Due to the breadth of this year’s resolution, a general understanding of topicality will be useful. At first this might excite affirmative teams, at least until they realize that topicality will become an issue in (hopefully) every round. I’d like to strongly encourage all negative teams to press topicality as often and as hard as they can. The hope is that your topicality presses will serve to deter affirmative teams from abusing the scope of the resolution. Does these mean that I am asking you to run weak-sauce, sloppy, underdeveloped topicality presses? I should hope not. In order to prevent frustrating the affirmative team and boring the judge, I’m going to quickly run down the elements that should be in every topicality press, look over some standards that negative teams can use to limit the resolution, and then show you my favorite impacts for topicality and the impacts I suggest avoiding.
The basic structure of a Topicality press goes something like:
I. Standards (Reasons to prefer your definitions or interpretations)
II. Violations (How the plan “violates” the standards provided)
III. Impacts (Why it’s important for affirmative teams to be topical)
Do you have to present them in this order? It would make the most logical sense, so yes. Do you have to use those exact terms? No, of course not, but you should include these concepts to your topicality arguments. Let me explain why. If you were to present a T press without a standard, you allow the affirmative team to provide one for you (and I promise every standard they provide they will be able to fulfill). If you run a T press without a violation you obviously just wasted your time because you developed an argument that doesn’t link to the affirmative plan (you think that this never happens, but you’d be surprised). If you don’t present an impact at the end of your argument (and this is true for all arguments, not just topicality), then you leave the judge with a giant “who cares,” and you just have wasted your time developing and maybe even proving your argument.
It is probably the standard that confuses teams the most. Let me quickly explain; in a nutshell, standards are reasons to prefer your definitions or interpretations to the other team’s definitions or interpretations (as indicated in the structure above). For example, if the standard “bright-line” is presented, then the negative team will argue that their definition/interpretation is preferable because it draws a clear, un-blurred distinction that visibly distinguishes topical cases from non-topical cases. Another popular standard is the standard of “limits.” Once again, this is simply a reason to prefer the definition/interpretation of the negative team. They would argue that their argument is preferable because limitations on affirmative teams provide for a deeper, more intellectual debate round (there are several ways to spin and phrase this argument). If you don’t know or can’t remember the names of all the different debate standards, don’t spaz out; simply remember that: Standard = Reasons to Prefer, and then give your logical explanation as to why you think your analysis should be accepted over your opponents (don’t forget to tag it in some way i.e. Reason to Prefer #1). On the other hand, if the other team is throwing out names of standards without explanations, then don’t be ashamed to ask them to explain what they mean by those terms in cross-examination. The best scenario is to know the terms and their explanations, so that you can use them efficiently and call-out teams who are using them inaccurately.
In terms of this year’s resolution, I’m going to give you as many standards as I can come up with. Does this mean that you should run all of them? No, some of them are rather lame, but I want you to have every argument available to you. For organization’s sake, I’m going to break it down by the areas of concern present in the resolution and I’m not going to give them in their coined debate names.
Resolution: The United States Federal Government should significantly reform its environmental policy.
I. The United States Federal Government
A. State v. Federal: is the actor the Federal Government or the States; the resolution only gives affirmative teams jurisdiction over the Federal Government.
B. National v. International: similar to State v. Federal, affirmative teams only have authority over the USFG, thus they do not have the fiat power to control any entity outside the USFG.
C. Tiers of the USFG: this point would argue that there are some parts of the USFG that would not be topical. For example, the United States Supreme Court is a part of the USFG; however they do not create policy but instead case law and are thus non-topical because the policy debate round’s purpose is to debate policy change.
II. “Significantly reform”
A. A Change of 20% or More: I find this argument rather lame, but there are cards that support this definition of significant; however, it could be useful if you were debating a financial/economic issue.
B. Policy Change v. Policy Effect: If run properly, this argument can be strong. The resolution states that, “The USFG should significantly reform its environmental policy.” Thus, if an affirmative team is claiming topicality based on their harms or the effects of their case, then they are not topical because at that point they are skewing the issues of topicality and significance. Topicality requires that they change the policy itself in a significant way.
A. Reform v. Create: This argument is based on definitions that states that reform is “removing a malpractice” or “to improve.” The argument is that affirmative cannot pass new policy, but are limited to altering and improving existing policy.
B. Reform v. Expand: This argument is based on the same definitions, “removing a malpractice” and “to improve.” The topicality press would be that in order to be topical, affirmative teams must eradicate or amend an existing policy; they cannot claim topicality by expanding current policy to claim advantages. For example, if an affirmative team is simply increasing loan guarantees from $8 million to $16 million, then you would argue that rather than reforming a policy they thought, “Ha, I like this policy. Let’s make it bigger so we can claim more advantages than the Status Quo,” which you would explain is not a reform but an expansion of a current policy.
IV. “Environmental policy”
A. Define Together: This argument would be used if the affirmative team was using ridiculously broad definitions of the word “environmental.” In an attempt to limit them, you would argue that their definition is too broad and that for the sake of context, the two words should be defined together. In addition, you can point out that there are several definitions, available to the affirmative team, that do define the two words together.
B. EPA v. DOE: This argument is simply arguing against “affects topicality;” that in order to be debating environmental policy then you should be using environmental agencies i.e. not the DOE or the IRS. This argument probably requires no evidence to support it.
C. Must Reform NEPA: This argument is based on the preamble of NEPA that states that it is the primary environmental policy of the United States. This argument only works if you couple it with the policy standard argument explained below.
A. One v. Several: At first glace this argument looks rather nitpicky; however, this argument along side the NEPA argument is rather strong. The resolution states that the USFG should change “its environmental policy,” thus it implies that the affirmative team can only reform one policy. This contextual interpretation supports the analysis provided under the NEPA argument.
If you are not running the NEPA argument, then you risk sounding petty, but you still have a valid position. If the affirmative team were reforming several policies, then you would argue that they are not topical because those additional reforms were outside their jurisdiction.
At the end of any argument, an impact or a “who cares” needs to be established, and topicality is no different. You don’t have to give a hundred reasons why topicality matters, only a few good reasons; and you don’t want to give two good reasons and then one weak reason, because then the other team will simply harp on your one lame argument and in the process will undermine your ethos. I would suggest that you pick one or two good reasons why you think topicality is important, explain them well, and leave all the mediocre impacts out of the debate round. The two that I used most often were “jurisdictional limits” and “ground lost.”
As for the impacts that personally agitate me, the main one is “educational value.” The main reason I dislike this argument is because more often than not the team arguing this impact have efficiently researched the case and have a hundred arguments against it. Hopefully, you see the potential dishonesty of this argument in a debate round.