How to Deal With the Policy-like Style of L-D

As time goes on, Public Forum Debate and Lincoln-Douglas Debate are becoming both quicker and more evidence-based. This is a natural phenomenon in the National Circuit. However, many local circuit competitors do not know how to adapt to this style when they get to NFL Nationals. Bluntly put, I fully believe that this style of Lincoln-Douglas Debate is wrong. I am not bad at debating that way, but I am a traditional Lincoln-Douglas Debater. I believe that John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau will always be cooler than Friedrich Nietzsche or Slavoj Zizek (all the Policy Debaters I know love them). I think traditional ideals like Utilitarianism and the Social Contract are better than Existentialism in L-D. When I was competing at the Tournament of Champions in Public Forum Debate, I got noticeably irritated by the fact that, in the round that broke the winner to Octafinals, I was debating a team that actually ran a Kritik against the resolution and the National Forensic League. However, regardless of how I felt about the “policization” (the term I will use to describe the concept of L-D debate becoming more like Policy) of the debate, I was forced to debate in terms that I was not comfortable. One cannot merely brush off odd arguments or ignore ones that are read too quickly. Competitors have to overcome by adaptation, even if opposed. Respond to everything.

It is important to know that there is a time and a place for everything. Some Lincoln-Douglas judges will want debaters to go so slow that they might forget what they are saying. Others will want competitors to speak quickly. At normal tournaments, it can be slightly difficult to gauge what a judge wants without asking (even the difference between Lay/Flow does not answer this question) so either, A: Ask the judge or B: Go based upon how the judge seems to react to how one is speaking (if a judge stops writing arguments down when they were before, the speech is too swift). At the National Forensic League National Tournament, it is nice to have “Judge Paradigms” which tells in detail what each of the judges desires. There were some rounds in which I went as quick as my Local-Circuit mindset would allow. Others, I talked more in my comfort zone. If a debater is planning on going to Nationals, or to another large tournament, it might be useful to practice speaking quickly (not as fast as Policy but faster than average). Also, it would definitely be wise to do flowing drills (listen to a Policy Debater give a speech, practice listening to what they say, and then write down what was heard just to get a good ear for quick speech). It is boring and tedious, but it can set a debater apart. Many Lincoln-Douglas Debaters do, in fact, debate like that now.

As far as evidence goes, having a stance is still an indecisive matter amongst judges. Some judges demand it. Others will not care. It is nice to always have some (because no judge hates evidence) to read a few times within the round. Though, in my opinion, evidence is far less important than theoretical/value/ideal judgments. If there is a round going that Policy-stylized way though, a debater will have to be able to recognize it quickly. My first round of NFL Nationals was a culture shock because I was forced to debate one of these “policization” rounds. Having known what to expect from talking to numerous people, I had taken an old Policy file of my friend’s (the topic for Nationals was a military draft) and had divided it up into usable formats. So, my opponent had to say that the draft was bad and he sped-read a lot of evidence by Professors talking about the immorality of the draft (just what the judges were looking for--speed). I went up and gave a quick synopsis of moral-theory being unable to truly apply to Lincoln-Douglas Debate and read a few sections from Immanuel Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morality. That won the traditional side of Lincoln-Douglas. Then, I completely switched strategies when attacking my opponent’s contentions and sped-read a few pieces of evidence of the application of the draft being bad for military might and about it leading to global nuclear war and extinction of all of mankind. Many judges will like impacts like that. I only really read those because one judge said, and I quote, “I’ll vote for whoever has janky arguments that their opponent can’t respond to.” I had no idea who won that round at the time, because I had never debated like that in my life. I ended up pulling both ballots; though the judges could tell I was awkward about the evidence.

Other times, “policization” will leave competitors hitting their head on the wall from being at an absolute loss of what to do. Second round of NFL Nationals, I was hitting Devin Race (who got 3rd at the Tournament of Champions--the epitome of “policization”). What was worse, I had two judges who said, “Go as slow as you possibly can or I’ll vote against you” and then “Whoever goes quicker will probably win my ballot.” That is the sort of situation where one realizes that Lincoln-Douglas Debate theory needs more consistency. What happened in the round? I let Devin Race go as quick as he liked (I did not understand half of what he said), and I talked like I normally would. Needless to say, we split ballots in that round.

Lincoln-Douglas Debate is dying. While the National Forensic League does have a good pool of judges who view it very traditionally, it is not hard to find experts on the debate who consistently discuss Kritiks and Advantages. Lincoln-Douglas is not what it used to be. Try to keep the spirit of it alive! I will be doing what I can from a judge’s perspective. I, along with past generations of traditional Lincoln-Douglas debaters, cheer and support those who continue to debate and represent what the heart of L-D is.

But be prepared to adapt as needed. Do not forget: winning is the ultimate goal. Thus, try to be ready for anything and everything should be fine.