The new topic options have been presented for NCFCA team policy and there is incredible potential for an extremely engaging an competitive year of debate across all three topics. I’ll be going over the pros and cons of each option and then offering my opinion on which I believe is the best resolution. I’ll be rating each category in two topics. First will be educational and engagement potential. Here I’ll basically be judging each topic on their ability to prevent the year from going stale. Secondly, each topic will be graded on its ability to facilitate competitive debate rounds, basically which topic will generate the greatest quantity of fair, even debates. I’ll look at balance, breadth of aff and neg arguments, and the available research on the topic here. Each category will be rated on a scale of 1-3, with 1 being the best topic for that category and 3 being the worst…
1) Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially reform its policies regarding immigration.
This topic would probably get number 1 on education if not for the prevalence of immigration AFFs already within the NCFCA. Every international topic has had its plethora of immigration AFFs in regards to visa policies, refugees, and amnesty. Many cases will be recycled from this year without almost any issue. That being said, immigration is one of the most pressing issues facing the United States. It’s an issue of national security, economic stability, morality, just to name a few. Immigration’s status as an extremely politicized topic makes understanding it neutrally all the more important. Cases on this topic will be able to explore physical border security concerns, visa policies, quotas, and the like. This may be the broadest topic as well, or at the very least a close second with energy, meaning there will be no shortage of new and interesting AFFs come regionals and nationals. The breadth comes with consequences as well. While there is a plethora of data on the topic, the sheer amount of research may be frustrating to sift through for novice debaters and monotonous for experienced competitors.
Judge bias is the bane of this topic. As previously stated, immigration is very, very politicized. Most NCFCA judges will be moderately educated on the topic already and community judges generally will be as well. And as far as political topics go, the coverage on immigration is less than objective. Many rounds may essentially be a coinflip in the sense that a certain team will automatically win based upon the judge’s presuppositions. Now bias is a common issue in any topic, but what makes it an problem especially for this topic is 1) the lack of politically neutral cases, and 2) the fact most politically neutral cases were topical this year or recent years. The areas of immigration policy that a normal foreign relations topic couldn’t cover are either immigration policies that effect every country, or domestic immigration policy such as border fencing and security, deportation, ICE, and naturalization policies. There is a reasonable discussion to be had on all of these issues, however, many judges have already had that discussion and made their decision.
Aside from bias, AFF cases will have an edge in Inherency and ability to pull technical squirrel cases. Neg actually does get some meaty DA’s out of this topic, but that will generally get outweighed by an AFF “American’s first” or “terror/security threat” argument. NEG will be defending the immigrant more often than not, as expanding immigration policies will probably not be super popular AFFs in the NCFCA given the political background of most judges. Thus, restrictive policies may pervade tournaments. That does give the NEG some degree of predictability upon which to prep briefs and strategies, but only because they can predict they may be behind in most rounds.
2) Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially reform the Food and Drug Administration
The topic leaves a bit to be desired in both the education and entertainment department. That isn’t to say the FDA isn’t an extremely important agency to understand, nor that a nuanced discussion on the FDA’s regulatory power wouldn’t be engaging, but when the topic has been limited to only reforming the FDA rather than its policies, the AFF menu of cases becomes rather limited. The depth of AFF cases is limited pretty much to the process of the FDA, rather than anything the FDA actually does. Anything else would wander into a difficult topicality issue that will be discussed below. The FDA’s impact on the country is massive, yet many of those massive impacts would probably be non-topcial, such as FDA-regulations on generic medications and patented medications, especially vital ones such as insulin or EpiPen’s.
The limited nature of the topic really aids negative teams a lot in preparing for tournaments. After the sourcebooks get published on the topic and the first tournament week wraps up, people should have a fairly good idea of most of the possible cases teams will be reading, if not sooner. Researching those cases, however, may be difficult as the internal workings of the FDA don’t really sell news stories and the available research is rather technical in nature, which could be a surmountable obstacle for experienced researched, but would intimidate newer competitors.
Topicality is another area why, if I really wanted to read an AFF case I liked, would be wary of this resolution. Look at the wording again – AFF teams may only reform the FDA itself. NEG teams will have a compelling argument for topicality if the AFF does anything besides reform the internal operations of the FDA itself. Once an AFF case starts to reform policies that effect private businesses, i.e. businesses may not sell animal tested medications, would either be non-topical or would have to fight T battles every debate and awkwardly word mandates, i.e. the FDA will not approve drugs tested on animals. And even that wording is probably a policy of the FDA rather than changing the FDA’s internal operations, such as hiring policies or frequency of quality control checks. So while the limitation in topic area does generally make the debate more fair in terms of research preparedness, the overly limited resolution does pose some dilemmas for AFF teams.
3) Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially reform its energy policy.
Environmental policy, which is heavily based upon Energy policy, was actually a topic several years back for the NCFCA, and for good reason. Energy effects all aspects of American life. The types of fuel in vehicles, city powergrids, off-shore drilling, fracking, environmental effects, the list of potential cases is actually quite broad. Those aff cases will give debaters a chance to look deeply at what literally fuels the American economy. Understanding the US’s relationship with OPEC, the effects of the Petrodollar, and our oil exports will help answer that ever-present question of “why are the as prices going up?” And in a world of electric cars, sustainable energy such as wind and solar, and smart grid technologies, debates won’t be getting stale at any time during the year. The research pool is also quite good for all experience levels. Newer debaters will have access to the pages of pages of news articles written about crude oil prices, oil spills, pipeline protests, and other high profile issues. More ambitious debaters can look to energy journal articles and understand different types of alternative energy from both policy and scientific perspectives. This topic has plenty for any type of debater.
Breadth may be an issue for this topic, similar to immigration. There are a lot of different areas that are effected by energy policies. That being said, the types of negative arguments used to counter most energy aff cases are pretty similar. For example, NEG will be able to defend the merits of our oil and coal industries in most rounds where the AFF wants to increase usage of renewable energies. The DA’s neg have at their disposal will be pretty impactful, and solvency will be a constant issue for AFF teams as energy polices usually have to strike a very delicate balance between economic viability and environmental sustainability.
While arguing issues like Global Warming or Climate Change may draw out judge bias, they aren’t necessary arguments on this topic. There are plenty of economic, security, and health related reasons to advocate for greener technologies or a reliance on more traditional energy as well. AFF cases generally won’t be small, nit-picky regulation updates that can skirt by on a significance and topicality debate and win because NEG couldn’t have known they were supposed to research the case. Rather, AFF teams will have plenty of powerful, large cases that may be common knowledge, yet are strong in spite of ample negative research. For example, one of the most popular cases from STOA a few years ago had to do with importing solar panels from China, and was published in a sourcebook. The case consistently won rounds throughout the tournament season, being read by novices and advanced debaters alike. And that isn’t because the brief published was exceptionally good or that the case played on a judge’s bias. The case had a lot of different avenues that the AFF could take it down without confusing the judge. That is one of the biggest benefits of this topic competitively. Energy is an obscure enough topic to avoid too many judges being passionate one way or another on the central issues of the resolution aside from climate change, yet not too obscure to where there is no research on the topic and debates will get stale.
Ultimately I think the Energy topic ought to be the topic this year. While it is a rather broad topic, it is the least expansive topic that still allows for fair, engaging debates. The potential for educational debates is great, and the research ought to be very interesting for Team Policy students across the nation. The lack of judge bias and techy, barely significant squirrel cases will also go a long way in reducing the amount of frustrating rounds where you read your RFD and realize there was probably nothing you could have done differently to win that round. If you’re looking for a high stakes, intellectually stimulating resolution that doesn’t explode into a season of new squirrel cases every week, Energy is the resolution for you.