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leuchtturm westerheverI just got this question from a debater I bumped into at the NCFCA NC national open last week. While it’s from Team Policy debate, my answer will equally apply to Lincoln-Douglass LD debaters as well.

Hey Isaiah! It was great to meet you at NC. I wanted to see if you had any suggestions for us in regards to affirmative debating.

We don’t necessarily have trouble writing cases are finding ones that we think we can stand by (although I have attached two 1ACs for any thoughts you have on them.), but we’re having trouble actually winning rounds with them. We lost our semis round at our last qualifier on aff, and went 4-2 while losing all but one aff in NC, and I’m not really sure where to go from here.

We’re open to switching speaker positions, as we both have experience operating as either 1A or 2A, and we’re probably going to at least explore changing cases again, even though we just changed our case for NC. Do you have any general aff tips to help us improve here? I understand the inquiry is exceedingly broad, but I’m pretty open to any change in direction at this point.”

I had two theories based on the content of arguments I saw at this tournament: either the cases are too small/whiny, given a resolution that begs for a grand vision for the Middle East, or there are too many arguments thrown at the wall in the hopes that one sticks. After reading the cases, it became clear that my hunches were on target on a 10:90 ratio, respectively.

You Need a Theme

I think your problem is simple: there’s no theme. It’s really hard to get excited about these cases. They read like a list of arguments rather than a compelling case or speech.

Remember that debate is an oratorical event akin to a policy briefing. You’re an analyst presenting a recommendation to the President. The President isn’t there to decide what’s important, but to decide what to do. You’re the one relied on to decide what is important.

There’s an old adage about a general that asks for a briefing and asks when it will be ready. The analyst responds “If you want 15 pages, I’ll have it in two hours. If you want one page, I’ll have it in three days.” That’s because it is the analyst’s job to sort out all the “true but useless” information from the most essential. Incidentally, this is why Steve Jobs’ presentation style is famous for its credibility and clarity.

The principle here is incredibly challenging to implement, because it involves risk. Saying “here are 7 reasons” is not a risky statement, but it relies on your audience to decide what’s important rather than deciding on what to do. Deciding what’s important first means your audience will never hear secondary reasons that may be good, but you decided weren’t of utmost relevance. True, reading everything would help your audience make a better decision, but you’ve got 8 minutes—so make them count. Businesses that have long mission statements or act on too many objectives water down what they’re doing, while Google aims to “organize the world’s information.” If you can’t tell me why your case in 6-10 words, you don’t have a case—you have a list of arguments.

Take this case as an example, which I ran in 2002-03. While there are many points, they are all sub-points to a single theme: competition. NEGs would routinely bring up 8-15 disadvantages per round, along with 4-6 solvency challenges. But that was their mistake, because we had a single point (competition) and said judge it by a single criterion (real-life examples), and then we’d show how the USA is a free trade zone, and then several other countries that have tried it were able to achieve comparative advantage. In short, we waxed eloquent on “competition” in economics and threw down a challenge for the USA to be better. This was somewhat inspirational.

While the cases you sent me also lack depth of research—there are only about four sources total, and mostly op-ed types at that—I’m sure you would have greater depth if you focused on a single issue. You can’t wax eloquent about Terrorism, Leverage, Human Rights Abuse, and Violation of the law (your four justifications) all at the same time.


This week we took Clare Downing’s case (3rd speaker in LD, I forget what placing) and rewrote it after the first AFF round. It tackled too much with three contentions. We brought it down to a single contention, with a simple thesis, and glorious sub-points to create depth. Nobody had to be confused, she could run out of time and not say everything, she could add more examples and know they were relevant, because she had ONE POINT and one point alone.

How to Implement

So I ask you this: why, exactly, should we stop providing aid to Egypt? Pick one of those four issues above (terrorism, leverage, HR abuse, and violating the law). Based on your substance, you want to choose a goals criterion case.

Then throw out the case except for just that issue, and rebuild. Structure it like this:

  1. Goal of the Status Quo: some persuasive quote about how it’s in our strategy (e.g. National Security Strategy, Quadrennial Defense Review, or a similar source). Again, pick it—HR abuse, leverage, terrorism, rule of law.
  2. Hypocrisy of the status quo: Facts demonstrating hypocrisy. Several, from multiple sources. Something like:
    • $ amount in aid we give
    • % amount that is, proportionality, to U.S. aid
    • future plans for aid to Egypt (demonstrating inherency)
    • bad thing Egypt did
    • other bad thing Egypt did
    • expert analysis that our stance is hypocritical
    • persuasive statement on hypocrisy and city on a hill-ness
  3. Plan
  4. Making Good on the Goal
    • Workability of the plan
    • Likely outcome towards the goal (e.g. somewhat better)
    • Bigger picture, what this means for the U.S. and that goal in broader terms than Egypt alone

I’m not saying run the case on Egypt. I don’t really like it 😛 But this is how you would do it successfully, if you really believed it: you’d discover exactly, precisely, what makes you believe it the most, and create depth of analysis on that issue using debate theory (e.g. links, internal links, impacts, brinks, uniqueness, etc).

Conclusion: Have a theme

Without a theme, we’re left making up our own mind and you’ve spread yourself too thin. With a them, you can inspire, persuade, focus, and influence our thinking as to what is important.

Hey you LDers, I briefed the APEX students on some thoughts after the tournament as well. You can get them raw right here:

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