Our elite Mastership Sourcebooks for NCFCA and Stoa will release soon! Check them out here!

As many of you are still rewriting your affirmative cases before the first tournament, this is probably a question weighing in your minds.

Allow me to explain the reasons behind my argument for advocacy and dispel any misconceptions about what is permissible in “debate theory land.”

You have likely been told, “Research first, write a case second,” as opposed to thinking up an idea and then trying to find evidence to make your idea work. But what if you’ve done your initial research, found good evidence for each piece of your case, and created a plan by drawing the logical conclusions yourself? Is there some secret rule that says you have to have a specific advocate for your exact plan text? Nope. But it’s always smart debating to use one. Is there a rule that says you have to research at all? Nope. But it’s always smart debating to do so.

Yesterday afternoon I was privileged to sit in on a meeting of teams running versions of the Ethos “Cluster Bombs” case. Not long into the discussion about improving their mandates, a plan advocacy question arose… The general premise of the case is that cluster bombs are harmful to civilians (because of their indiscriminate nature/risks of leaving behind landmine-like unexploded ordinances). Most plans aim to address this problem with by a joint (US-Russia) ratification of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. But one team came up with another plan idea which they felt logically flowed from evidence from different sources proving the following points:

1. In the Status Quo, the US is developing the technology for less-harmful cluster bombs and requiring them to have a less than 1% unexploded submunitions rate by 2018.

2. Russia has the dual goals of maintaining their national security and guarding against civilian casualties,

3. But Russia lacks the monetary and scientific means to improve their cluster bombs munitions. It would take $x to make the most accurate bombs.

Why can’t you take that evidence and write a plan that goes something like this?

The US will give aid package to Russia that includes $x and scientific technology for improved cluster bombs.

Now each source would probably it’s a good idea to do this plan, and our advantage is saving life, so it’s all good, right?

Not necessarily. The question you need to ask is not “Can I get away with this in a round?” but “Is this the wisest policy course? …and if so, how come I’m the first person to think it up?”

You’re probably thinking, “But in debate we’re simulating the USFG, and they get to think up policy for a living!” True. But in the real world, people who make up solutions without consulting the established academic literature are written off as “quacks” and not taken seriously. I’m sure you’ve heard a politician or pundit tout a proposed solution without referencing any expert opinions, statistics, or examples from pilot projects–you, thinking person that you are, would dismiss his opinion as just another sophist full of hot air, right?

Even those who do the real policy-crafting in our government are very specific congressional subcommittees routinely seek counsel from outside experts and hear thoughtful options for policy change. If our lawmakers recognize their lack of expertise in many policy areas and therefore rely on topic experts, shouldn’t a high school debater rely on opinions other than his own in forging a foreign policy solution?

Making up your own case isn’t against any rule, and I’m not saying your plan doesn’t make logical sense, or that you can’t win with it. But it will be the most well-thought-through, widely-researched, specifically-advocated cases that prevail victoriously through a year of scrutinizing debate rounds.

For those who seek to debate with excellence, it should take no persuasion to convince you that you ought to try to represent your sources honestly. This is why you must guard against misrepresenting your sources by linking together cards from different authors who each advocate different solutions in order to promote your plan. I would challenge all debaters to accurately and honestly represent the opinions of their sources.

Finally, all debaters who believe debate ought to model thoughtful policy-making should agree that one ought to advocate nothing less than the wisest possible policy change. Isn’t that why we spend hours rewriting and revising our cases and researching for the best pieces of evidence? And chances are, despite the page count on your last brief, you are your partner (and your partner’s dad) aren’t the savviest Russian policy wonks on the planet. Chances are that the most workable, reasonable, and profitable solution has already been thought of by experts in the field. So it only makes sense to mooch off their experience, brainpower, and wealth of verbosity.

There’s no rule against making up your own plan, it’s just usually unwise. There’s no rule requiring a plan advocate, it’s just that the smartest solutions are usually those with seasoned advocates. Because of this, the Ethos sourcebook strives to be set apart by only including cases with specific advocacies.

One last note: Don’t commit to a case this early in the year. If you’re finding your current case increasingly frustrating, if you and your partner are jumping through hoops to find a quote that could be construed as a plan advocate for your second mandate…then please, break up with your case. The time spent trying to save it could be spent finding a new even better case. Please don’t get so emotionally attached to a case that it becomes a pride thing for you (i.e. I have to prove that I can make this case work or I’ll look dumb) and paralyzes you such that you can’t switch cases. I checked with my mom and she said it was okay to casually date debate cases (just not debate partners). You are free to experiment with different ones and look around until you find the one true case that you were meant to be with forever. Okay I know that was cheesy, but my point is that you can always dump your case and write a new one with a more clear advocacy (and live happily ever after).

Austin J Freeley, Argumentation and Debate: Critical Thinking for Reasoned Decision Making, pg 228 http://books.google.com/books?id=ZR6RxPGlOgQC&pg=PA226&lpg=PA226&dq=plan+advocate+debate&source=bl&ots=vYcMNW4AOL&sig=vulGRHGXjw9wdUK1ufbyWXLCVUA&hl=en&ei=8h4RTbmlA4yr8Aa8oI3kDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CGUQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=%22plan%20advocate%22&f=false“Ideally the affirmative is able to rely on expert solvency adcovates, real-world supporters of the affirmative plan. The affirmative is on far safer ground if it can refer to these experts who have designed the proposal and published their advocacy of it as opposed to being creative and designing its own plan. In many cases, the plan may also have been implemented in other areas or smaller jurisdictions as a pilot project or other policy, providing empirical evidence of its desirability.”

For more information about plan advocacy…

%d bloggers like this: