As the number of teams reading “nontraditional” affs continues to rise, more and more debaters from traditional backgrounds are struggling to adjust to the new demands these rounds present. Many students respond by using framework arguments to attempt to shift the conversation back to subjects with which they feel comfortable. However, this is often not a great strategy. Today, I’ll tell you why.
The impulse to set up the debate to disallow unfamiliar arguments is an understandable one, but in many cases it backfires strategically. Although it is always advisable to gear your arguments towards subjects you are knowledgeable about, there are many reasons why you will be better served by expanding your comfort zone than attempting to police it.
Win more by crafting smarter strategies.
Please note, this post is not intended to include discussions of ethics, pedagogy, or inclusion. Those are important concerns for the debate community to consider, but they are not the subject here. Instead, we will be evaluating framework arguments from a purely strategic standpoint. By this measure alone, framework often isn’t your best option.
By “framework,” I of course mean arguments that suggest something like “affs must defend a topical implementation of a USFG policy action” as well as standard T:USFG. You are always encouraged to include discussions of impact calculus and meta-level round framing (e.g. how do we determine what is most important?) in every debate– not just those against nontraditional affs!
So, why should you put down your framework file? There are a number of reasons:
Think about it. If you were going to a tournament knowing that 75% of your debates were going to be about one single issue, what would you dedicate most of your time to prepping for? Nontraditional teams often see framework in almost every round. Moreover, many nontraditional debaters feel personally slighted by this sort of argument. This results in huge time investments cultivating fearsome framework blocks and lots of practice defending them. In contrast, if your approach to debate involves a larger quantity of arguments, your pre-tournament prep time is spread out all over the place. And even if you tend to go for framework a lot, you probably still only do it once or twice per tournament. Your opponents answer it much more frequently. Why would you want to invite debate on an issue on which you are so likely to be out-practiced, out-passioned, and out-prepped?
No matter how you approach framework, time allocation can get dicey. If your argument is that you should get to weigh disads against the aff, you’ll have to win framework as well as your substance on those flows (including a link story that is likely to be very questionable). If you set up your framework shell to suggest that the aff should simply lose, you are going to have to deal with a fat stack of independent reasons why attempts to exclude are bad, in addition to beating back your opponents’ defense and doing an excellent job of articulating your voters. This almost always requires you to be exceedingly fast, clean, and techy—qualities not all debaters are capable of.
And, even if you decide to kick framework, you still have to sink a significant amount of time into ensuring you don’t lose just for running it in the first place. This eats away valuable 2NR time that would be better spent elsewhere. Meanwhile, the aff only needs to win one of their probably zillions of independent Ks of framework to win the whole debate. Any way you look at it, time is not on your side. No thanks.
This is the biggie. There are innumerable arguments to make against literally any aff that are smarter, trickier, and just better than “you broke the rules and should lose.” If you get creative, many of these arguments can catch your opponents off-guard and put degree of prep and time pressures back on your side.
I’m sure many of you are objecting, “but I don’t like/don’t know anything about the K!” Well, first of all, there’s no time like the present to learn. Chances are, when you started policy debate, you didn’t know much about congressional politics/macroeconomics/international trade/etc. And yet you learned! There’s nothing special about arguments grounded in philosophy or theory that make them inherently inaccessible to you. Diversify your argumentative toolkit and you will have more flexibility and be rewarded with more wins (against all kinds of teams).
Moreover, there are always ways to engage in direct clash with any aff that don’t require you to read K literature. If you love debates about the government, how about reading solvency indicts suggesting state action is key to meaningful change? Or, get creative: we once beat a nontraditional aff based on satire using research from the field of political psychology suggesting that people are more likely to change their behavior when confronted with fear rather than humor. As another example, lots of rounds are won by PICing out of one problematic word or assumption in cases with no plan text. Cooking up these kinds of strategies can be some of the most fun you ever have in debate!
If you feel like you absolutely must avoid talking about substance, at least consider choosing a narrower, more strategic procedural. Most of your opponents’ blocks will likely generate offense based off of exclusion or attempts to force them to defend something they consider indefensible (such as the USFG). So, avoid linking to this offense by generating a violation for which there is a topical version of the aff. The key here is preserving their ability to discuss the central issue of their case, but isolating some minor change that carries the net benefit of increasing a consideration like competitive equity. For example, you could say “the aff can talk about whatever they want, but they must read a binding statement of their advocacy” or “the aff doesn’t have to fiat USFG action, but they do have to discuss Latin America.” There are countless ways to do this. The important thing is that you don’t limit out the major thesis of the aff, but instead request a small modification. In many debates, this will allow you to group large swathes of affirmative offense under the argument “there is a [topical/fairer/better/etc] version of the aff.”
Win rounds, have fun.
Nevertheless, we still encourage you to give real, substantive clash a shot. Chances are, it will ultimately be a more successful strategy, and you just might learn something!
As always, be sure to leave us your questions and comments below. And don’t forget to check out our general guide to debating nontraditional teams.