Wednesday, August 19, 2009

More room for debate

So I participated in policy debate in high school and during the first few years of college. Each year, a topic, known as a resolution, would be passed by The National Forensic League. If you were on the affirmative team, you offered a case in support of the resolution and defended your proposal. If you were on the negative team, your job was to prove that the solution offered couldn't possibly work. Yes, we definitely were the nerdiest group of people, but we had more advanced social skills than the Science Club, and marginally better attire, so we weren't at the bottom of the misfit heap.

In some ways it was easier being on the affirmative team, because you knew what the case was going to be ahead of time. But blowing apart another team's reasoning was where the real excitement could be found (oh, yes I did just write that). One of the tricks of a good negative team, was to link the other person's case to a nuclear war. Through a series of arguments supported by sources, some sketchy, you would link one argument to another until the affirmative team's idea resulted in the decimation of society as we knew it.

Of course we all knew that allowing prisoners to continue hunger striking without intervention as a method to reduce prison population (yes, a real case that I argued in support of), wasn't going to trigger a nuclear war, but an affirmative team had the burden of proof, so one small crack in the case, theoretically off-kilter as it might have been, and you lost.

What strikes me most now, as I listen to the debates about health care reform and the demise of the public option, is how much the arguments sound just like those crazy debate briefs we researched. Death squads, financial collapse, bureaucratic implosion of the system. The problem is, these aren't esoteric policy debates argued by scruffy students.

And at the end of it all, nobody wins.