Games. We play games in everyday life. Chess teaches us strategic thinking. Chess masters learn the stratagems necessary to win the game. Many card games teach the power of bluffing an opponent and are quite strategic in nature. We even apply the concepts we learn in these games to real life, but with the understanding that real life does not necessarily mimic the game. A chess master might not make a great war general or president (although they might play a great game of chess). It is in this context that we must remember that debate is also a game that encourages us to analyze and strategize argumentation. It is also important to remember that arguments that happen in debate may or may not work in real life but the overall goal is to learn how to listen, learn, and think.
This brings us to the point of the article. Don’t be afraid of a little theory—I’m sure that many of you are not intimidated at all by running arguments that involve a little theory, but for those of you who might be, don’t be afraid of it. Simply because you don’t have a debate judge, does not mean you should shy away from possibly winnable argumentation. So, let’s jump right into the dreaded “specification” arguments.
This is probably the most predictable portion of every single 1AC. I think it very likely that one could count on a single hand the number of teams that use an agent, other than “the United States Federal Government”. This can give you ground to argue against the case. Will this argument be winnable? Yes. Will it win the round? Maybe not. Will running it, against a case you have nothing else to argue against, help you? Undoubtedly.
The argument against the affirmative’s agency is simple. Out of the hundreds of governmental agencies that exist in our wonderfully complex and bureaucratic Federal Government, what/which one(s) are they using to enforce or regulate their plan? There are pros/cons to different agencies and their capabilities. One can argue that having the USFG as agency isn’t specific enough – in fact, is very vague. Will the Department of Education regulate FLEX? Will the IRS make sure that people comply with the affirmative case? These are relevant questions that should be answered within the affirmative plan.
This argument does need to be structured, similar to a topicality press. Standard (agency specification), Violation (no specification), Impact (whatever impacts are your favorites). The theory name for this argument is A-spec…or, Agency Specification.
This argument, even without the theory, is very believable and especially if you are arguing before a judge who knows anything about government, they will have no problem understanding the need to specify a governmental agency.
A team should really know how much their plan will cost. It is good to use Normal Means to pay for it, but they need to know and understand what normal means are and they should specify how much funding will be needed. An F-Spec argument would simply say that we can’t vote for a plan when we haven’t a clue how much it will cost or how it will be funded.
Qualifier: If the affirmative case required zero funding at all, then obviously don’t argue this point. But often times, the affirmative over looks things that require significant amounts of funding and they fail to mention how much it will cost, or where it will come from. Hypothetical Example: Troop Withdrawal. This requires funding. Most teams, if there was a case like this, would not include a source/amount for funding. (The technical theory term for this argument would be F-spec…or, Funding Specification.)
Here is a card I found that might help you with your argumentation. I would urge you to keep this argument as something you would definitely run against a squirrel case (they have probably thought out the funding issue as much as you have been able to prepare for the case) and maybe you’ll even want to try it against a case you feel confident about.
Boston University Law Review 01 – legislation that passes without a specific price tag is largely symbolic
Sara Sun Beale, [she teaches first year criminal law and upper-class courses in criminal justice policy and federal criminal law], “Federalizing Hate Crimes: Symbolic Politics, Expressive Law, or Tool for Criminal Enforcement?”, Boston University Law Review, (80 B.U.L Rev. 1227), June 2001, (Ethos)
“One might respond that this situation will generate its own limitations, since Congress will have no incentive to play the federal crime card so frequently that it loses its impact. The difficulty with this analysis is that there may be perverse incentives at work. There may be a political incentive to introduce anti-crime initiatives, even at the point when they have become so common that they have lost much of their novelty and significance, because a vote against such a proposal may leave a member of Congress vulnerable to the accusation that she is soft on crime. Additionally, when symbolic anti-crime legislation is proposed, the absence of constraints that affect many other types of legislative proposals will undoubtedly affect the political dynamic. Most legislation imposes costs on the federal government, and those costs constrain Congress to a lesser or greater degree. Congress has a tremendous incentive to enact federal legislation that does not carry a federal price tag, such as unfunded mandates and purely symbolic legislation, even if it is not otherwise the best means of achieving the goals in question.”
O-spec (Over Specification)
An O-spec says that specifying an exact amount/source of funding and can also say that choosing a specific governmental agency (out of the hundreds that exist) is abusive, unfair, and…too specific. In essence, it’s the exact opposite of a vague mandates argument.
Seriously, guys, if you want to attack the agency or funding of a plan that give specifics, there are better ways to do it. For example, if the aff team abolishes Superfund to provide revenue for a plan, provide arguments for why Superfund is needed. For the plan’s agent, instead of saying that specifics are bad, run an argument saying that they are probably using the wrong agency, and maybe even suggest an alternative.
1. None of these arguments should be run routinely. They are best used against squirrel cases or those cases where you simply can’t think of anything else to run.
2. Remember that a good affirmative will have a quick and simple explanation of fiat power which is a great theory comeback to these arguments. You need to be prepared to refute this.
3. Scrutinize every single detail of an affirmative case. Whether you read the non-underlined portions of a piece of evidence, or you attack the commonly used debater phrases in the mandates, capitalize on any argument that presents itself.