constructing cases for policy propositions page 4 of 4 negative strategies for debating about policies1 the negative can use three

Constructing Cases for Policy Propositions
Page 4 of 4
Negative Strategies for Debating About Policies1
The negative can use three specific strategies, either singly or in
combination, to attack a need-plan-benefits case. The team can defend
the status quo, defend a policy other than the status quo, and attack
the affirmative plan.
When attacking the affirmative’s case, the negative needs to keep in
mind that they are defending a policy that enjoys a privileged
position of presumption. The concept of presumption means maintaining
current policies until someone makes a case that another policy is a
better option. The concept is logical because change requires effort
and involves risk. Thus, the benefits must outweigh the potential
dangers to convince people to try change. The negative must keep
before the audience the advantage associated of maintaining
presumption, then the team can begin to develop other strategies for
debating against changes in policy.
Defending the Status Quo
Defending the status quo is the strategy that most clearly benefits
from the concept of presumption. If the negative team defends the
present system, they capitalize on the idea that we should presume the
system should remain until a better alternative is presented. The
negative has at least three options in defense of the status quo:
1. Argue that the problem does not exist or is not as serious as the
affirmative suggests. Only rarely will the negative be able to prove
the complete absence of a problem in the present system. Nevertheless,
the negative might provide substantial evidence that the problem is
not as important or widespread as the affirmative team suggested. The
negative might argue that there is no point in implementing a plan
(spending time, effort, money, taking unnecessary risk) designed to
solve a minor problem (one that does not affect a lot of people or
whose effects are not serious).
2. Arguing that the present system can solve the problem. The negative
also can argue (and support with evidence) that the current system
will solve the problem given sufficient time. Consequently, adopting a
new plan cannot be justified. The team can argue that solving complex
problems requires a long time and, consequently, we cannot yet judge
the success of the current system.
3. Argue that the affirmative team has identified the wrong cause. By
arguing that their opponents have identified a wrong cause of the
problem, the negative is able to suggest that the affirmative plan
will not solve the problem. In the process of arguing about the cause
of the problem, the negative needs to suggest that the present system
can address the cause of the problem, while the affirmative plan
cannot.
Defending a policy other than the status quo
The negative can also consider defending a plan other than the status
quo. The team should choose this option when the status quo has more
problems than the negative wishes to defend or when the negative can
suggest some changes or additions to existing policies that are
superior to the status quo and to the affirmative’s plan. In using
this option, the negative employs two strategies: advocating minor
repairs and presenting a counter plan.
Advocating minor repairs to the present system is an alternative that
the negative might choose when the present system is structurally and
conceptually sound but needs some minor alterations. If, for instance,
the negative team believes that the failure of the status quo is the
result of a lack of resources, they should advocate adding those
resources.
When advocating minor repairs, the negative needs to show how these
are more desirable than the affirmative plan. Team members could show
that minor repairs solve the problem as well or better than the
affirmative plan. Alternatively, the negative could demonstrate that
although minor repairs are not as effective as the affirmative’s
solution, they avoid some very serious disadvantage that the
affirmative plan would create.
The strategy of proposing minor repairs has the advantage of allowing
the negative team to advocate improvements to the present system while
simultaneously maintaining the advantage of presumption. Because the
changes they are advocating are minor, they do not entail the serious
risks of the affirmative’s plan.
Presenting a counterplan is an alternative when the negative wants to
advocate a plan that is conceptually different from both the present
system and the affirmative plan. When presenting a counterplan, the
negative agrees that the status quo must be changed but argues that
the affirmative’s plan is not the best solution. Instead, the negative
presents an alternative, their counterplan. If the negative decides to
present a counterplan, it must satisfy two requirements:
1. Conform to all of the requirements of an affirmative plan discussed
earlier in the chapter. Like the affirmative plan, a counterplan to
contain an actor and an action may also need to include some of
nonessential elements such as funding or enforcement.
2. Be an alternative, not an addition, to the affirmative plan. The
counterplan can be advocated as a substitute for the affirmative plan
in two ways. One way is to show that the counterplan and the
affirmative plan are mutually exclusive—that their coexistence is
logically impossible.
For example, when debating the ICC resolution, the negative might
recommend abolishing the Court rather than strengthening it, arguing
that the concept of an international body administering justice is a
bad idea and that the ICC should be abandoned. Thus, the negative can
argue that the plan to strengthen the ICC and the counterplan to
abolish the ICC are mutually exclusive.
The second way to show the superiority of the counter- plan is to
argue that it achieves the advantages of the affirmative plan while
avoiding some of the disadvantages2. Using our example, a negative
team might propose that sovereign nations establish courts to try war
crimes rather than having the ICC hear the cases. This counterplan and
the affirmative plan are not mutually exclusive because they could be
enacted simultaneously. Strengthening the ICC could be done
simultaneously with establishing national courts to try war crimes.
However, if the negative were able to argue that their counterplan
would achieve all of the affirmative advantages and avoid some of the
disadvantages of interfering with national sovereignty, the negative
would have established that the counterplan should be a substitute for
the affirmative, not just an addition to it.
Attacking the Plan
The negative can make a variety of arguments against the affirmative
plan. Three of the most common are: the plan will not work, the plan
will not solve the problem, and the plan will cause disadvantages.
1. The affirmative plan will not work. A plan might not work because
the agent chosen to implement it will be unable to do so because the
steps suggested by the affirmative are unrealistic or because the plan
is too expensive and no funds are available to finance it. Often
arguments against implementing the affirmative plan are too
insubstantial to cause a judge to reject the plan. As a result, these
kinds of argument frequently need to be combined with other arguments
against the affirmative plan.
2. The affirmative plan will not solve the problem. This argument is
frequently combined with an argument that we discussed earlier: the
affirmative has identified the wrong cause. Sometimes the negative can
suggest that the affirmative plan will not solve the problem because
it will eliminate only one of many causes. For instance, the negative
might say that the ineffectiveness of the ICC is but one cause of the
increased rate of war crimes and terrorism The negative could then
document several other potential causes (lack of coordinated
intelligence, failure of international coalitions, etc.) that the
affirmative plan does not eliminate. The negative would then have to
show that the causes not addressed by the affirmative plan are
substantial enough that the problem would remain.
Arguing that the plan does not solve the problem is a potentially
strong argument and one that under certain circumstances can be
sufficient to cause the judges to reject the affirmative plan
regardless of other arguments in the debate. More often, however, the
argument does not preclude the affirmative plan solving some part of
the problem. If so, the affirmative can then argue that at least their
plan does a better job of solving the problem than the present system.
As a result, the argument that the affirmative plan will not solve the
problem is frequently coupled with an argument about the disadvantages
of the plan.
3. The affirmative plan will cause disadvantages. Using this strategy,
the negative should demonstrate that the affirmative’s plan will cause
more harm than good and that these harms are significant. One
potential disadvantage that might be linked to almost any plan to
strengthen the ICC, for example, involves the risk to national
sovereignty. To develop such an argument, the negative might begin by
demonstrating a relationship between the affirmative plan and national
sovereignty. The team might argue that under the present system,
decisions about prosecution of terrorists and war criminals rightly
belong to individual nations. Shifting that right to an international
body will erode sovereignty. The negative might then show how the
erosion of sovereignty in one area might ultimately lead to erosion of
sovereignty in other areas.
Having demonstrated the link between the affirmative plan and loss of
sovereignty, the negative then should present a compelling argument
explaining why such loss is a significant problem. That argument could
be that national sovereignty is the best way to support and improve
human rights efforts in the developing world. As we said earlier,
creating a disadvantage is potentially one of the strongest ways to
argue against an affirmative plan.
Summary of Arguing About a Simple Policy Proposition
Debating about policy cannot occur in the absence of debating about
values. We make choices about our actions based on our values. In
discussing the negative’s response to the policy proposition, we
distinguished three main strategies: arguing that there is no need for
change (therefore, the affirmative’s plan and advantages are
irrelevant or unnecessary) as no problem exists or the status quo will
eventually solve the problem; offering an counterplan; or challenging
the affirmative plan by exposing its inefficiency or the further
problems it would cause. Teams preparing to debate propositions of
policy should keep in mind that they have flexibility about which
strategy or strategies they use in their debates.
1 Excerpt from Discovering the World Through Debate
24. Technically, the negative ought to establish that the net benefits
of the counterplan alone are greater than the net benefits of the
counterplan plus the affirmative plan. However, as this chapter seeks
only a brief and simple explanation of counterplans, we will not
attempt this more technical explanation.

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