[eDebate] Is it time to get away from Policy debate?

scottelliott at grandecom.net scottelliott
Tue Apr 7 18:52:50 CDT 2009

Before the backlashing begins, read it through. I am not complaining about
CEDA/NDT or even calling for the abolition of organizations in this post. I can
do that any time.

Rather, I propose that we get away fromt he concept of "policy debate," and
shift over to "evidenced based" or "research based" debate. This would 1) more
accurately describe what we do and 2) it opens up the possibility for
alternative resolutions.

1) I have been observing and participating in 21st Century college "policy
debate" for the
past two years. Like most of you, I believe we are seeing dramatic changes in
the activity. Having watched elmination rounds at CEDA nationals, I swear that
I only saw one affirmative case that would meet the traditional S.H.I.T.S.
stock issues...especially in terms of traditional Topicality. The movement
toward critical affirmatives and the use of impact turns to topicality (and
yes, people do win these debates) makes a mockery of the term "policy debate."
(Maybe it should be mocked,however, it is not an issue I want to address
here.)What we now see in at least half of the debate rounds are nothing more
that Framework debates. Half of the community is wanting to present evidence and
arguments on whatever they want, even openly rejecting the requirement that the
USFG should be the agent of action, and the other half fighting a losing battle
to maintain old style standards for policy debate.

If you do not believe me, I suggest looking to the two teams that were finals at
CEDA Nationals this year. (I cannot speak about the NDT. I was not there). In a
nutshell, telling people that we engage in policy debate is a misnomer at best.
I think explaining what we do as research and evidence intensive debate is more
representative of what we do.

2) This, to me, is the more important point. If we describe CEDA/NDT debate as
it is, rather than harkening back to the good old days of NDT, circa 1976, we
may very well open ourselves up to new possibilities for debate resolutions
that are more substative. As it stands now (sorry to pee pee on parades), we
are going to be pretty much stuck with a Russia topic this year. Having been in
Russia during grad school, I think I can figure out a case or two. But, I really
do not want to research it, coach it, or (JEEZUS!!!) have to judge 200 rounds of
Russia--world going boom--for the next 8 months.

The problem with policy debate, as it is currently framed, requires us to use
the USFG as an agent of action. On international topics, we end up doing some
sort of engagement with a set of countries. We have exhausted China, the middle
East, Europe, Native Americans. Now we are left with Russia and Latin America. A
lot of Latin America was covered on the Ag topic. Central Asia was covered (at
least by my squad) on both the Middle East topic and the Ag topic. So, almost
by default, we are left with fricking Russia.

I look at all of the international problems facing the planet, and I would love
to work on another topic paper. However, each topic area I come up with becomes
an automatic "fail" because the current way of framing policy debate, and policy
debate resolutions, becomes a non-starter.

Let me give you a list and any coach worth her salt can explain why a USFG agent
of action is always going to be a non-starter.

1) Proliferation (uh, Iran and North Korea are just two examples, CBW's etc.)
2) Global Climate Change (anything the USFG does will always be a failure unless
China and India get on board)
3) Sexuality (most of these issues are really within the purview of the
States--sometimes state counterplans do have value)
4) Global poverty/overpopulation (Can the USFG really do anything?)
5) Postmodernism;
6) Science and Technology and the status of humanity in a post-human world.
(Again, what can the USFG do unilaterally?)
7. Mass species extinctions;
8. The collapse of the global capitalist economy.

None of these topics can be covered in depth under the current method of framing
college policy debate. However, I posit that these are the exact issues our
students should be debating. trying to squeeze these topics with in Russia (or
Latin America, or China) does not provide for the depth of research, analysis
and argument that we should be striving for. Our students are facing a world in
which the United States Federal Government enacting a one shot policy just is
not realistic. I think it would be more realistic, and be of more service to
our students, if we choose topics that really addressed these global issues
full force, without trying to shoehorn them into the dead format of USFG

Switching away from policy debate to evidence based debate opens up the space to
actually engage in debates that are timely and more in depth than what we can
accomplish under the standard "Resolved: the USFG should...." model.

As it stands now, we are pretty much going to be stuck with Russia, blah, blah
blah....China gets pissed, blah blah blah, nuke war, Fem IR, blah, blah blah.

In my alternative world, what would resolutions look like:

Resolved: the anthropogenic causes of climate change should be substanitally

Resolved: humans, through their institutions, should substantially reduce
anthropogenically caused global warming.

Resolved: international non-proliferation or antiproliferation regimes should be
substantially enhanced and/or enforced,

Resolved: global capitalism should be allowed to collapse.

Resolved: continued scientific and technological advancement is desirable.

Just a few concrete examples to start the discussion.


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