CX: The Judges Hear

One of the crucial disconnects between policy debaters and the ability to win a ballot is how much time they spend staring at the copy of the case they’re presented with and how much prep they did for it beforehand. See, the judge doesn’t usually do that: we’re going to listen to a case as it is presented, and then listen to how it is opposed, and only rarely call for evidence because the big picture for the judge is trying to quickly return a reasonable decision to tab on the possibility that the tournament might run on time.

Error #1: Answering a card that didn’t get read. For example, neg knows that judge hates terminal impacts and thus has a variety of “terminal impacts make us dumb” critiques lined up and ready to go. But the aff also knows that the judge hates terminal impacts and thus their point short with people being unhappy instead of going all the way to dead. The judge, listening to the case, hears that people are unhappy. The neg team, reading the case, reads that people are unhappy and then dead. The neg team then stands up and responds to the terminal impacts which sounds incoherent to the judge. That’s several minutes of time totally wasted and probably a loss of speaker points to go with it. The obvious advice here is that somebody on the neg team should be listening more and reading less.

Additionally, I don’t know if this is allowed or not — it would certainly be cruel to the readers — but the aff might stuff a bunch of random unlinked and unread cards in their case to skew the split between what the judge hears and what the neg is insisting on reading. (It’s kind of like what the CIA did to their oversight committee…)

See, one of the odd habits that we’ve gotten into is full presentation of evidence. It used to be that evidence was provided on-request when the opposing team wanted to confirm or deny what they thought they heard in it, in the same way judges can call for evidence at the end of the round. The optional nature of this exchange is why the act of transferring evidence (via flash drive anymore) comes out of prep time: if, historically, your papers weren’t ordered enough to hand over evidence instantly on demand, then you suffered for it — hence the habit of just laying down the copy of the case as it was read, which then evolved into the habitual file transfer without realizing that it wasn’t absolutely obligatory.

Error #1.5: Reading a full block of cards because it’s there despite other things patch-worked into your position. For example, if you’re reading a critique about how speculative modeling to produce evidence is inhumane and destroys empathy, you probably shouldn’t also read a solvency attack talking about how hard it is to implement the plan because of the profusion and confusion of the very human people that you suddenly don’t want to empathize with. If you’re not doing the work of figuring out exactly what you want your judge to believe, if you’re not actually listening to your arguments all the way through, if you can’t tailor your position to match itself (never mind the proclivities of the judge), then on what crumbling ground is the judge supposed to side with you? Point is that you’re better off cutting a point short than actively contradicting one of your stronger arguments.

Error #2: Not challenging a sourcing gap. This comes up a lot with plans that call on existing political action or political trade-off disadvantages: one team will cite some document or policy, make a lot of claims about it, but then not have a copy of it to show that their links to advantages are even remotely valid — usually they’re just PR hype ridiculously amplified by Red Bulled teenagers.

For example, there was a plan a while back to, roughly, “Improve relations with China and do what they suggested in some document.” The assumption was that “what they suggested in some document” bore the stock issue of topicality… but the affirmative didn’t actually have a copy of that document, so how could the negatively reasonably cross-examine it to find the downsides, or if it even really affirmed the resolution? After all, if China wanted us to go stick a fish in our ear, there could be disadvantages to that, and if that’s all they wanted then the plan wouldn’t have even affirmed the resolution. (In that case, the negative meekly accepted the non-evidenced claim that the affirmative was topical, ran a weak disadvantage that granted topicality, and lost.)

Error #2.5: Taking responsibility for a sourcing gap. This one is rare, but I saw it just the other day: one team had cards cut down for reading coherency, which can be just fine. Their opponents said “we know those cards and their cuts are mis-representative,” which is a pretty serious accusation. So I call for the cards at the end of the round: the cut card from the one side and the whole card as the opposition claimed to know it. Except neither team actually had the whole card… so I couldn’t possibly agree with the claim that the card was wrongly cut, and thus not agree with the opponents. After all, even if one side had a badly cut card backing up a claim, the other side had no card backing up their counter-claim.

The alternative approach: if you find yourself up against mis-cut evidence that you can’t provide the original copy of, cross-examine like this: “This card appears to be substantially abridged. Can you provide us the original full text so we can make sure that it says what you’re claiming it said?” If your opponent does have the full card, then — tah-dah — you have the full card and can try to hit them with it. If your opponent doesn’t have the full card, then call it in your next speech: “Our opponents can’t provide the full text of this evidence which is a dereliction of their responsibility to evidence-based argumentation, and without it their abridgment of it is really nothing more than an unsubstantiated analytic and you should prefer our more-complete opposed evidence.” Do not put yourself in a position where you’re taking responsibility for evidence you can’t lay your hands on.

Error #3: Over-prepping on an author. For example, if your opponent cites evidence from a paper but then neglects to reach the same conclusions as the author of the paper, it may not be in your best interest to directly attack them for not wholly agreeing with their author. Academics often trade too heavily on the brand-value of their name and reputation rather than actually having a clue as to what they’re talking about. Chomsky, Fromm, Adshade, Kurzweil, Miller — they tend to be speculation-heavy in their writing and far outside any realm of personally demonstrated expertise. To this end, a reasonable degree of separation from the author is healthy and necessary to promote independent analytical thought.

That said, you can still attack the author and possibly the evidence.

First, to attack the author, you need to have a clear example of the author being a total lunatic while still on-topic. For example, if you’ve got a card from the author that appears to finalize their thinking on the subject at hand with “tear down civilization and kill all celiacs,” that’s a pretty strong indict against their author’s immediate trustworthiness and it shows where that kind of thinking leads. But second, and more-valuably, if your card is the direct same-article/book conclusion of your opponent’s card then you go on to observe: “even if our opponents are legitimately drawing a different conclusion than their batshit crazy author did, we need to consider that the batshit crazy author presented the evidence to make their case for batshit craziness in the same way as our opponents are trying to turn it for their point. We should be very skeptical of this evidence because of how it was originally used and demand corroboration from a source that doesn’t want to tear down civilization and kill all celiacs.”

Now, I previously mentioned that you have to keep the author on-topic. There’s a reason for this, and it’s because if a judge has seen you in the same policy-debating context a couple of times, they’ll remember the intellectually inept and batshit crazy ways you’ve lost their ballots in the past and hold it against you in the same way you’re pulling random garbage against authors instead of sticking on topic. For example, I recently saw a debate where one of the students had previously claimed to have proven that aliens will kill us with gravity guns while the other side had previously claimed that wishing upon a star was functionally a legitimate policy position for purposes of debate — both sides have improved since those particular debates, but the point is that going totally Open Season on authors makes you as competitors vulnerable as well (especially if you’re trying to indict one of the author’s favorite judges that they actually know far more about than you do).

Error #3.5: Failing to explain how a card-kill alters the flow of the debate. It only takes an additional few seconds, but be sure to point out to the judge all of the points on the flow that depended on evidence that you’ve hopefully eliminated: “This severs their link-story on the first advantage right in the middle of it, and they also reference this same article in their third advantage — so that’s two advantages that they can’t really claim anymore.” When we put it that way, you can see that your attack on evidence was a defensive move that merely negates a chunk of their offense. Like a critique, you should always follow it up with an attack to give the judge an independent reason to vote for you and not just against the other team.* But this also ensures that the judge’s flow — which, while authoritative, is not necessarily accurate at all — will reflect the impact of the loss of that card/author on the debate.

* The easiest way to get this reason is simply cost of plan: “They want to blow $X million on a plan that they’re misrepresenting the advantages of; that’s going to be a waste of money and lead to public blowback — we’re better off skipping it and doing nothing.”