Judging PF at Nationals means I saw some excellent debate rounds… and some not so stellar ones too. Nonetheless, there is something to learn from any debate. I’ve carried a few lessons back from the great state of Kansas for you all, wherever you may be.
Solvency is a term from policy debate that always matters. As it refers to the effectiveness of the affirmative plan or the negative counterplan in solving the harms or problems of the status quo, it is always necessary to discuss (Prager, John. “Introduction to Policy Debate, Chapter Two”. Retrieved 7 April 2012). However, solvency also applies to Public Forum topics, such as the Nationals 2014 topic, that involved a plan of some kind. Nats 2014 had a plan of NATO action in Ukraine that the PRO team had to advocate. Many PRO teams that I judged or watched did not prove solvency, but skirted around the issue by:
- saying that NATO should strengthen relationship based on a definition of should that looks to moral rightness or obligation. While this is one definition of should, the CON can easily counter that you “should not” take an action that will be ineffective or worsen the situation even if there is an obligation.
- not defining “strengthen relationship.” While the PRO is not required to define an exact plan (that would be Policy), the PRO must defend a more specific action in order to show solvency, or how the action would target and solve problems.
When doing resolutional analysis, always ask yourself if proving solvency (or efficacy in non-jargon terminology) is a burden of one of the sides. You should also ask if the action or plan being advocated is too broad to prove. If that is the case, the side with advocating the action must provide some defined actions to defend.
A compelling narrative
The teams I found most convincing at Nationals were those that told a compelling narrative of why Russia was acting. This applied to both sides of the debate: the PRO arguing for Putin’s planned expansion of the Russian state throughout recent history and the CON arguing for posturing and propaganda by Putin rather than planned expansion (and other variants on these arguments). These teams would not only prove their individual arguments and impacts, but would pull back to the big picture and give a “why?” that underpinned their arguments.
When constructing your casing and planning your late round strategy, think about the narrative you are constructing. Do you pull back to the big picture? Do you explain any necessary “why’s” behind the topic itself? Do you create a cohesive story with your arguments and rebuttals?
A lot of rebuttal speeches left me asking, “Has line-by-line analysis left the building?”
Too many rebuttals would give a general overview refutation to each contention (and one without any evidence or logical analysis to support it) and think that the rebuttal had done it’s job. If their opponents were smart, they would capitalize on this general rebuttal and extend the impacts and evidence that go unrefuted.
Just like you construct a contention with a claim-warrant-impact, your refutation of a contention should have this line-by-line construction. No, you do not have to refute every piece of evidence, but you must refute the central evidence or the claim behind that evidence. Rebuttal is the place for line-by-line analysis. This means tagging your refutations, or telling the judge what you are attacking before attacking it (this way we know you have provided a refutation and aren’t left guessing). Check out my Rebuttal chapter in Beyond Resolved for an explanation of the Four Step Refutation as well as further strategy points.
Sometimes it would be too little, too late – line-by-line Summary speeches. Yes, you need to respond to your opponent’s rebuttal, but the second half needs you to pull back and start giving a big picture analysis and comparing impacts, not speaking in terms of individual arguments.
Another failing of refutation came when the Team A would bring up a piece of evidence or impact in Summary that Team B had not refuted line-by-line, and Team B would never respond in Summary, Grand Cross, or Final Focus. YOU CANNOT IGNORE WHAT YOUR OPPONENTS EXPLICITLY POINT OUT AS SOMETHING THAT MATTERS. If you think it doesn’t matter, tell the judge why. Otherwise, refute it and do impact calculus. Anything else is lazy debating.
Cross-Examination has a point!
Wow, did I see some well used cross-examination time! Lots of questions, concise answers, and each team gaining some ground. But oh, did I see some bad CX at the same time. While I spend pages and pages discussing good CX in Beyond Resolved, I can give a one sentence explanation of the key failure of these bad CXs:
THERE WAS NO POINT.
Neither team had a goal they were trying to achieve – questions were delivered in a haphazard way, questions were thought of on the spot, questions often led to tangents and things that felt non-topical.
Good CX is built on strategy, pre-planned questions, and solid delivery.