Giving the Winning 2AR | Champion Briefs
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September 28, 2016

Giving the Winning 2AR

By Adam Tomasi

The Goal of a 2AR: Resolve Arguments

The 2AR is easily the hardest speech in LD. Everyone likes to talk about the time skew between a 7 minute NC and a 4 minute 1AR; less oft-discussed is the time skew between a 6 minute 2NR and a 3 minute 2AR. Though in both cases the difference is three minutes, the 2AR is still a more demanding speech, the equal time difference notwithstanding. Whereas the 1AR only has a responsibility to put out arguments, the 2AR has a responsibility to crystallize, or summarize the debate in the Aff’s favor.

The 2AR has to crystallize in addition to engaging in the line-by-line of the flow. A 2AR that only crystallized would have dropped a lot of important arguments. A 2AR that were exclusively line-by-line, however, will have failed to answer for the judge a basic question: why should you win the debate? You may be winning a lot of arguments in a lot of places, but why do those arguments matter?

No matter how great your 1AR was, or even how well-written your case was, if you can’t pull it together in the 2AR you will lose your aff debates. That should go without saying, but too many debaters have taken the 2AR for granted, as if it’s just like a 1AR with one less minute. You needed four minutes to give the best 1AR you could, so how is giving virtually the same speech with one less minute going to be successful?

There’s an important sense in which the 2AR needs to be different. It’s not that you’re making new arguments (you shouldn’t be), it’s that you’re effectively impacting your arguments to the ballot. For comparison, the goal of a 1AR should be to shoot out as many arguments as you can, reading cards on every off-case and quickly extending aff offense (maybe introducing a short theory argument, too).

The goal of a 2AR, though, isn’t to make arguments. It’s to resolve arguments. My goal is to teach you how this should be done. If you take this advice to heart, you will win a lot of aff debates. From someone who flipped aff in the majority of their LD elim debates, take this advice to heart.

Collapse, Explain, and Weigh

Ideally, the 1AR had multiple independent sources of offense that give the 2AR “outs”, or options for accessing the ballot. Let’s say the 1AR defended their framework and two out of three of their contentions, read turns to the NC, and introduced a theory argument. The 2NR gets to everything very efficiently and gives what sounds like an amazing speech.

If the 2AR tries to extend virtually everything the 1AR said, they are going to lose. The time skew is just that devastating.

I think most people’s anxieties about being aff against a proficient debater come from this feeling that they have to win everything, and that you just can’t win everything in 3 minutes. They’re right, but the problem isn’t that they’re aff. It’s that they’re approaching aff strategy all wrong! A lab leader of mine many years ago told me something which stuck with me, and that is, “If you go for everything, you will lose.” This is true no matter what side you are, but it’s especially true when your aff.

To return to our example, let’s say the 2NR just defended the NC, answered your framework, turned your contentions, and answered your theory argument. There are multiple potential 2ARs:

a. Win everything and talk about how right you’ve been about the entire debate (I tried this in TOC 2015 quarterfinals, and that’s why I lost)

b. Go all in on theory for 3 minutes

c. Go all in on the turns to the NC for 3 minutes

d. Win your framework and just go for your contentions (not the case turns), for 3 minutes

Option “a” should be ruled out entirely, but any of options “b”, “c”, and “d” are perfectly strategic. It all depends on what the 2NR did (which I’ll go into further detail on later).

You may ask, why should you limit yourself like this if you want to maximize your outs? It’s because a 2AR is not a 1AR. The goal of the 1AR is to maximize your outs, but the goal of the 2AR is to collapse to your best arguments. What’s the point of giving yourself options if you’re perpetually avoiding a choice? The 2AR is decision time, so you should narrow the debate to your best chance of winning, not all possible chances.

Not only does that make sense in and of itself, it’s also necessary because you only have three minutes. Debate is a complex activity, so you probably need the entire 2AR to make your argument logical, in-depth, and persuasive. You probably need all three minutes of the 2AR to intelligently explain and weigh your case turns with the NC contention. You probably need all three minutes to explain to a judge why your abuse story on theory is legitimate and egregious enough to drop the debater. You probably need all three minutes to defend a complex moral theory and defend your contentions.

Working Smart, Not Just Working Hard

The 1AR can afford to be really light and fast on arguments because the 2AR has the opportunity to explain them further. Some people call that “blippy”; I call it efficient. If I’ve written my AC effectively and given a lot of thought to my arguments, I can give the simplest one-or-two sentence explanation of those arguments that gets my point across.

In a 2AR, though, you need to do additional work—flagging the warrants in your evidence, comparing them to the 2NR’s evidence, and impacting your offense in terms of the ballot (that is, because you’ve won ‘x’ portion of the debate, you’ve won the round). If you’re just restating your claims against your opponent’s claims, all you’ll be doing is forcing the judge to “do work” in order to resolve the debate. No one likes when a judge has to do that; if you don’t want them to do work, you have to do that work!

Doing that work requires looking at the flow and deciding what your best two, three, or four arguments are in the entire debate. What’s your best argument for your framework? Which of the two contentions you extended in the 1AR are better? Out of the five case turns you read on the NC, which two are the ones that make the most sense and are backed with the best evidence? Once you’ve figured that out, read through the neg’s cards that answer the arguments you’re going for, and make sure that you have a good explanation of why your evidence and logic beats theirs.

If you’ve consolidated the debate, you won’t have to look through much. You need to begin the 2AR kicking out of what you need to, and clarifying what you’re going for and what you’re going to win. For example, you can say:

“I’m not going for my framework—concede that it can’t guide action. This means their case turns are irrelevant. I’m going to win the turns on the NC which none of their cards have sufficiently answered.”

That explanation at the top of the 2AR helps give the judge instructions by telling them what you’re going to win, and hence what you want them to vote on. This is no different from telling the judge your “voters” at the top of the speech, which is common in traditional LD. This introduction to a 2AR is far more effective than the common 2AR which begins:

“They made a HUGE MISTAKE by conceding this one random sub-point on theory so it’s GAME OVER…”

…and proceeding to just go to the line-by-line with no clear judge instruction.

Once you’ve told the judge what you’re going to win, you need to go ahead and win it. Sounds simple enough, but you need to talk about the implications of your arguments for how they interact with the neg’s offense. That means explaining why your turns outweigh their links to their framework, and also defending your turns against their varied answers.

Stick to Your Strategy

But what if they’ve dropped something, you may ask? Just because they dropped something doesn’t mean that what they’ve dropped is important. You need to explain the implication of the dropped argument, or else the judge will be left asking, “So what?” You need to use the 2AR for impact calculus, even in a philosophical debate, by which you explain what the judge needs to prioritize at the end of the day.

A good 2AR trick is to bounce back from dropping something yourself by contesting the implication of the dropped argument. A line I’d use a lot is, “you can’t just extend a case turn and call it a day—you have to weigh your arguments,” and I’d proceed to weigh my contention-level offense against the case turn. Though I’d dropped it, I could argue that my offense was more important even if you give 100% credibility to the turn.

You may wonder how that isn’t just “new.” I’d like you to reconsider what you interpret to be a “new argument.” You aren’t contesting the truth of the case turn per se, you’re just arguing that it’s not a decisive reason to vote neg because your internal links are still stronger. The negative is right, but they’re only right to a degree because of the interaction between your warrants and theirs! For example, on the living wage topic, let’s say the aff says they reduce poverty, and the neg extends a dropped case turn about how the aff causes unemployment. The 2AR can explain why the amount of people they’ve lifted from poverty outweighs the number of people who will be unemployed post-plan. You can’t contest the link (because that’d be new), but you can prove that the internal link differential favors the aff.

The way I’d like to set this up in LD 2ARs depended on what the neg did. If the 2NR weighed arguments (like they should), I’d say that any 2AR weighing on my part was just an answer to their 2NR weighing. If the 2NR didn’t do any weighing, I’d stand up and say that their failure to weigh arguments justifies 2AR weighing—because someone has to do it if the judge is going to make a decision.

Final Thoughts

Remember that the 2AR’s role is to resolve arguments. If our standard for a “new 2AR argument” is “saying some words that weren’t in the 1AR”, then the 2AR’s role has been seriously undermined. You can’t possibly weigh everything and crystallize in a 1AR where you have to cover everything. That has to happen in the 2AR, and a 2NR wary of 2AR spin should ensure that they’ve “closed doors,” or made it impossible for the 2AR to persuasively come back from some critical 1AR mis-steps.

So, to summarize (or crystallize, because we’re talking about 2ARs), the 2AR is the time to resolve, explain, and weigh arguments. You can’t do that effectively if you don’t trust in your strategic instinct and consolidate the debate. You might be taking a risk, but that’s what competition is all about.