The Early Rebuttals
How do rebuttal speeches differ from constructive speeches?
The final four speeches in the debate round, the rebuttals allow each speaker to summarize the debate and justify why his or her team should win. Each rebuttal is about half as long as a constructive speech ó only five minutes ó and this forces the speakers to condense the debate down to the most crucial arguments. And unlike the constructives, the rebuttals are not followed by cross-examination periods.
No new arguments are permitted in rebuttal speeches. That means that neither team can present a new major line of analysis. For example, the Affirmative cannot finally present a solvency contention in 1AR; nor can the Negative present a new disadvantage in 2NR. Only those arguments that have entered the debate by the conclusion of the Second Negative Constructive are allowed.
This can be a tricky point for inexperienced debaters. You are permitted to read new evidence in the rebuttals, and often doing so is necessary for success in the round. You are permitted to extend on old arguments ó and an extension that properly grows out of an earlier argument may raise new issues or shed new light on existing arguments. But no major new lines of analysis should be introduced.
If your opponents present a new argument in rebuttals, the proper response is to tell the judge in the next speech that this is a new argument, so your team doesnít have to respond to it. Then, if time permits, answer the argument anyway. That shows style.
As mentioned before, all speakers have the duty to use rebuttals to condense the debate into the most significant issues. Pull forward your strongest analysis; focus on the issues that youíre winning. Conclude the speech by telling the judge why you should win the debate.
What strategies go into the 1NR speech?
Three strategies form the basis of this speech: overwhelming, extending, and narrowing.
Overwhelming: This is the second half of the Negative block. Your partner has just concluded an eight minute speech that devastated the plan. Now you have five minutes to return to the case and demolish harm and inherency for good. You want to make it impossible for the following Affirmative speech to pick up all the vital pieces.
Extending: Your initial responses in 1NC were attacked by the Second Affirmative. You will want to reaffirm your original positions on all the stock issues. Where possible, extend on your original arguments; a proper extension is an outgrowth of a constructive argument, not a new argument in rebuttals. See Chapter 5 for a refresher on the techniques of extending.
Narrowing: In your First Negative Constructive, you tried to expand the debate into new territory. Now is the time to narrow the debate. The Second Affirmative probably responded to most, but not all, of your arguments. You will strengthen the ones that were refuted, and pull forward all of those that were ignored. Drop any arguments that are clearly not going to win the debate for you. At the conclusion of your speech, all the issues should be firmly Negative.
What is the format of 1NR?
Why only a minimal introduction?
Many First Negatives donít use any introduction at all; they jump directly to the case analysis. Properly done, this can weld the 2NC and 1NR speeches into one long Negative speech, with the formal introduction begun by the Second Negative and the formal conclusion at the end of 1NR.
If you really want an introduction, try a simple summary of speaker duties: "My partner has shown that the plan is untenable; in my speech, Iíll show conclusively that the plan isnít needed."
Some textbooks suggest beginning this speech with a sure-fire winning argument ó something that the Affirmative slighted in 2AC. Letís suppose that the Affirmative argued that acid rain was a great threat to the American environment. You presented five arguments in 1NC against the Affirmative inherency ó but 2AC gave solid answers to only four of those positions. Pull forward the unchallenged argument immediately to claim the initiative: "Remember the testimony from Senator Van Buskirk in my earlier speech, that all we need is stronger enforcement of existing laws in order to control acid rain. The Affirmative presented no challenge to this minor repair. In conceding this point, the Affirmative will lose the stock issue of inherency. But letís go to the top of the flowchart and see how most of the other issues fall Negative as well."
Do I discuss the plan attacks at any point?
You shouldnít have to. But maybe you will have to. Thatís an ambiguous answer, but itís the right answer.
Weíre assuming, of course, that the Negatives have followed the traditional assignment of speaker duties: harm and inherency for the 1N, solvency and disadvantages for the 2N. Usually there is no real need for the First Negative to mention her partnerís arguments in the 1NR speech. The plan attacks have never been refuted by the Affirmative. Sure, there has been some discussion of the plan attacks during cross-examination, but questions are not the same as arguments. The plan attacks are still unrefuted. Competent judges will realize that. Reinforcing the plan attacks just wastes time that you would prefer to spend elsewhere.
And yet, some debaters ó especially novices ó canít count on always getting competent judges. You may be judged by a parent of a debater, or a high school teacher with no knowledge of debate: somebody who has learned only that if a side drops an argument, that argument is lost. If you get one of these judges, and if you donít mention your partnerís plan attacks, the judge may drop them from the debate. You will lose the round.
What can be done to resolve this problem? The secret here is to know your judges. You may have been judged by this individual before, or perhaps a teammate has, so you can assess the judgeís competence before the round begins. Or perhaps your coach knows the judge. Or you may be sure from the circumstances of the round that all the judges are highly skilled; perhaps you know the tournament director required that judges have many years of experience. If all else fails, you can always ask the judge about his judging philosophy before the round begins.
If none of these suggestions give you the answer you want, then you may wish to include something in the introduction to link this speech with the just-concluded 2NC. Something on the order of, "My partnerís plan attacks have just been introduced, so there has been no chance of Affirmative refutation. Pull them all forward ó both PMNs and all four disadvantages ó into the rebuttals." Thatís short enough so that it doesnít waste too much time, but it makes the point that the plan attacks are still very vital parts of the debate. This may be enough to keep a less-competent judge on your side.
How do I handle the case analysis?
Begin with topicality, if that was an issue in the debate. Then go point-by- point down the Affirmative case, just as in your earlier speech. Your case attacks should still be very organized: Hereís what 1AC said, this was my reply, this is what 2AC said, and hereís why my answer was right all along. But now, you have to be selective. You cannot expect to pull forward all your original responses. Drop any argument thatís a sure loser ó donít be afraid to tell the judge that youíre dropping it. Since the Negative only need carry one stock issue, conceding one point, or several, or even an entire Affirmative contention wonít necessarily lose you the debate. At the same time, highlight any points that are clearly Negative. Spend the most time on important points that are narrowly balanced between Affirmative and Negative.
While you have the power to drop arguments, you cannot shift away from your earlier position. But be wary of Affirmative shifts and contradictions, and point them out to the judge when they occur.
Cover only those issues that you targeted in your first speech: harm, inherency, and (possibly) topicality and solvency.
What about the conclusion?
Plan on spending the last thirty seconds or so to summarize the debate from the Negative point of view. Remind the judge of the principal reasons why harm and inherency fall Negative; briefly mention your partnerís plan attacks as well. Project an attitude of winning. This is the conclusion, not only of your speech, but of the concentrated attack that makes up the Negative block.
For example: "The Affirmative would have us believe that pornography is corrupting America. But Iíve shown three studies that have found no link between pornography and sexual assaults, and Iíve proven that the connection between porn and organized crime does not exist. Harm is clearly a Negative issue. As for inherency, recall that current laws allow local citizens to ban porn in their neighborhood, so federal intervention is not needed. And do not forget my partnerís proof that the Affirmative plan will not limit pornography, and that trying to impose such limits will spell disaster for American freedoms. With all the stock issues firmly in the Negative corner, weíll ask for a ballot against the resolution at the end of this debate."
What are the objectives of the 1AR speech?
At this point in the debate, there has been a lot of dispute about the original harm and inherency issues ó they were established in 1AC, refuted in 1NC, rebuilt in 2AC, and refuted again in 1NR. On the other hand, the Negativeís plan attacks, presented in 2NC, have never been refuted by the Affirmative. So performing that refutation must be one of the primary goals of this speech.
On the other hand, the First Negative has just concluded his rebuttal. This means that the Negative has had the last word ó so far ó on the original Affirmative case. That canít be permitted. The Affirmative has to bring forward their harm and inherency analysis into each speech, so they cannot afford to let the 1NR case challenges go unanswered. That response also must be presented in 1AR.
Topicality can lose the debate for the Affirmative. If itís been an issue in the round, the First Affirmative had better present an argument in his rebuttal to deal with it.
Sounds impossible, doesnít it? The First Affirmative has only five minutes to answer thirteen minutes of Negative block arguments. This rebuttal is the hardest speech in the debate. Thatís fair, though, since the First Affirmative Constructive was the easiest speech to deliver. And judges (to an extent) know the difficulties of 1AR, and will forgive minor lapses; an imperfect speech can still win the round.
What is the format of the First Affirmative Rebuttal?
Why no introduction?
Címon, wise up. You donít have time.
Okay, how do I prepare for plan attacks?
The best way is to prepare as much in advance as possible. Anticipate the objections that Negative teams are likely to raise against your plan. Then work out blocks of responses for them, just like the Second Affirmative prepares blocks of arguments to be used as extensions in the Constructive speech. These need not be very complex ó just short answers to common plan objections.
As the season progresses, you might consider rewriting the Affirmative plan to avoid, defuse, or patch up any problems that have led to losses. Let us say your proposal to increase voter participation in federal elections keeps losing to a Negative argument that you will promote destruction of tropical rain forests, thereby creating a global climate disaster. You might include a plan spike that causes the U.S. to plant trees in tropical regions, thereby averting that particular disadvantage. Of course, you cannot claim a separate advantage from that plan element (since itís extratopical), but it does serve to avoid losing to a plan attack.
How do I respond to PMNs?
In general, you will ignore the substructure of the Negative argument and address it with one or more responses. Remember to use clear signposting and labeling techniques to fit your arguments into an easily recorded outline format.
There are five basic tactics available for refuting solvency attacks. Which one or ones you choose depends, of course, on the nature of the argument presented by the Negative.
Hereís an example of a PMN response. Refer back to the chapter of 2NC arguments; the First Affirmative Rebuttal is going to address one of the PMN examples given there on the topic of national health insurance:
"In the first PMN, the Second Negative argued that lack of medical resources undermines the Affirmative plan. Lump all the subpoints together, and I have four responses.
"ONE ó INADEQUATE EVIDENCE. The bulk of the Negative evidence was from the 1980ís, and the most recent card was from 1991. A lot has changed since then ó so much, that the evidence is no longer credible. We need more current evidence before weíll accept this argument
"TWO ó MEDICAL RESOURCES ARE ADEQUATE. Virginia Eisenbud, a social worker writing in last Juneís Modern Health Care, notes that ĎSupplies of medical personnel from orderlies to nurses to surgical specialists now far exceed demand, forcing a decline in wages.í
"THREE ó THE PLAN INCREASES RESOURCES. The judge will recall that point seven of our mandates provides additional college loans for medical students, and point nine gives cash incentives to medical supply companies.
"Finally, FOUR ó THE NEGATIVE GIVES NO IMPACT. The Negative fails to show this is going to be a long-term national problem, so they canít prove that the Affirmative solvency will be significantly reduced. Weíll argue that, even if you accept the Negative thesis, most of the solvency still accrues."
How much emphasis should I give to arguing disadvantages?
The most. Because the Negative D-As are going to be weighed against the Affirmative case to determine who wins, you cannot afford to slight the disadvantages. In a crisis situation, you can still win by only lightly arguing PMAs and case-side ó but if you drop the D-As, youíre sunk.
Some general guidelines: Lump disadvantages together if they spring from the same source. For example, if the Negative has presented four D-As stemming from increasing the federal income tax, merge them together and attack them as one disadvantage with four impacts. Tell the judge what youíre doing, of course: "Disadvantages 7 through 10 all are linked to increasing the federal income tax, so Iím going to treat them as a group. We have three responses..."
Likewise, ignore the substructure ó usually ó to get at the critical weaknesses of the argument. You donít have time to go point-by-point down the Negativeís argument. Even when your main attack is going to be denial of a critical internal link, you may wish to handle that as one of several responses.
As always, question evidence and reasoning whenever possible, using the standard techniques of refutation. Remember, in proposing a D-A, the Negative has taken on a burden of proof much like that of the Affirmative at the start of the debate ó they have to give a prima facie argument that the disadvantage will occur and will do nasty things. Here, you get to challenge that burden of proof.
What tactics work best against D-As?
The most common approach is "No we donít; not too much; so do you." In other words, the D-A doesnít really occur, or it has only limited impact, or itís not unique to the Affirmative plan. There are seven specific tactics you can use to refute a disadvantage, not including evidence/reasoning challenges.
DENY A LINK. Demonstrate that the plan link or an internal link is faulty. Denying a plan link may be as simple as pointing out that the plan does not do what the Negative says it will: "The first Disadvantage argues that raising the corporate income tax will result in unemployment and recession. But our plank three of the plan only raises rates on the U.S. personal income tax, not the tax on businesses, so that disadvantage falls because it has no case link." Sometimes, though, you will need to read evidence showing that the chain of cause and effect that the Negative builds is not valid: "Note that the Negative argument about income tax relies on higher tax rates cutting investment. Authorities say thatís not the case! Turning to Marcia Van Allen, professor of economics..."
Denying a link is very similar to a 1NC argument against inherency. The Negative argues that the chain of cause and effect leading to Affirmative harm is broken because of some factor; the Affirmative argues that the causal chain is broken before the disadvantage occurs.
RELY ON A SPIKE. You plan may already include a provision to turn aside or minimize the harm of the D-A. Show how this plan plank will thwart the disadvantage. Again, this has parallels to the Negative use of minor repairs to breach the Affirmative inherency position. It may be enough to point out that the plan includes this provision; sometimes youíll need to read evidence to show that the spike will work as promised, especially if the Negative attack has argued that the plan spike will be ineffective.
QUESTION THE THRESHOLD. The Negative has argued that the Affirmative plan will cause disaster. To show that the disadvantage is likely to occur, they must establish that weíre on the brink of disaster now, so that any Affirmative tampering will push us over, or that the Affirmative planís effects are so huge that the problem is certain to accrue even though it seems remote now.
Two factors come into play here ó the magnitude of the harm, and how likely it is to happen. The Negative has to support both. Their impact argument tells us how awful the disadvantage will be, but many Negatives neglect to show how likely it is ó or, at best, argue without evidence that we are perilously close to trouble already.
The proper Affirmative response is to demand proof that about the certainty of the D-A. You can either demand that the Negative show how far we are from the threshold (itís their burden of proof, after all), or you can read evidence to show that weíre very far from it now. You will tell the judge that, "If we have no guideline to show that the claimed disadvantage is likely to occur, there isnít sufficient reason to reject the Affirmative plan."
A good recent example is the growth D-A, which shows up year after year in one form or another. The Negative argues that U.S. economic growth will expand under the Affirmative plan. This will cause industries to expand their operations, resulting in environmental destruction, which will kill crucial animal and plant species, which will lead to general collapse of the Earthís ecosystem and the death of all human life on the planet. A big impact, but how likely is it? The shrewd 1AR speaker will point out to the judge this D-A requires massive, uncontrolled, and worldwide economic growth before the final disaster occurs; a modest 2% increase in the U.S. economic growth rate will not pass the threshold.
DENY UNIQUENESS. This is similar to an inherency challenge. Just as the Negative can argue that the Affirmative advantage can be obtained in the status quo, the Affirmative can argue that the Negativeís D-A will also occur in the present system. And if the same harm occurs whether of not we put the plan into place, that doesnít justify rejecting the plan!
Both sorts of Negative disadvantages fall into this trap. Linear D-As argue that the more the Affirmative plan works, the greater the harm produced ó but this is usually an intensification of any already existing harm. For example, the Negative might argue that for every $10,000 spent on the plan, one worker will suffer unemployment. Affirmatives can respond by saying the plan cost is only $10 million, thus increasing unemployment by only 1,000 people, and since random fluctuations in the job market throw far more people out of work every week, the disadvantage is not unique.
Threshold D-As are prey to this argument, too. The Negative will argue that weíre on the verge of nuclear war or environmental catastrophe ó threshold D-As often have big impacts ó and the Affirmative plan will be sufficient to precipitate the disaster. The Affirmative will challenge the Negative to prove that the status quo wonít leap into the disaster anyway. Several factors help you here. Often, the Negative evidence itself will argue that current trends are edging us toward the disadvantage, prove the disad is not unique. Or, if the evidence suggests weíve been on the brink for a long time without the disaster occurring, this hints that the threshold might not actually exist, or the imagined harms are not real. A good example here is the impact of the federal debt on the economy: weíve been warned for decades that the deficit will bring financial doom to the U.S. Since the first warnings, the debt has increased enormously and each year, economists warn, "This is it! Weíre on the edge! No more, or certain doom!"
Sometimes Negatives will read evidence saying weíre edging away from the potential disaster, to reinforce their uniqueness. Good. That means the gap the Affirmative must cross to cause the harm is getting wider all the time ó a threshold challenge, as described above.
POINT OUT INCONSISTENCIES. Very long chains of cause and effect lose their persuasiveness because no one authority supports all the causal links. Some debate theory experts believe that the Negative must be able to support the bulk of a disadvantage thesis with a quotation from one source. In any case, itís probably a valid challenge to make against long chains of reasoning. Perhaps 2NC has argued that raising taxes will take money from the rich, who will then invest less, causing critical industries to collapse, thereby destroying the American economy, which causes the world economy to collapse, and thus will lead to political unrest and nuclear war. Demand that the Negatives provide one expert who will support this entire chain of reasoning. Some Affirmatives have even gone so far as to tell the judge, "If the Negatives can produce one authoritative source to support the entire argument, we will concede this disadvantage and lose the debate. If they cannot produce a single source, though, we will argue that this chain of cause and effect is so unlikely that no authority believes it." This is a risky position to take, but some judges may buy it.
A second type of inconsistency may occur between arguments. Sometimes, Negatives propose disadvantages that partially or even fully negate one another. For instance, the Second Negative may propose two D-As: that the plan heats up the economy, leading to inflation, and that the plan restricts investment, leading to a recession. The canny First Affirmative admits the plan links for both arguments! He then argues that the economic growth (which causes the inflation) will cancel out the economic slowdown (the cause of recession) more or less precisely, so no net disadvantage will occur.
DENY OR REDUCE THE IMPACT. This is equivalent to a harm denial by 1NC. The Affirmative argues that the "harm" produced by the D-A is tiny, or affects few people (itís not a quantitative harm), or affects people only a little (itís not a qualitative harm). Ultimately, you tell the judge, "Even if you accept the thesis of this disadvantage, itís not sufficient to outweigh the Affirmative plan."
Letís assume that, under a universal health insurance resolution, the Negative would argue that such a plan would be equivalent to socialism. The Affirmative could respond that "Socialism, by itself, is neither good nor evil, but must be judged on its effects. The Affirmative plan saves thousands of lives. Weigh that against the philosophical harm against promoting Socialism ó something not intrinsically bad ó and you see that the Affirmative advantage outweighs the Negative impact."
TURNAROUND. A turnaround takes the Negative argument and converts it to a reason for the judge to vote Affirmative, by making it an additional advantage for the Affirmative side. This is perhaps the strongest argument you can make against a disadvantage. On the other hand, a turnaround requires careful explanation and always requires reading evidence; many First Affirmatives donít have the time for either.
One way to perform a turnaround is to turn a link. The Affirmative admits that most of the Negative argument is correct, but they directly contradict the plan link or one internal link. The upshot is that the Affirmative plan is less likely than the status quo to cause the impact of the disadvantage. For example, the Negative may argue that the plan causes increased proliferation of nuclear weapons, which increases the chance of nuclear war. The Affirmative, in reply, proves that a growing spread of nukes maintains a balance of power, making war much less likely. So, by increasing proliferation, the plan lessens the chance of war ó and therefore the plan is better than the present system for an additional reason.
The second way to perform a turnaround is to turn the impact. The Affirmative concedes all the links in the D-A, but argues that the impact is a good thing, not a bad thing. For example, perhaps the Negative has argued that the planís proposal to sell weapons systems to African nations will cause dissent with our allies in Europe and ultimately cause the breakup of NATO. The Affirmative may concede most of this argument but respond that NATO is a useless tool of foreign policy whose chief effect has been to hamper U.S. relations. Thus, by ridding us of this deadwood, the plan is superior to the status quo.
Some disadvantages may be subject to several possible turnarounds. For instance, the Affirmative plan may promote job training for convicts in prison, allowing them to get decent jobs after parole instead of returning to crime. The Negative argues that this will be disadvantageous: since ex-cons will work more cheaply than mainstream workers, they will cause businesses to fire current employees to hire the ex-cons, leading to mass unemployment. The Affirmative could choose to turn a link: with the declining American birthrate, says the 1AR speaker, it is predicted that twenty years from now weíll have too few workers to fill all the jobs vital to the U.S. economy; by enabling ex-cons to fill the gap, weíll have an additional advantage over the status quo. Alternatively, the Affirmative could turn the impact: sure, we cause unemployment, 1AR will say, but thatís a stimulus for the displaced workers to get their own job training, which will improve their productivity, and will make the U.S. more powerful in the world marketplace ó an additional advantage over the status quo.
One danger than must be avoided is double-turning. Some Affirmatives get so excited that they turn both the links and the impacts in a single disadvantage. Instead of making the Affirmative position stronger, this tactic is worse than ignoring the D-A altogether. A double turnaround shows that the status quo is more likely than the plan to cause the impact (link turn) ó but that the impact is really good (impact turn). Or, in other words, the status quo will do something good; the plan wonít .This is not an argument the Affirmative wants to make. The next Negative speaker would concede both turnarounds, getting a status quo advantage to weigh against the Affirmative case on the judgeís ballot.
Speaking of the case ó do we go back to case issues?
Yes, definitely, since 1NR spent four minutes on them. You need to cover topicality, if that is an issue in the debate. Then, pull forward your strongest lines of harm and inherency arguments into the rebuttal round. Refute any new challenges that appeared in 1NR as you go. Stick to the original 1AR structure as much as possible. You probably will not be able to pull every point and subpoint in the original case outline. Thatís okay, as long as you take care to bring forward the Affirmativeís ideas into the rebuttal speech.
You began with the plan attacks because they were your most pressing concern: issues that had never been refuted by the Affirmative. You end with case issues because you want to conclude your speech on the arguments the Affirmative finds most persuasive ó the home turf of the 1AC case.
If time permits (usually, it wonít), end with a one sentence summation: "Because the plan attacks are not persuasive, and because Negative refutation still leaves a sizable, inherent harm that only the plan can solve, weíll ask for an Affirmative vote," or something like that.
Introduction to Policy Debate
Copyright © 1990, 1993, 1996, 2002 John R. Prager
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