Chapter 4

The First Negative Constructive


What are the duties of the Negative side?

The overriding duty of the Negative team is to oppose the resolution — to argue that it, and the Affirmative plan that implements it, should not be adopted. This requirement is sometimes called the burden of rejoinder. This duty is exercised throughout all Negative speeches. In particular, the duty to oppose the resolution implies four separate goals for each Negative speech, and these are explained below.

The Negative has the burden to clash with the Affirmative. This means that the Negative must point out that the Affirmative analysis is weak, faulty, incomplete, or simply contrary to the true facts. In order to win, the Negative must successfully challenge at least one argument presented by the Affirmative. If a Negative team fails to clash, they allow the Affirmative arguments to go unchallenged; assuming the Affirmative has presented a prima facie case, the judge has no option but to vote for the Affirmative.

The Negative also has a burden of proof for what they assert. This means that they must provide evidence in support of their reasoning, just as the Affirmative must. This is not the same as THE burden of proof of the Affirmative, which is the burden to present a prima facie case. Rather, the Negative’s duty here is to support reasoning with expert opinion to equal convincing proof.

Third, the Negative desires to steal the offensive from the Affirmative. This is a strategic goal, not a duty. The Affirmative gains a great advantage from speaking first in the debate; the First Negative speech is basically defensive. The Negative should adopt tactics to put pressure on the Affirmative analysis, rather than meekly to defend the status quo.

Finally, the Negative desires to open up more issues in the debate. Again, this is a strategic goal rather than an obligation. The Affirmative wants to focus debate on the need for a change and the merits of their plan. The Negative wants to introduce arguments that diminish the need, obliterate the inherency, and prove disastrous side-effects that may range far beyond the resolution.


What is the Negative position with regard to the stock issues?

Recall that the Affirmative must carry each of the four stock issues in order to win the debate. It follows that the Negative must win only one of the stock issues in order to get the judge’s ballot. If the Negative can prove there is no significant need for the Affirmative plan — or that there is no inherency, and the harms may disappear sometime in the future — or that the plan won’t cure any of the harms cited — or that the plan has disadvantages worse than the benefits — then the resolution ought to be rejected.

Even though the Negative can win by capturing only one of the stock issues, it is an uncommon strategy to concentrate on only one stock issue. The standard division of duties has the First Negative confront the need and inherency issues, and the Second Negative confront solvency and disadvantages. Covering all the stock issues between the two speakers maximizes the chance that the decision will go Negative.

Of course, Negative teams are responsible for their own strategy. It may be that your needs will be served by using some other division of covering the stock issues. That’s okay. Use whatever works for you and your partner.


My coach says Negatives can’t split duties that way. Why is that?

A few contemporary debate experts believe that all key Negative arguments should originate in the 1NC — and that implies, of course, that the First Negative and Second Negative can not split up their coverage of the stock issues. If your coach prefers that 1NC initiate all arguments, then by all means follow her advice.

I prefer to believe that each Negative team is responsible for its own strategy, and for its own division of responsibilities. Because the 2NC is just as much a constructive speech as the 1NC, it is legitimate for new issues to open up later in the round; thus, there is no theoretical requirement for the First Negative to develop all the arguments in his speech. T

his is an issue of debate theory which has no definite answer; you will need to adapt your approach to the style of debate that prevails in your area — and follow your coach’s rules. This document will continue to assume that Negatives assign coverage of Harm and Inherency to the First Negative, and coverage of Solvency and Disadvantages to the Second Negative.


What is the structure of the 1NC speech?

The First Negative Constructive conventionally begins with a brief opening statement, to establish the Negative philosophy. This is followed by challenges to Affirmative definitions, often in the form of topicality arguments. Next, the speaker addresses the Affirmative case point-by-point, refuting the 1AC arguments. Note that the speaker usually does not refute the plan, just the case issues. Finally, if time permits, the speech will conclude with a summary: the speaker will note that the Affirmative case no longer is persuasive enough to justify a change from current policy.

Unlike the First Affirmative speaker, the First Negative will not know for certain what arguments he will need to present. All speeches from 1NC onward must respond to issues presented earlier in the round, so complete preparation in advance is not possible. One of the main skills learned in debate is the ability to extemporize a speech on the basis of written notes and a few evidence cards.


What is a Negative philosophy?

Like the opening statement of the Affirmative team, the introduction to the 1NC should be a short paragraph that puts the arguments to follow in perspective. Ideally, it should serve as a focus to link the First and Second Negative Constructive speeches together. Aim for consistency. Like the Affirmative philosophy, the Negative’s introduction should be short, to the point, and interesting. This is an attention-getter; it’s not supposed to be a debatable point in itself.

Let us assume that the Negatives plan to challenge all the stock issues. A standard generic opening might be: "Good morning. It will be the Negative’s position in today’s debate that the harms cited by the Affirmative in the opening speech are merely isolated exceptions to the usual smooth functioning of the status quo. Our current policy is flexible enough to correct most problems already. In contrast, the Affirmative plan will not readily repair these harms, and will cause such disastrous side-effects that rejecting the resolution is the only rational choice."

If you can be more specific in the introduction, so much the better. You may wish to suggest that the present system is attempting to repair the harms, but that innovations have not yet had time to work; or that we need a flexible policy, adaptable as people’s needs change, rather than the Affirmative plan; or that, while the harms are indeed real, the government has overriding concerns beyond the topic area. Each of these approaches concentrates on a single stock issue (respectively, inherency, solvency, and disadvantages) as the primary Negative challenge.

How does 1NC respond to Affirmative definitions?

If the Affirmative definitions are reasonable ones, accept them. If the Affirmative is using obscure or unusual definitions, the proper way to point this out to the judge is by a Topicality argument — a subject so important (and so complex) that we will devote a later chapter to it.

The Negative speaker should not worry that he is conceding a major issue if he accepts the Affirmative definitions. This may work to your advantage, since it gives you more time to grapple with the substantive issues of the debate.


How do I proceed with point-by-point refutation?

The ideal way is to structure your speech for maximum impact; this is a good idea for all speakers, not just the First Negative. It’s basically a five step process:

  1. Tie your response to previous speeches. Restate the argument made by the last speaker. In 1NC, that means going back to the label that Affirmative used in 1AC and calling attention to their argument.
  2. Signpost and label and your arguments. The first technique, signposting, requires you to tell the judge how many responses you’ll be presenting. Labeling involves a numbered or lettered point and a pithy headline that summarizes the argument.
  3. Explain your reasoning.
  4. Give your evidence.
  5. Show the impact that your argument has on the debate; tie it to the stock issues. Then proceed with your next argument.

Here’s an example of how all these techniques come together; italics indicate where the structuring techniques come into play. The resolution proposes federally-funded health-care for all U.S. citizens. The First Negative Constructive, in part, goes: "The Affirmative claims that medical care costs are rising out of control. Look at their first contention, which states that PRIVATE CITIZENS CANNOT AFFORD HEALTH CARE. [1-Tie in to previous speeches]. I have three responses [2-Signpost and label]. The first of these is that THE NEED FOR HEALTH CARE IS DECLINING. With the decreased need for health care, individual out-of- pocket expenses will go down [3-Explanation]. For substantiation, I turn to Otis Bowen, Secretary of Health and Human Services, who writes in the June 1985 issue of Modern Medicine that ‘As Americans become more health-conscious, they eat better and exercise more. The lifelong need for medical care has been diminishing throughout this century, as the U.S. public takes responsibility for preventing, rather than curing, disease.’ [4-Evidence] We see that the Affirmative harm is self-limiting; as health care needs decrease in the future, so will health-care expenses. The harm is not inherent [5-Impact]. But consider my next point, TWO: PRIVATE INSURANCE MAKES HEALTH CARE AFFORDABLE [2-Signpost and label]…"


Should each Affirmative point be equally attacked?

Usually, the answer is NO. You look foolish trying to refute something that is obviously true. And even if you have the evidence to attack all the points advanced in 1AC, you certainly don’t have the time to present it. Focus your emphasis on the points that will win the debate for the Negative; ignore everything else.

Two common Negative strategies should be mentioned. The spread seeks to present a lot of responses to each major Affirmative point. The goal is to swamp the 2AC speaker with the number of responses he must answer. If some Negative positions are not refuted by 2AC, the Negative will argue that they must win the issue; otherwise, the Negative still can pick and choose which arguments to pull through the rebuttals. The spread has become the dominant strategy in most varsity debates.

The centering attack is less often used, but can be just as devastating. Here, the Negative focuses on just a few Affirmative points — perhaps one stock issue — and spends the bulk of 1NC refuting those points in great detail. Again, this forces the 2AC speaker to spend most of his time rebuilding the original case. Both the centering attack and the spread involve the Negative’s expanding the scope of the debate far beyond the original Affirmative case.


What are the possible First Negative approaches?

There are six basic approaches to defeating an Affirmative case. They are:

The usual approach is to use a combination of the first four tactics as needed. Counterplans and Topicality issues are very powerful strategies, but they are also very complex; we will discuss them in later chapters. The other approaches are discussed below.

Challenging the Affirmative burden of proof. The thesis of this approach is that the Affirmative has the duty to present a thoroughly convincing case. If this has not been presented, the Negative need go no further — the Affirmative must lose because of the gaps in its evidence or reasoning. The Negative demands additional evidence under the penalty of an Affirmative loss. Of course, there is not enough time in an hour-long debate round to present all the evidence that the Negative could demand.
A number of tactics are available to show the flaws in the Affirmative proof. The basic one is the press for evidence, especially statistics. A press is a demand made for some evidence by a competent source. By itself, a press carries little weight in the round, but the more statistics that the Affirmative cannot supply, and the more fundamental the gaps in their evidence, the more likely the judge is to vote Negative.
Secondly, the 1NC speaker can challenge or deny the reasoning behind the evidence. This requires showing that the Affirmative is drawing conclusions from their evidence which the quotations themselves really do not support. Given the basic EVIDENCE + REASONING = PROOF equation of debate, the Negative can undermine the proof of a point if they can show the reasoning is unsound. Conclusionary evidence — which does not show a true cause and effect relationship — is suited for challenge if the Affirmative uses it to establish a causal link. So is evidence which is too indefinite; if the author uses words like "might," "sometimes," "perhaps," and "may," the Negative is justified in challenging any conclusion drawn from this quotation.
The third tactic is the direct evidence challenge, which tries to attack the other leg of the PROOF equation. The Negative shows that the evidence the Affirmative presented should not be believed. The Affirmative might be relying on old or outdated evidence; the source of the evidence may not be qualified to give expert opinions; or the author or periodical cited might have a demonstrable bias. All of these are valid reasons for the judge to disregard the evidence when reaching his decision. Chapter 1 lists several tests of evidence validity.
The fourth and final tactic is the failure to establish a prima facie case. This is common in novice rounds, and sometimes occurs at other levels of competition. If the 1AC fails to include harm, inherency, or solvency, or neglects to provide a plan, this should be pointed out to the judge firmly as grounds for giving the Negative an immediate decision. (The debate will still go on, of course, but a competent judge will decide on a Negative victory at that point and disregard any later Affirmative attempts to patch up their case). Even though Affirmatives rarely omit an entire stock issue, the Negative should be alert for weaknesses in the Affirmative stock issue analysis. Before beginning his or her speech, the First Negative should have a clear understanding of the Affirmative’s claimed harms, inherent barrier, and solvency arguments.

Straight refutation attempts to show that the Affirmative position is not true. This is a stronger position than the previous approach, which merely contends that the case is not proven. But both approaches have a common failing in the eyes of the judge; too often, the Negative appears to be quibbling instead of taking a constructive stance and defending a reasonable policy. For this reason, Negative teams should consider using burden-of-proof challenges and straight refutation to complement their other 1NC positions, and not rely on them entirely.
There are three useful tactics for straight refutation. The Negative may again present evidence and reasoning challenges, showing that there is not enough proof that the Affirmative position is true.
Secondly, the Negative may present counter-evidence, indicating that the Affirmative claim is false. Counter-evidence, to be persuasive, must be obviously superior to the Affirmative evidence presented in 1AC: it must be more recent, or from a more credible source, or it must take into account factors which the Affirmative evidence overlooked.
Finally, the Negative can argue that the Affirmative proof is irrelevant to the debate: the matter being proven has no bearing on the resolution, or the subpoint is irrelevant to the main contention.

Defense of the status quo and minor repairs are related approaches. The first argues that the present system is already capable of taking care of any problems that arise; the second argues that the present system is nearly perfect, but a little tinkering — far short of the Affirmative resolution — will make it absolutely perfect. Minor repairs usually involve encouraging a present trend, pushing more money through an existing program, or expanding an experimental government program. Minor repairs always rely on existing status quo goals and already-existing programs. In advocating the minor repair, the Negative is giving up a little bit of presumption in order to claim that the massive change requested by the Affirmative is not needed.


How does 1NC confront the Need stock issue?

There are two possible strategies; you can use either or both. As your first approach, you can REFUTE IT. Three particular tactics work best here. First, you can claim that the Affirmative hasn’t proven the basis of their harm claim; the techniques mentioned earlier for challenging the burden of proof would apply. Secondly, you can point out that the Affirmative hasn’t proven their so-called "harm" to be bad. Many of the apparent evils that Affirmative teams claim are spreading may not be harmful. One example which shows up regularly in debate is poverty: Affirmatives love to claim that low incomes beset a growing proportion of a certain group of citizens. In fact, unless the Affirmative teams can show that poverty leads to more material harms, the label "poverty" is not enough to show that these citizens are suffering. Likewise, Affirmatives that claim to save money under their program do not really prove a desirable advantage until they demonstrate a need for those savings. Virtually all resolutions allow the Affirmative to refer to a problem that — by itself — is not very bad; it’s the Negative’s job to point out that the "harm" isn’t actually harmful. Most goal-related harms fall into this not-proven-bad zone.

Finally, you can show that the Affirmative is dead wrong. This requires that you introduce counter-evidence to show that the harm does not really exist, or that conditions where it does exist are isolated instances. You can even prove that something which appears to be bad is really good; this technique is called a turnaround, or a turn. For instance, if the Affirmative claims that poverty is bad, the Negative may respond that poverty is good. Why? Poor people are less likely than the wealthy to overeat (and get heart attacks from poor diets); poor people don’t have high-stress jobs that can lead to ulcers and heart attacks; poor people always have the hope of a better life for themselves and for their children to drive them to achieve more, while the rich and middle class, having achieved the American Dream, have no such incentive and thus have lower social mobility; etc. This strategy of showing a plausible harm to be a surprising benefit has been adopted by First Negatives with increasing success in recent years.

The second grand strategy for dealing with harm is to REDUCE IT. Bring up trend evidence to show that the harm is diminishing. Prove that the harm is not quantitative — it only hurts a few people. Prove that the harm is not qualitative — it only hurts a little.


How does 1NC confront the Inherency issue?

Certain techniques still work here: you can challenge the Affirmative burden of proof by indicting their reasoning or their evidence. But the flexible 1NC will adapt his strategy to the Affirmative inherency position; generally, this means you must first identify the type of inherency the Affirmative is proposing. If you need a reminder, go back now and read about the inherency stock issue.

If the Affirmative says we can’t fix the problem, they are claiming a structural barrier. The proper Negative response is that we can, we are, and we will continue to work on the problem: a defense of the status quo. The second-best approach is to suggest a minor repair that would improve the status quo just enough to solve the harm. An example: the Affirmative justifies a federal program to employ those living in poverty by showing that welfare does not provide enough money for the average family to survive. The Negative response is a minor repair: pump in more money through the present welfare programs; this will cure the Affirmative harm of poverty.

When the Affirmative argues that we will not try to solve the problem, they are proposing attitudinal inherency. The Negative has a number of options. They can defend the status quo by proving that effective steps are being taken, or they can suggest a minor repair to make sure the steps are effective. One strong tactic is to point out to the judge that this problem is purely based on attitudes, and suggest a minor repair program that will change the underlying attitude; not only does this make an effective 1NC position, but it also sets up a 2NC solvency attack, discussed in a later chapter. Again, an example from the poverty resolution: The Affirmative claims that welfare programs fail because people are embarrassed to receive charity. 1NC first notes that millions of people are nevertheless willing to take the money, regardless of any humiliation. Secondly, he suggests that private groups are working through outreach programs to reduce this attitude, and (minor repair) government action to reduce these feelings further would be effective.

If the Affirmative says we shouldn’t try to fix the problem because status quo methods have undesirable side-effects, they may be arguing structural or attitudinal inherency. Show that the side effects can be avoided, or that there are other programs to diminish them. Alternatively, you can also institute a minor repair so the status quo can fix the problem without a harm accruing. Again, we’ll look at examples from the work-for-the-poor resolution. The Affirmative claims that welfare is a dead-end solution, since giving money freely to the impoverished makes them unwilling to work for cash. This is an attitudinal problem, and will fall to Negative minor repairs to educate people in the work ethic. Let us suppose that the Affirmative argues instead that welfare puts cash in the hands of needy people, who spend it rather than save it; this increases consumer demand and makes inflation rise. Once again, we have a "shouldn’t" argument, but this make a structural inherency claim based on economic principles. The Negative may show that the tax money raised offsets this demand, for no overall inflation, or they may propose minor repairs to control inflation if it arises.

What if the Affirmative maintains that present actions try to solve the problem but fall short? This is clearly gap inherency. The Negative will treat this as structural inherency of the CAN’T or SHOULDN’T variety, or suggest minor repairs — especially putting more resources to work at existing programs.


How does the 1NC confront the Solvency issue?

Most often the First Negative ignores solvency. When he gets to the point where 1AC introduced solvency arguments, the 1NC speakers tells the judge, "My partner will address the solvency arguments." This lets the judge know that you haven’t overlooked this stock issue, but that you want to bypass it until a more advantageous point in the debate.

This rule has exceptions. If the Affirmative has not presented any solvency point, for example, 1NC must point out to the judge that the Affirmative therefore lacks a prima facie case and cannot be expected to win the debate. Stress that the Second Affirmative Constructive is too late to introduce this stock issue.

Likewise, if the Affirmative solvency analysis is weak, or the evidence fails to support it, use your arsenal of burden-of-proof challenges to defeat the issue. But the 1NC usually will not read counter-evidence against solvency.


Does 1NC do anything special in arguing against Goals or Criteria cases?

These cases are approached from the same standpoint as Traditional Needs and Comparative Advantage cases. But some strategic approaches should be kept in mind:


How does 1NC prepare for 2NC?

There is a constant danger of the two Negative speakers contradicting each other in their constructive speeches. For example, on the inherency issue, 1NC may say, "No inherent barrier exists to solving the problem. We’re solving it now, or minor repairs can fix it." Then comes 2NC, who says, "The problem can’t be solved — not by the Affirmative team, and not by the status quo. We’ll just have to learn to live with it. Anyway, solving it would be a disaster." This clearly contradicts his partner’s position.

The best method to avoid undercutting your partner’s arguments is to coordinate your attacks by conferring before the 1NC speech begins. Make sure that 1NC inherency and harm attacks mesh with 2NC plan objections. All disadvantages presented by the 2NC should be clearly unique, in that they apply only to the Affirmative plan and not to the status quo or any suggested minor repairs.

The second best method is to use a 2NC introduction that justifies any contradictions. Such an introduction should always be used if you know a contradiction is coming up. See the chapter on Second Negative Constructive for an example of how this can be done.

The benefits of Negative cooperation are best seen on the inherency-solvency link. The First Negative should always try to reduce the Affirmative inherency position to its underlying attitudes, especially in cross-examination. 1NC can then present a "change the attitude" argument. Moreover, 2NC can then argue that the attitude will undercut operation of the Affirmative plan in his speech. This approach binds the Negatives together as a team; few other Negative strategies so link the partners.


Introduction to Policy Debate
Copyright © 1990, 1993, 1996, 2002 John R. Prager
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