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Resolved: You should get ice cream

Mandate 1: Acquire chocolate ice cream at the local Walmart

Mandate 2: Purchase sprinkles

Mandate 3: Purchase chocolate fudge

Mandate 4: Get some root beer in case anyone wants to make floats

Mandate 5: Throw an ice cream party

We’ve got a comedian on our hands.  So tell me, what’s wrong with this picture?  If you said that mandates 2 through 5 of the above plan are blatantly untopical, you would be correct.  So that means that, were this to happen in an actual round, neg automatically wins, right?  Wrong.  In this article, I’d like to convince you that extratopical aff plans can (and, in most observed cases, do) successfully affirm the resolution and thus are a legitimate aff strategy.

To clarify: no, I’m not talking about aff severability.  I.E., some people, were they aff in this situation, might argue that even if neg successfully argues that four-fifths of the plan is untopical, the judge can simply evaluate whether the topical part independently produces a net benefit.  And maybe it does.  But there are at least two problems with this approach (not that these problems disqualify this approach, just that they render it less effective in some situations).  One, some people might argue that cutting off part of your plan constitutes a prima facie violation since, objectively, it’s not the same plan that was proposed in the 1AC.  In fairness, there is a response to be made that, if violating prima facie is to groundshift after the 1AC, aff hasn’t done that at all – they’re still within the original grounds they claimed in the first plan.  Whether that’s a legitimate response is, as all things are, debatable.

But the second problem – and this is the kicker – is that you just lost eighty percent of your plan!  Let’s suppose neg either runs and loses the above prima facie argument or simply doesn’t run it.  Even in that case, it’s still a bit of a downer.  But wouldn’t it be cool if there was a way to keep your untopical mandates along with your topical ones?  Wouldn’t it be even cooler if you could explicitly say, “yes judge, half of our plan is clearly outside the bounds of the resolution” and still win the round?

I’ve got news for you – I think you can. 

Assuming a traditional framework, aff’s job is to prove the resolution true.  That’s it.  If they prove it true, they win, if not, they lose.  With few exceptions, policy resolutions are phrased as “Resolved: X should do Y” (note: I’m aware that in most cases, there are any number of ways to “do Y.”  Thus, when I refer to Y for the duration of this article, I refer to an instance of doing Y that does not subsume all possible topical plans).  If the resolution is stated without a specific actor, then for the sake of this article, we’ll say that in those cases, the actor is whatever actor the aff chooses.  Broadly speaking, extratopical plans take the following form:

Mandate 1: X will do Y

Mandate 2: X will do Z

Let’s suppose that aff proves that their plan is net beneficial.  They have proven “X should do Y and Z.”  In proving that true, they have also proven that “X should do Y;” they have successfully affirmed the resolution.  For example, “Resolved: You should jump off of a cliff” sounds like a horrible idea.  But suppose the following:

Mandate 1: Put a trampoline at the bottom of the cliff

Mandate 2: Jump off of the cliff

Advantage: Epic adrenaline rush

Objectively speaking, given aff proves the advantage, it is a true statement that you should jump off of the cliff.  

A caveat: there are two scenarios where your extratopical aff can lose, one of which is obvious, the other less so.  Case one, if the plan does more harm than good (duh).  Case two, if, though the plan is net beneficial (it’s better than doing nothing), it is better to do Y rather than X and Y.  Example:

Resolved: You should eat dirt

Mandate 1: Eat dirt

Mandate 2: Eat ice cream

The word “should” in the resolution (and this goes for all policy resolutions) does not simply require the aff to prove their plan is net beneficial.  It requires them to prove it’s the best option among those the judge is presented with.  Because even if it’s net beneficial, if there’s a better course of action, we should do it, and we should not do the aff plan.  In the above example, let’s suppose the ice cream is so good that it’s even worth eating the dirt to have it.  True though that may be, the best option is obviously to just have the ice cream by itself, meaning we should not eat dirt, meaning the resolution isn’t proven.

Hope you guys found this helpful!


Ben Brown is the blog manager for Ethos Debate LLC. He competed in Team Policy debate throughout high school, winning 1st place at the 2022 NCFCA national championship. When not debating, Ben can be found wishing he was debating, playing board games, or hanging out with friends and family.

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