[eDebate] Re-thinking the States Counterplan

Galloway, Ryan W. rwgallow
Fri Apr 3 02:04:18 CDT 2009

Go Vegetarian:  Send the Sacred Cow of the States Counterplan Out to Pasture

(Title blatantly ripped off from an old DRG exchange on counterplans) 

Every year about this time I begin to work on the Baylor Briefs for the high school topic as well as get ready for the upcoming Samford Debate Institute.  As I began to delve into the poverty topic, I got excited about Affirmative possibilities. 

I found articles about:

*Poverty and Immigration

*Social Services in segregated areas with concentrations of poverty

*Full Service Community Schools for Low-Income Children

*Faith based legal services as bolstering legal benefits for those in poverty 

And then I quickly realized the obvious. 

None of this matters.  None of these affs are strategic, no negative team will ever research any of them, nor will they learn about any of this literature, because all of it will be obsolete when the 1nc says

The 50 states, the District of Columbia, and all relevant territories should implement the mandates of the affirmative plan

It?s time to put the sacred cow out to pasture.  The states counterplan devastates education and the benefits of in-depth, topic specific research.  The arguments in favor of it are weak, shallow, and protected mainly by about a decade of presumed legitimacy and the negative?s ability to spew off 15 answers to protect it.   

For my overview, I?ll make three arguments. 

First, the states counterplan guts in-depth education on domestic topics.  As a result, it not only devastates the educational benefits students get when debating such a topic, it also severely limits the range of topics that people will consider to be ?debatable? at the collegiate level.  This argument has particular salience every year when it comes to the topic selection process, because many people will  not vote for certain resolutions because the states counterplan eviscerates these resolutions.   

Second, the states counterplan thrives by distorting the literature base to answer it.  The answers in the literature to the states counterplan frequently consist of attacking the lack of uniformity on the state level, hence justifying the action on the federal level.  In the world of the Lopez CP, not even the notion that something is currently considered to be a federal only activity protects the aff.  I?ve seen federal nuclear policy, federal transportation policy, and federal lands policies Lopez?d back to the states.   

Third, the benefits of testing the ?federal government? in the resolution with the states counterplan are vastly overstated.  To paraphrase Will Repko on the consult counterplan, ?would anyone go to an academic conference and defend a paper entitled: ?The States Counterplan:  providing in-depth education to generations of policy debaters???  This paper title is far more persuasive:  ?The States Counterplan:  shielding negative teams from topic specific research for over a decade.? 

First, the counterplan guts in-depth education on domestic topics.  Education is best served by the requirement that debaters do research on a variety of different subjects.  To some extent, this requires getting rid of arguments that allow the negative to win without doing such research.  The incentives for either side to learn about the vast majority of social services related to poverty will quickly be undermined by the mere existence of the counterplan.  Negative teams will have their short-cut, and they will take it.  Most will probably cut a handful of cards on ?states can do legal services? or ?states can solve immigration.? But that will be the depth of the negative research necessary to beat the few teams that stray outside the ?exclusively in federal domain? literature. 

I suspect we will see a lot of military aff?s and aff?s dealing with federal agencies to try to carve out some narrow warrant for why the USFG is necessary in this instance.  The topic will be conceptually very large (any social service for poverty), but practically very narrow (only social services that have an overwhelming federal government warrant). 

There is nothing inherently wrong with those affirmatives, but they shouldn?t be the only functionally viable affirmatives allowed on the topic.  While seemingly very broad, the high school poverty topic is in fact very narrow.  The enormous hurdle of overcoming the states counterplan will stunt the development of many affirmatives before they even get started.  There is also probably merit to a ?chilling? argument that even if there may be some answers deep in the literature on one of these affirmatives to the states counterplan, the overwhelming hurdle states creates prevents that research to begin with.   

It would be better to simply draw a line and say that 50 state counterplans are illegitimate.  While there are certainly some benefits to the discussion of states versus feds in any area, the notion that the negative gets to wish away the entire 1ac in one fell swoop seems extremely problematic.  I can cite the obvious litany list of

-this is utopian

-there is no literature at all pretending that all the states would do this at the same time

-they have zero solvency advocate

-they gut topic specific education by recycling the tired federal/states arguments year after year

-they eliminate 95% plus of affirmative cases in one swoop

-they destroy incentives for people to research huge areas of the literature on poverty?meaning students never engage in or learn about such literature

-it isn?t reciprocal:  the federal government is one agent, they get 50 plus (considering they get states + territories + DC, and they also probably FIAT?d devolution by an actor of the USFG?the Supreme Court?to get there in the first place). 

At the same time, spewing off the litany list seems less persuasive than just pointing out the overall damage the mere existence of the states counterplan does to the way we debate topics.  Instead of encouraging understanding of issues related to poverty, the states cp forces everyone involved to narrow and obscure areas of poverty literature.   

Everyone who researches, teaches about, leans about, and grapples with every domestic topic is intentionally cordoned off to a narrow literature base to research the topic to get around that blasted ?federal government? warrant.  Maybe it?s time we learned about more.  We are losing something here, and we are losing the in-depth understanding about issues that are important for our students to learn about, especially in trying economic times.   

Second, the states counterplan thrives by distorting the literature base to answer it.  The magical ?FIAT wand? is incredibly synergistic with the states counterplan, in that it wishes away the answers that most ?rational policy-makers? in the real world cite to the logic of having the states do the plan. 

There may be more to the ?rational policy-maker can?t assume others will act? argument than we give it credit for.  Can you imagine this statement being made on the Senate floor, ?Senators, there is no need for us to take this action today, because all 50 states are about to unanimously act in a way they never have before, and the Supreme Court will validate this, because all 50 states will cite the Michigan v Long precedent insulating the action in their state constitutions from federal strike down.  Therefore, I urge my colleagues to reject this policy as it is unnecessary for us to act upon this.? 

You?d never see that statement because it is preposterous.  The states counterplan debates we get into are so far removed from real world policy-making as to strain credulity.  The world of debate we have created with the states counterplan is incredibly at odds with the literature based world that debate rests upon for its arguments. 

I?m not saying that clever teams don?t find ways to answer the states counterplan.  I have no doubt that the brilliant debate teachers who work at camps across the country will come up with solutions to the problem not predicated in debate theory.  But to do so, they have to create a world far removed from the core of the debate about whether or not social services for poverty are justified.   

Even in my limited research, there is a robust literature on a variety of potential social services for poverty.  However, it is very likely that this literature will never be tapped even to a limited degree by most students at debate institutes this summer because the states counterplan can solve all those affs.  Additionally, so few judges seem willing to take a stand against the states counterplan that debaters are chilled from conducting such research in the first place.  This argument shapes the world of debate arguments by shutting off huge areas of research before it even begins.  The literature base and the use of the states counterplan in debates simply doesn?t match up. 

Third, the benefits of testing the ?federal government? in the resolution with the states counterplan are vastly overstated.   To begin with, the federalism disad provides those benefits.  People can research the question of federalism related to all of these issues by running a disad. 

Ah, but federalism is a bad disad
on its own.  The link isn?t very good, the uniqueness is bad, the internal link is worse.  Federalism only works well when melded with its ever powerful ally that robs the affirmative of all their case advantages.  The hot ?federalism da? works a lot better when the 2nr can parrot out the following about a hundred times in a season, ?Counterplan solves 100% of the case, any risk, [sqwak] any risk, [sqwak] any risk
Polly says any risk
?  If we get tired of hearing that same debate, we may need to set the alarm clock and wake up from the world where states allows students to do the same thing, over and over again, on this topic. 

One argument that is kind of tough to answer is that the benefits of researching federalism in various areas around the globe is pretty strong.  But we do that all the time.  Every single year (at least on domestic topics), we have students do all the updates on ?Afghan federalism good, Iraqi federalism good, Russian federalism good, Nigerian federalism good, etc.? We rarely do research on whether or not legal services for the poor are beneficial, necessary, cost-effective, etc.  Instead of recycling the same old generics, we can have more robust debates specific to the topic.   

What is more interesting is why do we keep protecting the states counterplan?  It radically influences case selection on every topic, it radically influences the way we select topics, it radically influences everything we do.  Is it so radical to just throw this baby out with the bath water?   

One of my favorite song lyrics is from the Police?s ?Wrapped Around Your Finger.? The line goes, ?I will turn your face to alabaster, when you find your servant is your master.? Our creation, the states counterplan, dictates too much of our thinking about affirmatives, about topics, and about what kind of arguments we allow in debate.  Eliminating the states counterplan from the equation frees up our thinking in new and different directions. 

A little thought experiment is how much time you will spend on camps talking about areas like ?legal services,? ?education,? ?immigration,? etc  to students you teach at camp this summer?  If the primary focal point will be ?make sure we have a card saying that states can do ?x,?? then we are short-circuiting the education possible on these subjects.  I think a much better pedagogical model would be multiple seminars on ?answering legal cases,? ?answering education cases,? ?answering immigration cases,? etc.  Our students would get the benefits of strategizing and researching about multiple different facets of the poverty topic, as opposed to the tried and true, states and federalism cocktail. 

Will this mean the aff wins more?  Probably so.  But in an era of all the other kinds of neg ground available (a world of competing interpretations on T, a world of high magnitude disads that turn the case, a world of PIC?s, a world of Kritiks), are we really giving the negative too little ground by getting rid of the states counterplan? 

Our education has gotten lazy and fat on the red meat diet of the states counterplan.  Go vegetarian.  Get rid of the sacred cow. 
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