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Whenever I come into conversation with a parent or student who wants resources to “get better” at debate, among many recommendations, I tell them to take a gander at the Ethos blog. If you have the time to scroll and scroll, it goes way back and contains a veritable goldmine of debate advice on every subject. But with so much material, it can be overwhelming to find a place to start.

Thusly, I am re-posting a blog post by Isaiah from 2010! That is 8 years ago folks. It is entitled “How Isaiah Really Wins an Outround” It includes two extremely helpful pieces of advice that any debater can use. Enjoy!

How Isaiah Really Wins an Outround

I talk about burdens and create metadebate to weigh competing arguments.

When you are in a debate round, especially one where facts are in dispute (policy) or unverifiable (parli), or you just happen to be at the short end of the argument stick, it is time to debate about the debate. You should have superior arguments, but you’ve got to convince your judge that less is more.

Time and time again, I have put some burden (such as “no secondary sources”) or created some other metadebate stance (“the information they presented needed to be in the 1AC, not the 1AR–at this point it is a shift that negates our constructives”), and this is what leads to the victory.

Three examples:

  1. When we ran repealing the D.C. gun ban in 2004, all kinds of quotations and statistics about guns and crime were flying around the literature. Through a persuasive line of cross-examination questions forcing the other team to agree that studies must study something–that is the point, after all–we would set up a standard in the 2AC. All evidence linking guns to crime MUST specifically call out the location studied and methodology used to be considered in this round. Then while they were quoting “that more guns equals more crime is as obvious as the nose on my face”, we were saying “where past their nose did those authors look?” and providing examples from Florida, Maryland, New York, Chicago, Texas, etc etc etc with no rhetoric, but plenty of statistics and methodology. This worked every time.
  2. In quarterfinals at nationals 2010, Josiah and Patrick were against a team running a case that did nothing. The case repealed an EPA rule that supposedly cost us billions of dollars. Clearly new regulation would be put in place by Congress, but the aff team didn’t want to research and propose a policy, they wanted to just abolish the SQ. So they would link out of disadvantages by saying “well Congress probably wouldn’t do that” and “we are ONLY opposed to the current policy”. Josiah and Patrick set this up well. They argued some disadvantages in the 1NC and some theory arguments, that the aff team had no real advocacy. The 2AC did shift out of the DAs and Patrick and Josiah basically dropped the rest of the debate round for metadebate, showing that policymakers should not only propose what policy go away, but also show what will exist as policy afterwards. You can’t compare “we’re losing billions of dollars because of this policy” to NOT losing those billions, if the next policy also costs. You have to actually have a next policy proposed to make those comparisons. Thus, the AFF was setting up a case shift, not proposing a policy, and none of their evidence applied because it was not comparing costs of harms to the NEW approach (which could be anything from less to even more expensive). Josiah and Patrick won a unanimous ruling on metadebate, from a panel including community judges, against a team that had lost 1 aff round the whole year by metadebate. They avoided the issue directly, since the aff had set up an argument that made it self-defeating for any negative to directly confront the case.
  3. I once debated Matt Baker in NEDA, when I was partnered with a novice from PHC to help show her the ropes. The topic was about sentencing alternatives for nonviolent criminals. Baker’s case was to provide drug rehabilitation rather than prison. Our counterplan was to legalize drugs (no crime, no need for sentencing of any type, so it was mutually exclusive). Baker had 8 DAs with evidence and we had zippo. So we argued that pain is good sometimes when principles are at stake, and showed why liberty (and private persons rather than the government taking responsibility for its consequences) trumped all consequences.
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