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Assignment 1

Responsibilities of the First Affirmative
in a Policy Debate

Tasks of Your Constructive Speech

Tasks of Your Cross-Examination

Tasks of Your Summary/Rebuttal

Evaluation Form for the First Affirmative

Tasks of Your Constructive Speech

Lay a Solid Foundation

As first affirmative debater you introduce the issues. In your constructive speech, you tell the audience and judges where your side is going, and you begin building the affirmative's case in support of the proposition. Your case, which your team prepares before a policy debate, should consist of three stock issues: need for the change stated in the resolution, plan for effecting the change, and benefits of making the change. In turn, each issue requires specific arguments backed by evidence. By doing preliminary tasks and by establishing the need for the change in your constructive speech, you lay a solid foundation for your team's case.

State the Resolution

Start by reminding the audience about the issue. By stating the proposition, you set the context of the key terms that you will define. Then, show the purpose and importance of the debate. Why debate the issue? What will the debate accomplish? It may seem obvious why the issue is important to your listeners, but you need to articulate their concern. Then, give a brief history. Just key events, decisions, and policies leading to the current situation. And, outline the general issues. What main questions are to be addressed in the debate? All this in a few critical sentences.

Define Key Terms

To argue intelligently your team and the negative team should talk the same language. The proposition should mean approximately the same to both sides. Or, if you disagree about meanings of key terms and those meanings are critical for your cases, then the two sides must defend their respective definitions as an overriding issue. Such definitional debates are sometimes unavoidable. However, you usually offer neutral and conventional definitions, the negative concurs, and the debate proceeds. You define only those terms that the audience may not know well or that the opposition may differ on the meaning.

In "Resolved: That capital punishment should be replaced by life imprisonment," for example, you would define "capital punishment" and "life imprisonment" which are used commonly but need more precise definitions for your debate. Also, you define key terms, such as legal phrases, that are not in the proposition but that your team intends to use. For example, if you intend to use "cruel and unusual punishments" from the U.S. Constitution later in a capital punishment debate, then you interpret the phrase at the beginning, with help by the Supreme Court.

Summarize the Affirmative's Case

Before entering the labyrinth of the debate, your listeners and judges need to know where your team is going -- the old technique of "tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em, then tell 'em, then tell 'em what you told 'em." Without a map, your listeners may hear a slew of contentions and facts, and still not understand your main arguments. So, begin the debate, as you will end it, with a summary of issues. For example, "My partner and I will show you the need, practicality, and benefits of euthanasia. We will show that thousands of comatose and dying patients need this humane solution, their families need relief, and our society needs to reduce consumption medical services. We will show that euthanasia can be implemented easily by obtaining informed decisions by patients and their families, and by changing our laws to protect doctors from prosecution and law suits. And, we will show that euthanasia will save immeasurable suffering and measurable billions of dollars."

Explain Affirmative's Procedure

Once having told what you will tell them, then tell your listeners who will tell them. Tell them that you will handle the need issue and that your partner will handle the practicality (plan) and benefits issues. As with your summary, this preview helps your listeners know your position, for only by knowing it can they adopt it.

Establish the Need for Change

Preliminaries over, you enter into the main body of your case which your partner will continue in his or her constructive speech. Begin the first plank of your case, which is the need issue. Give contentions and evidence that support the need issue. A contention is a causal statement backed by a line of reasoning. For example, "We contend that many thousands of patients with incurable disease can end their anguish and torment only by euthanasia. This is because medical science has not found ways of alleviating their pain, even with massive and addictive pain-killers. Similarly, many thousands of the families of these patients, and patients who are comotose, can end their distress only by euthanasia. This is because they would do anything to relieve the suffering of their loved ones, yet the law does not allow such relief." You reinforce your contentions with facts and vivid examples, personalizing any statistics that you use. You authenticate your information by giving its sources. And, you can dramatize the situation with a personal experience, but do not your story telling kill your time allotment.

In presenting your case, specifically this need section, give at three different arguments for changing the status quo. Why three? The answer was discovered by Ancient Greeks and given by Aristotle: structures with at least three columns of support are strongest. If your case rests on a single reason for change, it can be toppled easily by an attack on that reason. Two different reasons make your case stronger but are more vulnerable than three. However, those reasons must be significant and different. For example, the three reasons might be different types: political, economical, and psychological. So, why stop at three reasons? Time. After doing your preliminary tasks, you scarcely have time to develop and substantiate three arguments for change. If you try more, you will only talk too fast and impress your listeners with the shallowness of your arguments. Moreover, they will not remember them. So, focus on three important reasons why the policy needs to change.

As you frame your arguments and select your evidence, keep in mind that you are required to show that the need for change is significant. Moreover, you must show that it is significant with solid evidence, not just give your opinion that it is significant. And, cite the sources of your evidence; otherwise, it will sound fabricated. Later in the debate, your partner will present a plan and defend its practicality, particularly its cost. That cost will likely be weighed against the significance of the problem. Unless you have shown that the need's significance outweighs the cost, then the plan will not sell, however cleverly devised.

End with an Appeal

Your constructive speech is the first of segment in a policy debate, so that the dramatic ending of a regular Toastmasters speech would be anticlimactic in a policy debate. Yet, your speech requires a proper ending. Its most effective ending is to quote or paraphrase the resolution, and appeal quietly to your listeners to adopt it. In their minds, your appeal reinforces your case and also circles to your opening for perfect closure.

Tasks of Your Cross-Examination

Plan Your Strategy

According to Freeley you have four goals in your cross-examination: to clarify any part of the opponents' case needed for your case, to expose a defect in their case, to advance your own position, and to respond to an attack. Here are examples and analyses (Austin Freeley's Argumentation & Debate, 6th Edition, pp. 295-299).

1. To clarify their case.
Q: In your speech, you implied that today's mortgage rates are satisfactory. Is that correct?
A: Yes, 'satisfactory' in the sense...
Q: Thank you.
Once examinees have answered a yes-no or short-answer question, you need not allow them to explain their answers. You cannot cut them off, however, if your own broad questions have opened the barn door. In the exchange above, the simple admission of 'satisfactory' rates can be used later as ammunition.
2. To expose a defect.
Q: You justify your plan to greater freedom for law-enforcement agencies by claiming that crime increased 16% last year?
A: Yes, and not only last year; it has been a steady trend.
Q: And the source of your evidence was?
A: The Boston Globe.
Q: And where did the Globe get its figures?
A: [Consulting card] From, er, let me see. From the FBI. Yes, from an FBI report.
Q: From the FBI report. Thank you, we'll come back to that later. Now ...
In its summation, the affirmative would indeed pounce upon the defect in evidence shown here, that the FBI warned against using these statistics to trace year-to-year trends. Notice however that the examiner does not pounce now, but simply baits the trap with an 'innocent' question. And, of course, the examiner must have known about the opponents' misuse of the statistic before asking the question.
3. To advance your position.
Q: Our evidence says that industry will make billions in the space station, doesn't it?
A: Yes, but industry is reluctant to go into space.
Q: You mean industry is reluctant to make billions in profits?
A: No. They're reluctant because they're not certain that the station will be built.
Q: Our plan mandates that the space station will be built, doesn't it?
A: Yes, but ...
Q: And industry will certainly want those billions of profits, won't they?
A: Well, once it's built ...
Q: Thank you.
The affirmative's position is advanced by the examiner leading the balking examinee through a syllogism whose premises are contained in rhetorical questions. The only thing missing is the obvious conclusion that the space station should be built. Again, the examiner restrains from drawing the conclusion until the summation.
4. To respond to an attack.
Q: In your workability attack you said our plan wouldn't work because the people in the space station would get sick.
A: Right. The evidence shows they develop low blood pressure and lose bone marrow. Both Russians and Americans. And it takes three months ...
Q: They get low blood pressure. So what?
A: Low blood pressure isn't good for you.
Q: Does the evidence say that?
A: Well, no, but everybody knows that low blood pressure ...
Q:The evidence doesn't say it's low enough to do any harm, does it?
A: It says they develop low ...
Q: The evidence doesn't say it gets low enough to stop them from working, does it?
A: Well, no, but everyone knows low blood pressure ...
Q: No significance shown in low blood pressure. Now, about the bone marrow -- so what?
A: They lose 5 percent of their bone marrow, and it takes three months to get it back to normal. Both Russians and Americans.
Q: Again no significance. The evidence doesn't say that they can't work does it?
A: It does say that it takes them three months to ...
Q: And they're back to normal. But the evidence doesn't attach any significance to a 5 percent loss, does it?
A: I certainly think it's significant.
Q: Do the physicians who made the report say it's significant?
A: Well, what they say -- they report - they report low blood pressure and loss of bone marrow.
Q: And in neither case do they say it's significant. Thank you.
Actual questions in the last example dig deep; the examiner must have known beforehand that the answers would reveal a lack of evidence. However, the examiner wastes precious time and detracts from later rebuttal with editorial comments, such as "No significance shown in low blood pressure" and "And in neither case do they say it's significant." Also, the comments prevent listeners from drawing their own conclusions and thus convincing themselves. When you examine opponents, avoid commenting upon their answers or answering your own questions. Save your retorts for later when their impact is greatest.

All these points and more are given in brilliant advice for cross-examination by Edward Benett Williams and quoted by Freeley (p. 294):

It is ... the art of putting a bridle on a witness who has been called to do you harm, and of controlling him so well that he helps you. You must think of him as a man with a knife in his hand who is out to stab you, and you must feel your way with him as if you were in a dark room together. You must move with him, roll with him. You must never explore or experiment during cross examination. You must never ask a question if you do not already know the answer. If you do know it and the witness refuses to say what you know, you can slaughter him. Otherwise he may slaughter you. Never attack a point that is unassailable. And if you hit a telling point, try not to let the witness know it. Keep quiet and go on. The time to dramatize it to the jury is during your closing argument.
Prepare and Exchange Lists of Questions

Before the debate, prepare a list of 8-10 questions and give it to your partner. This list will be augmented by questions that occur to your partner during the debate. Just before your rebuttal, your partner should ask those questions of the second negative speaker. These "setup" questions will be about major arguments and evidence in both affirmative speeches. With luck, your opponent will answer incorrectly or not at all. The correct answers should not appear until your rebuttal when you zing the opposition. Even if the second negative answers correctly, your main arguments will have been repeated and underscored.

When you interrogate the first negative just before your partner's constructive speech, you reciprocate by using questions supplied by your partner and that you form during the debate.

Control the Examination

You control the interrogation with short questions requiring short answers, mainly yes or no. By asking long questions or any "why" or "what" questions, you invite the answerer to launch into long responses damaging to your case. You also lose control. If you permit, your opponent will use your time to extend their arguments. Do not let that happen; interrupt overly long answers. Also, ask questions that put the negative on the defensive. Ask about facts that they cannot deny and that undermine their position. To ask about such facts, however, you must know the answer of every question you ask, as Williams says above.

As for your responses when you are examined, you answer confidently and advance the affirmative case whenever possible. If your examiner does not control the interrogation tightly, then you slip in your own arguments and evidence. Even if you can only repeat those given during your constructive speech, you implant them deeper in your listeners' minds. If you introduce new arguments while you are examined, then they must be developed in your partner's speech.

Tasks of Your Rebuttal/Summary

Review Your Arguments and Evidence

Having told what you were going to say and then saying it, you now tell your audience what your side said. In other words, you review your main arguments, evidence supporting your arguments, and rebuttals of counter arguments. You cannot present new arguments; however, you can rebut arguments introduced unwisely in the first negative's own summation.

Avoid the New; Rephrase the Old

Because you speak last, any new argument or evidence could not be rebutted and thus would be unfair. These things you cannot do. Things you can do are to rephrase your arguments emphatically, reprise your most convincing evidence, and rebut attacks. The negative side should also not introduce new material in its Rebuttal/Summary. If it does, then point out the transgression and rebut it.

Make a Final Appeal

Appeal strongly to your audience to adopt the proposition. Be sure to leave yourself enough time to end with a bang! It is your last chance to persuade the audience and win the debate.