[eDebate] How I will approach Topic Construction

Darren Elliott delliott
Sun May 7 22:22:58 CDT 2006

First, remember KC is known for BBQ.  We are a vegetable free zone and as such anyone found packing disgusting anti-meat products will be immediately removed from the City limits.  

I have been giving the topic construction process a lot of thought in the months since the election, knowing this would be one of my first duties.  I would have answered Jackie's request earlier had it not been for the million things that are likely plaguing all of us right now in our Academic lives as National tournaments wind down and we have to get back to life and catch up.  Dont take lack of response as an unwillingness to engage.  But as edebate discussions can blossom as they often do it is necessary to make sure there is time available to strap in and engage.  Still unsure if I have the time right now but I wanted to chime in.

First, diversity is a good thing.  Diversity inherently means that you cannot make everyone happy as long as within that diversity, factions will still hold to particular ideas.  I think the community is diverse in how it would like topics to look (not necessarily diverse in ways others of us would like to see it).  That said, not everyone will be happy with the topic.  That just appears to be a reality.  But it doesnt mean we shouldnt try. 

Second, I believe the topic process is a starting place for addressing some of debate's inequities.  When I ran for CEDA office I spoke to this and believe it to be true.  The one thing that unites all of us in most regards is a topic.  When that topic is unmanageable it makes programs make choices about whether to stay or go.  As someone who has built a program at a small school I can tell you what the topic does to people.  Europe for example was in my opinion unmanageable to small schools and people with novices.  I will do what I can to prevent a similar mistake from happening.  

Third, I think predictability is one way to keep topics from causing a run for the hills mentality among those programs.  I think a set of predictable affs is the best way to ensure that negs arent overwhelmed beyond repair.  I think it also allows for more neg flexibility or at least the possibility for it.

Fourth is what I will describe as my dilemma in topic construction.  Topicality is a lost art in debate and that is unfortunate in my opinion.  It used to serve as the great equalizer in debates.  I debated in the days of "The USFG should change its Foreign Policy towards _______"  A lot of folks criticize that approach as too broad.  While I tend to agree, I also know that in those days people were more likely to vote on T.  Smart people could lock in an interpretation of the topic and strap in on T and be ok in those debates where the broad aff flexibility meant they werent ready for a case/cp debate agains that particular aff.  Today the community almost bastardizes anyone who votes on T.  I think in a world of broad flexibility for affs where judges would vote on T more often then I could live with the above type of topic.  But it appears on the surface that people who would like the above topic are also less likely to vote on T.  Maybe I am wrong.  But as long as the current thing to do as the cool kid is to not vote on T (lest ye be genocidal) then I think we have to ensure predictability for the Negs in the way the topics are worded.  In the ideal scenario affs would have broad flexibility (change FP towards X, or the USFG should severly limit Pres. Auth. in the War on Terror, or the Supreme Court should overrule a case in X area) and the negs would have T as a check for those affs who still choose to, despite broad flexibility, do nothing remotely topical.  That world seems to be a distant memory.  As such, I think we have forced ourself into the other world.  We need to make affs predictable to ensure neg fairness.  Maybe I am wrong and am certainly willing to be convinced otherwise.  

Fifth, is what I will describe as an opportunity to decide an issue I am still undecided on.  I have heard a lot of discussion about how we should continue to write "Policy" topics because, 1 thats what most people want and 2 the OU's, Fort's, Louisville's, Fullerton's, etc. of the world will continue to do what they do no matter the topic.  This usually stifles the discussions about passive voices, broad govt. actions, personal action, agency, etc.  My question that I asked in the NCA panel on a look back at last year's resolution was, if the topics were written in a way that the folks listed above would like, would the schools who do not self identify as the above "type" of debate school still do what they do anyways?  History seems to suggest yes.  In the latter days of CEDA topics, while many schools stuck to the "topic" many of us were moving down the road of Policy even without "should" in the resolution.  When my teams run "Gotta have a plan" today, I think back and laugh at how many times in latter day CEDA I had to answer back "Having a plan is bad"!  So if we returned to a topic like "The media coverage of the War on Terror allows the President unchecked authority" would some schools run a plan in the 1AC?  What about, "The US Supreme Court erred when it overturned one or more of the following Lower Court decisions:______________________."?  What if the Topic Committee agreed to have 2 topics?  One each semester like CEDA used to have.  Perhaps a "Policy" topic one semester and a "Something else" topic another semester?  I am not necessarily advocating this right now but I wonder about it.  

Having written the above I am likely only asking more questions than I am really answering for Jackie et al.  Maybe that is telling.  Maybe I am not ready to be in any one pigeon hole as it relates to topic construction.  Primarily this is because I think there is good and bad in a lot of what we do.  Ultimately I will likely defer to that option which I feel is best for the longevity of debate and the organization.  How I arrive at that determination is still up for discussion.  Going in to the process I can tell you I think research burdens, predictability, and resource inequity will play large in my mind as we discuss these topics.


Darren Elliott
Director of Debate--KCKCC
CEDA 2nd VP Elect

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