“Drew, this is TP.  This isn’t LD.  Morals don’t matter here.”

I actually had a debater say this to me while discussing a neg strategy.  My approach was to focus on how the US as a world leader has an obligation to act lawfully and obey international norms.  This was barely even a “moral” argument.  However, I was still told that these “moral” arguments should stay in my LD rounds and not carry over to these policy rounds that rest solely on facts and numbers.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  When debaters ignore morals and principles in their policy-making decisions, they’re leaving one of their strongest weapons at home to rust.

Problem – Morals ignored in policy debate

At the core of this problem are a few key misconceptions.

Misconception 1 – Morals Belong in LD and not TP

Truth: Morals are a key part of EVERY kind of decision-making, especially policy decisions.

I have a question.  If you thought your president was immoral; you thought he only cared about facts and policies and discluded all moral considerations from policy-making, would you have an issue with voting for him?  Most Americans would say yes to that question.  Just take a look at the last election!  Arguably, the biggest arguments against both candidates were moral at their core.  The biggest argument against Trump was that he was a misogynistic racist.  The biggest argument against Hillary was that she was a liar and a crook.  If you ask people who voted for Hillary why they did so, they’ll say because they couldn’t stand to see a misogynist in the White House.  Likewise, ask a Trump voter for their logic, they’ll often say that “Crooked Hillary” should be kept as far away from the strings of power as possible.  Morals matter to politics.  And they should definitely matter in your round.

The reason morals belong in both LD and TP debate is that both debates focus on decisions.  While in LD, you’re deciding whether it’s a good idea to hold up one principle above another, in TP you’re deciding whether to implement a policy or not.  And these policies can have moral concerns.  Think about it.  Is it moral to restrict exports to a country based on HR abuses?

On one hand, countries should take actions against human rights violations.  But on the other hand, is it moral to punish the citizens of a country for the actions of their government?  Do export restrictions and sanctions hurt the citizens?  Do they stop human rights violations?

These are all moral questions with moral impacts.  Policy requires morals.

Misconception 2 – My case is just numbers.  It doesn’t have any moral concerns.

Truth:  Economics is applied morals

I have another question!  Does your policy affect people?  If it does, then it has moral concerns.  You may think your policy is purely economic but economics is still vitally moral.  Take a look at tariffs!  Maybe you want to take away all tariffs on goods coming in from China and implement a true free trade policy.  Let’s look at the moral implications

On one side, you can say that free trade empowers those in poverty by giving American consumers lower prices and therefore increasing their disposable income.  You could also say that it helps those impoverished in China struggling to survive by opening the global market further, creating larger amounts of Chinese exports and allowing more in China to be employed and have opportunities to succeed.  You could argue that restricting exports by imposing a tariff is immoral because it hurts those in poverty.

On the other side, you could argue that these tariffs show companies in China that it’s not okay to have such low labor standards that allow them to pay their workers mere pennies.  Chinese companies often employ children, have no environmental or safety standards, and underpay their employees.  Is this the kind of behavior our government should be supporting?  Also, an argument could be made that the US has an obligation to put its own workers and companies first.

You get the picture.  All cases, whether they deal with economics, national security issues, foreign relations, or anything have moral issues at their heart.  You can even find evidence for this!  Here’s seven moral arguments for free trade and on the other side of the coin, the moral hypocrisy of free trade.  There’s ample literature on this point.  Think tanks have published pieces on this, philosophers have written books on the subject.  Economics and morals are interdependent.

Misconception 3 – Arguing morals is abusive

Truth: Arguing morals forces you to defend your beliefs

This is one of the greatest travesties in the NCFCA and Stoa culture.  This even extends to the current LD culture.  In a recent Stoa round, I made arguments about child labor and how we need to restrict the private property rights of businesses and not allow them to employ children and also restrict people’s private property rights over their own bodies and not allow them to kill themselves.

The response from my opponent was that I was trying to trick him into arguing for immoral things and that he wouldn’t fall for this kind of “trick.”

Rather than arguing that children can’t legally consent and have no legal standing from which to work for these companies, or arguing that government policies against suicide really have no impact because you can’t punish somebody who’s committed suicide, or arguing that companies that employ children in today’s 21st century economies would rapidly be given bad press and driven out of business, or arguing that private property rights would lift kids out of poverty and allow them to provide for their families, or that suicide and child labor are fringe examples, or that private property rights might be bad in those instances, but in the majority of instances are actually moral, my opponent decided he couldn’t argue against these policies at all and claimed abuse.

Here at Ethos, we believe pretty strongly that your beliefs need to influence the way you debate and that claiming that arguing morals is abusive is a cop-out that distracts from the value of debate.  This is true no matter what kind of debate you do.  All policies and all values have moral implications. If we can’t explore them, what are we doing?


Solution – Find the moral heart of your case

In order to find the moral core of your case, you need to ask yourself a few questions.

Question #1 – Who/What Benefits?

Look at your case.  Look at your advantages.  Who are they designed to benefit?  Why are you benefitting this group?  Why does the US have an obligation to help this group?  What are the pros and cons of helping this group?  If your case doesn’t benefit a specific constituency, what long-term goal of the US are you helping achieve?  Are you benefitting national security?  How so?

This isn’t only in your advantages.  Take a look at your harms.  Does the US have a moral obligation to prevent HR abuses in other countries?  Does the US as a world leader have a moral obligation to take a stand for moral leadership?  Does the US owe its citizens a completely domestic-produced military?  Ask yourself these questions and you’ll be a step closer to finding your moral core.

Question #2 – Who/What gets hurt?

This one is more directed towards negatives.  Take a look at your disadvantages.  Does the case help us economically but hurt our national security goals?  If so, you don’t necessarily have to challenge the economic advantages of the affirmative team.  You just have to argue that there’s a higher principle, a better goal to uphold.  Should we really put money before safety?  Is that moral?  Is that a principle the US government should be seen as upholding?  Don’t just argue that national security is harmed and leave your argument there.  Show the impacts!

“The affirmative plan will cause goods necessary for national security to be made in China.  Sure, this might make economic sense.  We’ll agree to that.  But there’s a higher principle at play here.  The United States Government needs to guarantee a safe country to its citizens.  We absolutely cannot do that if parts of our military are being produced by a hostile nation.  We cannot continue to put bargains above lives.”

Question #3 – Where’s a story?

This is crucial. Stories reach people.  A lot of the time, debaters ignore stories and the real-life impact of their cases.  This is a tragedy.  If you want to truly reach your judge, use a story to do so.  Use a real-life example of how the affirmative policy has put families out of jobs.  Tell the judge what has happened throughout history when countries rely on hostile nations to source their military.  Now, of course, don’t overdo it.  But stories are crucial to principles.  Win the judge’s heart, and their mind will follow.

Disclaimer – Don’t Cry

Don’t be a debater that sheds tears and cries to your judge about all the children that will die if they vote affirmative. Nobody likes a whiner.  Instead, talk about real moral principles that need to guide decision-making.  Every decision is moral.

Drew Magness is a sixteen year old junior currently in his third year of debate. He’s competed in Lincoln-Douglas, Team Policy and Parliamentary Debate claiming top 5 finishes in each form including two tournament titles. Pursuing every opportunity he can, Drew writes for two different debate publications and is competing in three leagues this competitive season. As a speaker and debater, he’s placed in the top ten at tournaments fifty separate times, including two top ten national finishes in his second year of competition. On the intangible side of things, Drew strongly believes in the way speech and debate trains students to think and speak in a winsome manner while evaluating every side of a story and developing their own opinion.

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