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Three Ways to Improve Your Politics DAs
A politics disadvantage argues that adopting the Affirmative advocacy will cause political fallout that produces negative impacts. For example, the Negative might argue that if the President initiates a humanitarian intervention in Syria, he won’t be able to push through defense budget cuts necessary to address national debt and deficit, and this will hurt the economy. These can be powerful arguments when deployed properly; here are a few tips to make sure you get bang for your buck with Politics DAs.
1. Stay Current
The touchstone of a good politics disadvantage is very recent evidence. The political dynamics of many major issues can change almost daily, so it’s important to stay abreast of current events as they relate to your DA. There are a couple of tools that are handy for doing this.
First, there are a number of programs that will automatically cull major news sources for stories on particular topics. The most widely used is probably Google News Alerts. From the Google News Homepage, search for the subject of your DA. For the example above, I might search for “Syria” or “Obama and Syria.” Then scroll to the bottom of the results and click “Create an email alert for..." You will have options about what kind of content to receive and how often. This is an invaluable tool for keeping up with current events even when they don’t necessarily make the front page.
Second, use RSS feeds to track expert blogs. There are a number of blogs maintained by professionals or interest groups that track certain political issues and offer consistent commentary on them. For instance, there are a number of Supreme Court blogs maintained by credible legal experts and journalists that produce a great deal of commentary on the major cases before the Court this term. If you find such blogs relevant to the subject of your DA, they can be a good source of evidence. I stress expert bloggers, not Joe Schmoe Nutcase. You have to use especially careful judgment in evaluating the credibility of blogs because they are not peer-reviewed journals or books. Make sure that the author is qualified to offer commentary in the topics about which she writes, and that she is citing facts that can be verified through independent third party news sources.
2. Structural v. Linear Impacts
Politics DAs are often associated with long link chains that culminate in a high magnitude, low probability impact, but they need not become this kind of caricature. Politics DAs can credibly claim a high magnitude impact by citing structural impacts rather than linear ones. For example, passing strong support for criminal rehabilitation might legitimately trade-off with Democrats’ ability to pass gun control legislation, which many believe is key to curbing very high rates of gun violence in the United States. This is already a high magnitude impact, and one could also discuss other effects of widespread gun violence like the breakdown of disadvantaged communities. These impacts have great magnitude because they are widespread and systematic throughout society. They are more realistic than the average nuclear war scenario because they don’t rely on a series of tenuous link chains to arrive at a one-time, super-high magnitude terminal impact. So, when constructing your politics DA, look for structural rather than linear impacts; it will generally improve the quality of your argument.
3. Look for Real Issue Linkage
Politics DAs are built on the idea of issue linkage. Political officials don’t just get together to make a decision about a single issue; they have to cooperate over time to address a whole range of issues. This can mean that seemingly unrelated problems become closely tied to one another because elected officials and bureaucrats need to cultivate political support and cooperation. Often such issue linkages happen because policies are related to a common objective. For example, Democrats have periodically offered to support certain spending cuts if Republicans will support certain tax increases. These issues are naturally linked, because both programs are aimed at reducing Federal debt and deficit.
Politics DAs seem implausible when they are not built on real issue linkages. The generic, unpersuasive version of these cases goes:
Card 1: The President needs political capital to pass X.
Card 2: The resolution represents a politically unpopular action.
Conclusion: Adopting the resolution would cost too much political capital and therefore prevent the President from passing important program X.
Constructed this way, the positions usually aren’t very plausible. The fact that some issues are linked doesn’t mean that all issues are linked. Political capital does matter in the big picture, but it’s very difficult to say with confidence that any particular political effort will preclude any other. It’s not uncommon for the government to undertake more than one major legislative initiative at a time; only enormous political undertakings like the effort to pass The Affordable Care Act plausibly trade off with virtually all other political priorities.
The best politics DAs are those that draw on genuine issue linkages. For example, rehabilitation initiatives may trade off with other efforts to reform the War on Drugs, because it is politically untenable for vulnerable Congressmen to appear “soft on crime.” The best indicator that issues are linked is that there is good evidence indicating as much. If credible sources are reporting on the connection between two issues, then it’s unlikely that one effort hinges on the other.
So, (1) stay current on your DA using internet research tools, (2) where possible deploy structural rather than linear impacts, and (3) construct your politics DAs using real issue linkages. Your politics arguments will improve in no time.