Embracing the February PF Topic | Champion Briefs
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February 13, 2017

Embracing the February PF Topic

By Kaitlyn O'Gara

The National Speech and Debate Association's February topic is a chance for Public Forum debaters to act as policy makers. Furthermore, this topic offers the best opportunity for debaters to dive into a bountiful amount of topic literature. When compared to any other topic that has existed in this season of debate, the February topic is definitively one of the most researched and most current topics that could have been selected. This topic is similar to the December Public Forum resolution regarding Plan Colombia, but debaters who found Plan Colombia too difficult to research or maneuver will be glad to debate this topic. This month's debates have the opportunity to delve far below the surface, and focus on depth rather than breadth.

Deepening Contentions, Rather than Broadening

Most Public Forum debaters who are currently on the debate scene are more familiar with having numerous contentions or multiple different impacts to a contention, rather than fleshing out two arguments well. This has led to such strategies like 'time-suck arguments' and manipulation of where arguments are placed within the case in order to strategize for time. I recommend that debaters look at this topic as an opportunity to choose two arguments and dive deeply into them, rather than selecting three to four different contentions. With the extensive topic literature that exists, it shouldn't be difficult to find a multitude of warrants and impacts regarding whichever arguments you select.

The reason why depth may be preferred over the breadth of contentions is because it allows the debate to be less scripted. With the stock arguments that exist on this topic, many debaters will be well-prepared for the basics of the arguments you present. Most arguments won't be surprising, and there will be scripted out answers to every single one. Don't let this be a reason to fear the topic or try and find arguments that barely connect to the topic. Let it empower you to find warrants that they have not yet heard of or impacts than they are not prepared to weigh. This is beneficial for you as a debater as well because you will also know all of the stock arguments. This should be a chance for you to prepare answers to all the arguments you may hear on the topic. Rather than having close rounds where you could have won with more preparation or evidence, have enough answers to make these rounds guaranteed wins. You could easily have a leg up on the competition in preliminary rounds should you write answers/front-lines for stock contentions.

The Status Quo is Shifting

This topic is particularly different because the uniqueness will be changing throughout the month. Debaters should pay close attention to the news and the politics that will be shifting over the next few weeks. It is possible that the United States' policy with regards to Cuba will change, or at least that the Trump administration will be announcing how they intend to change the Cuba policy that Former President Barack Obama had been following. Even though politics may play an important rule with the topic, debaters should also remember how sensitive politics are at this point in time. Our nation simply doesn't have the ability to discuss politics in a fair manner, and there is no guarantee that your judge will not have a strong political bias. Rather than focusing on whether or not the Trump administration's policy is beneficial when it is announced, debaters should focus on how the policy impacts United States-Cuban relations and the embargo that is currently in place. Political arguments may be useful if used in a sensitive manner.

Impacts and Which Ones Matter

The resolution takes the stance as to whether or not the United States should lift the embargo. This leaves you the debater with a unique opportunity to either choose impacts that relate to the international community or the United States. The benefit to choosing impacts relating to the international community is that they can typically be outweighed on magnitude and scale. This gives you a more than fighting chance in the impact calculus section of the debate. It also applies because the United States must always act with regard for how their actions will impact the globe. Yet, since the United States is the actor in the resolution, the impacts can also be simply relating to the United States. This means that you will be acting a policymaker, rather than a member of the global community. Although the impacts may not be as great of a scale when limited to the United States, you should stress as the debater that the United States must always focus on itself and how policies impact it as a nation first and foremost. This will give you the chance to look at United States citizens' opinions as well, since policymakers ideally would look toward what their constituents think.


Although there are multiple ways to compare evidence, one of the best (but not commonly used) strategies is time. The day that the evidence was published is important in this case because a lot of the evidence may be from 2016, and should politics change, even 2017. Use date of publication as a way to delegitimize the opponent's evidence. By staying up to date on your evidence within your case, you give yourself an easy advantage and much more credibility in the eyes of the judge.

Concluding Thoughts

This topic varies greatly from the previous ones that have been debated this season. I think that this resolution is a great chance for Public Forum debaters to try new strategies and skills that they may have been unable to employ with other kinds of resolutions. Focus on winning the debate because of one argument, rather than trying to win as many as possible. The debate, always, should begin as the flat part of a pyramid, and the at the point. Furthermore, this topic will involve a lot of topic literature that is more recent than in other cases, and this means that before every tournament you need to be up to date on your evidence and know what is happening within Cuba-US relations.