If you missed David Glass’ article “Neg Neg Policy Debate Theory” in February’s Rostrum, it’s worth a look.
Glass suggests that it may be legitimate for Affirmative teams to defend a policy that would ordinarily be described as Negative ground. In this world, the Negative team may then defend either a separate counter-plan or even the topic’s ostensible Affirmative ground (that, in this instance, the 1AC has abandoned).
The essential premise is that, “it would allow for competing reasons as to why the resolution should be rejected.”
Several of the arguments for such an arrangement would seemingly apply to Lincoln Douglas practice as well. In LD, Affirmative debaters often face the burden of defending unappealing ground, facing an uphill battle from the outset. When this responsibility is compounded by disadvantageous speech times, it may be very difficult to win Aff ballots on some topics.
Already, many 1ACs seem to do everything they can to avoid defending the topic in any meaningful sense. If the opportunity to substantively defend a counter-plan diminished the need for Affirmative debaters to clutter their positions with blippy, preemptive defensive arguments, I suspect more than a few judges would relish a Neg-Neg debate.
There’s also something to be said for forcing the 1NC to clash. The burden of rejoinder is all but forgotten in today’s LD. As a result, the 1AC is often faced with having to not only defend the resolution, but also having to defend any presumption or tangential implication associated with the resolution. Perhaps the explosion of Negative ground should be curtailed by giving the 1AC equal access to that ground.
My feelings do, however, remain somewhat mixed. As successful as this model may be in theory, there are of course any number of practical hurdles that would emerge in implementation. At the very least, there’s little doubt that rather than accommodating the move, many Negative debaters will respond with exhaustive theoretical objections. Just as experimentation with AFC tends to merely reproduce debates about AFC, using Neg-Neg would almost certainly be hotly contested in our overly sensitive climate.
Additionally, I’m not convinced the advantages of a Neg-Neg model outweigh what I believe is a compelling interest in switch-sides debate. Any coach who’s worked with new debaters should note than one of the first and most transformative learning experiences for a student is adopting diametrically opposed positions on a topic. Allowing debaters to share in contestable premises could encourage conformity in an activity that is already short on innovation. Paradoxically, this radical departure from orthodox practice enables debaters to rely on conventional wisdom at the expense of difficult research and critical thinking.
Glass suggests that debaters ought not have to defend positions that are inconsistent with their own beliefs, but this seems to be one of the most useful virtues that debate provides a student. Much has already been written on these virtues, and there’s little question that a Neg-Neg trend would come at their expense. That’s not to say a debate about competing premises or policies isn’t itself valuable. But, that debate can and should happen even in a traditional Aff-Neg framework.
Without doubting the need to make life easier for affirmative debaters, I’m not yet convinced this is the best way to do so. Given the state of Affirmative strategy at our current juncture, however, perhaps it is worth a try.