talk about repairing the environment and the atmosphere while so many, many people ON the planet suffer and die daily? Which is also why I expect this resolution would generate many sad stories and emotional appeals.  Again, I do like the focus of increasing humanitarian assistance vs. simply increasing aid.  It begs an understanding of humanitarian aid and of the human condition in general and draws limits that make assistance more definable and easier to approve.  Even so, the same thought applies here as to the Central America resolution:  don’t we need developmental and humanitarian assistance at home to reduce government entitlements?

No matter which of the resolutions we choose, here’s what we should expect for and from our TP students:

  • Very relevant real-world issues that actually affect many people.
  • Better understanding of different types of economic policy and different types of aid.
  • Better understanding of how geography impacts economy and prosperity.
  • Stronger research than we’ve seen in past years.  New research on new material.
  • Some negative responses other than topicality!!!  (I’m frankly very tired of the topicality cop-out.) Excellent ground for counterplans here. Because remember…solvency is the real goal!
  • Weighing of mutualistic relationships around the world.
  • Very real understanding of what it takes to have solvency or to make significant change.

And THAT is all valuable stuff!  I’d be a willing judge for 90 minutes of that.

Value Debate:

  1. Resolved: In democratic elections, the public’s right to know ought to be valued above a candidate’s right to privacy.

This issue touches us all.  While I appreciate the context of democratic elections, I think the underpinning values you argue for here will also apply to whether or not some future employer has the right to access all of your social media posts in order to “know” what kind of employee you will be.  The internet opens a number of privacy issues, and allows for past actions to be not only exposed but exploited.  And yet, can a leader expect to keep secrets or skeletons in his/her closet while still maintaining public trust?  I also like the idea of defining and fully understanding rights in this one.  What is a right?  Why is that a right?  Is it worth protecting at the expense of the other, opposing right? And if so, why?  How much information is enough and how much is too much?  Should leaders be held to a different standard than citizens when it comes to privacy?  And if so, why?  Does the “right to know” open the door to abuses by the media, and does a “right to privacy” limit their freedom?  Who are we protecting with a right, and why do they deserve protection?  There are so many worthy questions here to ponder and in answering them, we begin to understand what we hold most dear.  The challenge here is really going to be to answer the “why” one of these must be valued higher in a compelling way, because we clearly value both privacy and knowledge.  There are compelling answers on both sides of this question, which anticipates excellent debate!

2. Resolved: The principles of direct democracy ought to be valued above the principles of representative democracy.

With young debaters, this resolution stands to devolve into definitions and examples.  But beneath that first look, there is rich ground here for discussing ideas that are already being bandied about in the public forum.  Is your vote actually your vote or should you cede it to someone else to vote on your behalf? And should everyone have the same vote – even the marginalized and uneducated?  Do they have the knowledge to make an informed vote?  Given poor voter turnout in recent history, can we even rely on direct democracy?  Is tyranny of the majority something to fear? Remember that the majority of US population is concentrated in a few large cities.  How has our legislature become such a “swamp” if representative democracy is the best option?  Is there a way to hold representatives accountable without direct democracy? And what is the right standard for representation given vast differences between large, densely populated cities and large, sparsely populated geographic areas? We hear a great deal about our system being broken, and here is a golden opportunity to actually examine our system at its roots and think about what caused the breakdown, as well as whether it is truly as broken as we think or not.  I agree with Caleb on the panel that Alexis de Tocqueville is the one to read!  His thoughts about American democracy were not only reasoned and impartial, but they were clear.   I think students come away from this with a better grip on how self-government works.  The COVID-19 response gives fertile ground for weighing this issue as we begin to discuss in the public forum what makes a business essential and who gets to determine what’s essential. There is certainly more to come as we determine what standards must be obtained to open back up and who gets to set those standards or determine when they’ve been met.  It’s an observably practical resolution.

3. Resolved: Immigration is a human right.

With this proposed resolution, there seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to say, “no.” I believe that is a hasty and unthinking response.  Immigration is not a new phenomenon, and it is unlikely to disappear any time soon. Wars, abusive regimes, poverty, poor geography, and hope for a better life all prompt people to become immigrants.  But IS immigration something that has to be blindly accepted as a right?  And where is the limitation?  With so many people in the real world seeking a better life, it’s important to consider this desire through an understanding of what actually constitutes a human right.  If immigration is a right, is health care also a right?  Or a minimum wage? And how do we know?  What are the most fundamental pieces of that decision-making process: national sovereignty, pursuit of happiness, autonomy of individuals, opportunity for personal growth, equality or how about protection from potential terrorists or virus-carrying immigrants?  Does someone have a “right” to suppress any of these?  Again, there is a foot squarely in the real world here and there are two viable sides of the discussion. The discussion here lays fundamental philosophy that would inform immigration policy decisions like those the policy resolution on immigration would need to rely upon.

No matter which of these value resolutions we choose, here’s what I think we can expect for and from our LD students:

  • More actual philosophy.  These resolutions are not going to be won on examples.  They will require very logical thinking and solid philosophical underpinnings.
  • Genuine consideration of what constitutes a right.  This thinking benefits our students in many arenas.
  • Formulated opinions. Any one of these resolutions will require a clear case in which the student actually takes a stand. While definitions always matter, philosophy and the answer to “why” something is valued will be more pressing here.  There is going to be a stronger consensus on definitions.
  • Greater values clash.  This is why some people don’t like LD debate, but this is exactly the kind of thinking that must precede the more concrete policy decisions.  And since these are all relevant proposals for our world right now, then now is the time to name our values.

I’m looking forward to following that journey.  And again, I welcome more discussion and healthy debate on any of these resolutions.  It’s going to be a great debate year! You Got This!

There is a lot in here. Feel free to use this article as a jumping stone to create discussions at home, with your club, or friends.