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Three Framework Arguments That Aren’t Worth Your Time
Space in your AC is a precious commodity. You have six minutes to lay out the bulk of your argumentative arsenal, and prepare to withstand a host of more or less predictable Negative strategies. Many Affirmative debaters make the core of their strategic logic a state of near paranoia about wonky tactics the Neg might deploy. Dense, analytic, spikey frameworks are designed to set traps into which the unsuspecting Negative will fall if they try to up-layer with theory or purposefully muddy the round. I’m sympathetic to this instinct; many obnoxious Negative tactics do screw up rounds on a regular basis. Nevertheless, I think that many of the framework arguments Affirmatives run in response don’t have the strategic utility they imagine. Below are three common framework arguments that I believe aren’t generally worth your time when compared to better substantive development of a positional advocacy.
Many debaters start their case positions asking the judge to presume Affirmative in the absence of offense, generally for a host of theoretical reasons like Affirmatives losing more often, time skew, Neg flex, etc. In a world where many judges think that skeptical defense against a standard can somehow constitute a take-out of the entire case position, I guess this scenario looks somewhat more likely than I think it really is. Similarly, inflexible requirements for how thoroughly arguments need to be re-explained in an extension increase the probability that a judge will decide that the round is utterly devoid of offense. (I admit to being guilty of this type of rigidity in the past).
Nonetheless, at the end of the day I don’t think you get much strategic advantage from a presumption spike. Trying to wash the standards debate by piling on dozens of blippy, non-comparative objections is a weak strategy. Not only does it require you to essentially abandon your substantive strategy for the round, it also requires you to make your judge so uncertain that they disregard all offense entirely. Similarly, pro forma objections to your opponent’s extensions are unlikely to convince a judge that there is no reasonable risk of offense in the round.
This argument just tempts you to spend time extending it as a “backup” plan in case your real strategy doesn’t work. Not only is that perceptually weak, but it trades off with execution of your substantive strategy in rebuttals. Your instinct should not be to throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. The best affirmative debaters never win on presumption. They win by executing a deliberate, meaningfully planned strategy that actually engages with the substance of their opponents’ positions.
2. Prefer Affirmative Interps
It’s also common for the AC to argue that the judge should prefer reasonable Aff interps. This is usually justified by the idea that Neg could always run some type of topicality argument, and if that argument wins it kills 6 of the Aff’s 13 minutes of speech time. The basic idea is to prevent the Neg from up-layering with theory that they are going to kick in the 2NR anyway.
I think this argument is problematic for several reasons. The first is that it doesn’t actually solve the problem. All topicality objections will claim that the Aff interpretation is unreasonable, which means that the debate on the theory flow has to play itself out regardless of this spike. If the Neg interp is manifestly unreasonable, then you can make these same arguments as “Err Aff on theory” in the 1AR, where they are more persuasive and more strictly necessary. Moreover, this argument doesn’t prevent the Neg from up-layering with other kinds of theory objections. There are many stock theory arguments that don’t plausibly criticize any Affirmative “interp” (unless “prefer Aff interps” means “the Aff should be allowed to do whatever it chose to do,” which seems like a strange way to read this argument).
Second, this argument is too often used to bolster some wonky, hidden interpretation in the AC that the Neg failed to recognize. “The Neg conceded the spike in the third argument that he couldn’t run counter-plans, and the spike in the fifth argument that he couldn’t run disadvantages, so there is no risk of negative offense. Remember he also conceded that you prefer Aff interpretations, so don’t let him challenge it now.” Good grief, I guess the idea is that turnabout is fair play when it comes to ridiculous theory. ACs should just have an actually reasonably interpretation, and then they will be ahead on any silly theory objection the Neg runs. Why give the 1NC legitimate grounds to run the theory arguments you are so afraid of?
3. I don’t have to defend implementation.
This argument has a long history, but I was surprised to hear it come roaring back to life at the Glenbrooks. It is and has always been unequivocal nonsense. Impacts come from an advocacy. It makes no sense to say that the resolution is normatively good unless it is implemented. To say that the resolution is normatively good is precisely to say that it should be “implemented.” I haven’t the foggiest idea what it means to affirm or negate but not defend implementation.
I think when debaters say something like this, they are really trying to make one of two arguments. First, they might be trying to say that they don’t defend a specific implementation. In other words, they don’t defend a plan, they affirm the “whole resolution.” Presumptively this means that the Affirmative should defend all topical advocacies (which is usually the opposite of what they are trying to accomplish). The response to silly counter-warrants or DAs to obscure Aff advocacies is to say that they have little epistemic weight because they are not representative of the resolution in general (they are extreme or obscure examples), not that they have no link because “the Aff doesn’t have to defend implementation.”
The second type of argument this debater might be trying to make is that their impacts can be non-consequentialist. This is really a standards level argument about which types of impacts are weightier than others, not a framework argument about what the Aff has to defend and not. Even if your impacts link to non-consequentialist standards, they still derive from your advocacy. It may be that we should adopt the resolution because it is required by a Kantian moral rule (for example) and not because it has good consequences. But that just means that the implementation of the resolution is required by the rule, not that you don’t have to defend implementation in the first place. If implementing the resolution in fact violated a Kantian moral rule, that would be a reason not to do it. A turn to that effect couldn’t be “no-linked” because the Aff claims not to defend implementation.
The best frameworks are short and sweet: A reasonable interpretation of the resolution to give you strong, substantive answers to silly theory objections, followed by deep development of a substantive advocacy. Put away the bag of tricks, it’s a crutch that’s keeping you from debating at your very best.