Sunday, January 13, 2013

Toward Better Debate - January 2013

Some advice for LD and PF debating the January 2013 resolutions.

Having had the opportunity to judge both LD and PF this weekend, I saw some pretty good debates in both categories.  In the interest of making the debates better, I would like offer my opinions for what they are worth, and hopefully contribute toward making cases stronger and the debates better.  I was fortunate enough to see beginners and experienced in both categories debate these resolutions so I had a good overview of approaches to the topics.

PF Citizens United

One of the keys to excellent PF debate, in my opinion, is to be very knowledgeable of the topic.  In the case of Citizens United (CU), it is important to understand the history which led to the decision.  The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972 and subsequent amendment two years later was aimed toward restricting the influence of wealthy individuals and the so-called McCain-Feingold Act of 2002 attempted to limit indirect attempts to influence elections by independent entities.  Corporations have long had the ability to contribute to campaigns or candidates within restrictions established by the prior legislation.  This means is it incorrect to claim, prior to the CU decision corporations were not allowed to make donations.  It is also important, I think, for debaters to understand the impacts of the McConnell v FEC  and Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc.  cases.  These important cases provide a good background of the debate and controversy which culminated with the CU case.

Additionally, debaters need to understand the CU decision thoroughly including the controversies which resulted in a highly divided court. A lot of this debate centers on the right to free speech to be sure and I think debaters did a decent job debating this important issue.  Familiarize yourself with the case and you will find court support for the idea that CU does not unfairly unbalance equality in free speech.

Most importantly, there are some basic misconceptions about what the CU decision did or did not do.  To be sure, there have always been problems in how election campaigns are financed and carried out in the US.  For example, the concern of corruption and even the influence of foreign entities upon candidates.  Nevertheless, it is important to understand the CU ruling was not directed toward those issues, even though one may claim impacts in corruption or foreign influences.  The ruling also does not remove the restrictions upon campaign donations.  The limits on donation remain in full force.  The ruling does not address issues of disclosure as well.  CU DOES remove restrictions on corporations using funds from their general treasuries and permits unlimited independent spending upon electioneering communication.  Nevertheless unlimited, undisclosed funds are not going to candidates nor their campaigns as a direct result of the CU ruling.

Finally, I would like to offer some advice about impacts.  It is very important on both sides of the debate to make impact claims but realize it is simply not enough to mention an effect and think it suffices as an impact.  One may claim, for example, CU has resulted in an explosion of negative campaign ads and may present overwhelming evidence and statistics to back the claim.  Is this an impact? No, it is an observed effect which may or may not have been a direct consequence of the decision.  To make it an impact, one needs to explain why the flood of negative campaign ads are bad.  How does this harm the election process?  If one claims CU has effected voter turn-out why does this harm the election process?  An impact tells me, why I as a judge, should care.

LD Rehab and Retribution

I have been listening to the LD cases on evaluating rehab versus retribution for two weeks now, and have seen some pretty good fundamental debate.  The majority of cases are tending to be oriented toward real-world examples and analysis which cite recidivism and deterrence statistics.  The Norway penal system is proving to be a persistent example of the potential of rehabilitative systems.  These cases are for the most part, easy to judge.  I have picked up ballots on both sides of the issue more or less equally.  For these cases, one sees justice, morality and societal welfare as values.  Additionally, I have seen justice versus justice and morality versus morality more times than I expected.

One of the biggest issues I am seeing lies on the philosophical side of the debate. I am hardly an expert on philosophy and I suspect neither are the majority of high-school debaters and LD judges.  However, I and a majority of experienced LD judges do have a pretty good understanding of deontological and utilitarian principles.  We also understand the social contract and the duties of governments (well, democratic governments I suppose).  Debates which address these concepts go pretty well but I do see a big tendency to mix utilitarian and deontological principles within cases and this is when things get confusing.  Understand your philosophical framework.  I know many debaters will say the value and value criterion is the case framework but really the value and criterion are often supported by an underlying case framework.  For example, a debater on the Aff may choose a value of justice defined as giving each his due, a criterion of advancing the common good.  The case may then explain how the rehabilitation of criminals benefits citizens by allowing reintegration of the individual as a productive member of society.  Would this case be ontological or utilitarian?  I see some confusion in debaters who do not really understand their case frameworks but if you can answer this question about your own case, it may help you to narrow the focus of your debate in a more effective way.

Finally, for you AFF debaters who want to argue how poverty, cultural and environmental factors have contributed to the propensity for criminal acts, that is fine.  I think it is a very good position to take and there is lots of evidence to support the idea.  Still, do yourselves a favor and do not suggest nor allow yourselves to be trapped into any kind of suggestion that rehabilitation will solve those issues.  It will not.  In every bad circumstance, there are individuals who react to their situation by making bad decisions and those who do not make bad decisions.  The idea behind rehab is assist individuals in bad situations to make good decisions.  It does not change the external influences, it only changes the internal ability to deal with the influences; at least in theory.

Good luck.


  1. VERY helpful thanks! (but just fyi, this is January 2013, not 2012!)

    1. For some reason I am having trouble getting my head around 2013. Thanks.


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