The 101

by Sam Heller   Varsity, Policy Debater c/o 2014

Policy is a two-person, evidence-based debate that focuses on whether the United States Federal Government should enact a certain policy option. Policy is the oldest form of debate, dating back to 1928 when debaters discussed the merits of creating a federal department of education. Since then, policy topics, which are released annually, have become considerably broader, allowing debaters to advocate a number of specific policies within a certain area (transportation infrastructure, for example).

Every policy round starts with the affirmative proposing a plan, which is meant to be an example of how the United States Federal Government can implement the resolution. For example, this year’s resolution is “Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its transportation infrastructure investment in the United States.” There are dozens, if not hundreds, of different policies that can be suggested on this topic, making every round unique. Affirmatives can argue that we should build a high speed rail system (bullet trains) to connect major cities, that US airports should implement NextGen (a new satellite-based air traffic control system) or anything else that that has a base of academic literature .

The negative is able to attack the affirmative from every possible perspective, forcing extremely fast and strong critical-thinking skills on both sides. Possible responses to an affirmative’s plan include obvious objections, such as the argument that the policy would be too expensive or bad for the environment (these kinds of arguments are called disadvantages). The negative can also advocate an alternative policy option to implement rather than the plan (called a counterplan).

In addition, a negative team could make a moral objection to the rhetoric used by the affirmative (for example, if the affirmative were to argue that birthright citizenship should be abolished because Mexicans are using it to gain citizenship and then committing crime, the negative could criticize the affirmative’s racist representation of Mexicans.) This kind of argument is called a Kritik (yes, I spelled that correctly, and no, I don’t know why we use the German spelling…)

Policy is a very intricate but fun event. It takes longer to learn than other forms of debate, but is extremely rewarding in the long run.