Fiat Interps and Politics

On the last podcast we talked a bit about various politics disads and why they require an interpretation of fiat in order to function.


To start with an obvious example, if you debated the weekend before the midterms you know that congress has “sessions”- i.e there are times when congress is working and then there are times when they are not. Right before the midterm congress is not “in session” because the congress people need to go home and campaign for re-election. So in order to make the disad work, and by work I mean have the aff happen immediately so that it could impact the election/you get a disad, the neg had to go through some fiat gymnastics to argue that the plan would be done immediately. These are arguments like “they can call a special session”.


So in a debate over midterms you could have the neg saying

-the plan is done now, immediately, through a special session=thats normal means

while you have the affirmative arguing

-the aff would be done after the midterm as normal means


So what is “normal means” and how do you go about arguing this? Well let’s start from a definitional perspective- are there any words in the resolution that would lead us to believe normal means is now vs later?


The classics people define for these arguments are things like “resolved” means certainty, or should is the present tense etc. If you go to camp files for process CPs you can usually find definitions to support either side- so while we could deep dive a post just about debating these definitions i think that is largely a waste of time. Usually definitions matter if one side has them and the other doesn’t, but when both teams have them (as you should) then the debate is usually decided elsewhere, and so we will prioritize our time accordingly.


A big part of the debate will be about  real world/education. I am grouping these together even though many separate them because they are the same-there is no point learning about narnia so the real world claim is inherently an education argument, and the i/l to education has to be understanding the real world. So what really happens in the real world?


Unfortunately while the actual process is clearly defined, the timing of that process is largely up for grabs. What I mean is some bills get introduced years before they get a vote/become law, some happen very quickly. Some bills pass as is, some go through many revisions/conference committee. So in terms of “timing” like “before or after midterms” there isn’t really 1 normal. Now, we can say with certainty that it is very unusual that a special session would be called the day before the midterm, so should “real world/normal means” really be “likely” means?


This is where oftentimes a “ground” argument is needed to break a tie. What I mean is that both sides interps of fiat will be “normal” in that they COULD happen, and while one or the other may be more likely (sometimes slightly, sometimes greatly) you rarely here judges give RFD’s about the liklihood of something happening. This is largely because at its root, most people believe that fiat is designed to bypass exactly that question- how likely something is. To say “this bill that would never, ever pass would be more likely to pass after the midterm….” doesn’t always make a lot of sense. So while some judges are willing to toss out interps like “day before midterm” because it is SO unlikely, many prefer to decide these by looking at ground.


Ground is often very shallowly debated in these rounds, usually something like this

neg: we want our disad

aff: your disad is garbage


Occasionally one team will go slightly broader and say something like

We can’t have uniqueness for any disad about the future

which expands their offense beyond just “i want this thing”. The thing you have to realize about most of these timing arguments is that they are generally very weak for all sides. Let’s look at the main ones


“now good- later bad for uniqueness”

Well, to start its obviously not “impossible” to have uniqueness about the future, even for politics disads. For example in October people were reading both the lame duck disad and the midterms disad, which required uniqueness evidence about the future. The further the future gets, it may become harder to find uniqueness evidence, is that a bad thing? There are less articles written about who’s winning 2020 presidential race now but maybe that means it requires less busy work updating stupid uniqueness cards every day. Debates about the long term trends in economic growth are probably more educational than debating random news articles about minor fluctuations in the stock market as if they were historically significant events.

Usually when we are debating fiat interps we aren’t talking about now vs 100 years from now, we are taking about the aff being suddenly/dramatically done immediately, or being done in few months, so the “omg uniqueness” arg has always seemed particularly weak to me.


This is compounded by the fact that most neg links actually require the plan to NOT be immediate, i.e. they depend on the plan being controversial/sparking a large debate in congress. Thus the neg has to somehow argue the plan is immediate, but not too immediate- not impossible but something most 2NC blocks are not sophisticated enough to justify with theoretical offense.


Take the lame duck disad discussed on the podcast. Here the neg has to argue

-the plan isn’t done immediately by special session, it happens in the lame duck, cause that’s normal

-in the lame duck it goes right to the top of the docket , cause that’s normal

-then it gets debated for #howeverlong we need it to be debated to trigger our link- again normal


That’s quite a specific understanding of what “normal” is. And I think if you wanted to go for theory as the affirmative each step could be contested

-any offense for immediacy justifies doing plan now, not in LD

-if NM is LD, then obvi it goes to bottom of the LD docket not the top

-offense for immediacy proves no debate, args for “ld=normal” mean the plan couldn’t be a controversial issue as those aren’t brought up in the limited time format




These aff arguments aren’t perfect, the neg can obviously push back on many of them. Most people haven’t thought this through/blocked it out beyond a few points in the 1NR block however, and that’s something you can take advantage of.


“Hurts all arguments”

Uniqueness we have dealt with above. Timing only affects link args that are…. wait for it… based on timing. Whit said this would kill all politis disads, thats obviously false- as explained above some politics disads require plan now, others plan later. A “winners win” link doesn’t require immediacy, nor would the 2020 election disad or an agenda disad about the next congress. Again, the fact that sometimes the neg wants the plan now and other times later should lead you to view all neg trickster statements with suspicion.


The same is true for other disads. Take wages, a link like “you increase supply of labor” is not time dependent- it happens regardless. A link like “biz con/perception of the plan…” may be time sensitive/better now than later, but that some econ links are affected by timing obviously could cut both ways and does not prove the whole disad goes away. Again, as per the above discussion, there are obviously two sides to whether debating time sensitive uniqueness/link arguments is good or bad for debate as an activity, but no one usually goes that deep.


One thing that I think matters should be reciprocity. Let’s think about this from the perspective of “does the affirmative get to use “timing” to their advantage ever? What I mean is, does the affirmative ever get to construct advantages that are similarly timing shenanigan based to some of these disads? Not really (although maybe some of it is due to lack of trying). Occasionally affirmatives will have midterms advantages , but rarely do you see

-rider advantages

-lame duck timing/tradeoff advantages

-pc advantages

Now the overwhelming/obvious reason for this is the neg can just CP out of most of these- pass the rider, don’t pass the lame duck thing, pass whatever previously needed PC etc. So these advantages have to be trickier than the DA (which is why elections is the most common-its harder to CP out of the impact) which means they are less common. Does that mean they are not reciprocal? I think the fact that they are less common isn’t relevant to a theory debate, but the fact that the neg can so easily CP out of them is. It proves that structurally the aff is unlikely to be able to garner similar offense from these fiat interp based links, so really what we are evaluating is just do we think the neg has a right to /needs these arguments?


The justifications given on the pod where basically it sucks to be neg on this topic. While I don’t think its as bad as people make it out to be ( go for the k) I would agree with perhaps a reframed version of this argument: because the primary reason immigration restrictions exist is politics, the politics DA has to be part of the negative’s arsenal. Now what I mean by this is we have a lot of silly immigration policies that don’t work/don’t make sense, and the reason we have them is “political” (not that other reasons aren’t political) in that politicians support them almost exclusively due to concerns about being re-elected. While issues that are “political” in this sense get on the news/written about a lot, they make for crappy debate topics because the negative ground is usually garbage arguments from propaganda think tanks + the politics disad. Unfortunately we are stuck with the topic we have now, so the question is what do we do with that knowledge?


For a segment of judges who prefer policy debates to kritiks they will probably be very persuaded to protect the neg/defer to their interp of fiat. For these judges aff it is important you don’t say “read a K” but instead try and couch your offense in terms of how politics debates could be BETTER under your interp. So instead of just saying “we kill the rider da- its bad” say “we kill the rider da- its worse than this other disad, we should debate that other disad”.


For other judges, they viscerally dislike these cheesy disads. For them you want to couch your offense in terms of argument quality rather than a tradeoff between k and policy.


This is getting pretty long so lets cut the general discussion there and look at an example of a debate/how it could be improved.


Let’s say the aff is HSI and the neg is reading the lame duck farm bill disad


1NC: General shell

Right off the bat I think you can improve your chances by leading with a fiat inter. You know the debate is going to come down to this, so start building your case. I would make it something like 2-3 short analytics and a card, so approx 25-35 seconds of time. If the 2AC drops this or just reads their usual 8 word theory argument you have basically won the debate, if they do engage and you chose to kick the disad they had to invest a lot of time in something not relevant

2AC: Short arg like “reject timing links- they aren’t real world”

The 2AC will also see results from starting with a more developed/explained theory interp. Something like

“Our interpretation of fiat is minimal normal means- things like moving the plan to the top of the docket/interrupting the lame duck require extraordinary means that generate links unrelated to the plan but to the process- this trades off with topic education and encourages neg generic cheese strategies. Education outweighs neg ground- even if its hard to be neg on this topic their interp goes too far in the opposite direction allowing unbeatable pics”


That can obviously be refined/is a bit wordy but has the key points


The Block: 3-5 very short blips

This is the HEART of the disad. If you lose this all is lost my friend- now maybe you are pinning your hopes on the judge just hating the aff theory arg and it not really mattering what you say. Fair enough- there seem to be a lot of those judges out there.  But if you think you actually have to debate well to win you will need more than this. What you generally want are

-explain/extend your interp

-3-6 offensive justifications for your interp- args like ground/grammar/predictability etc

-3-6 defensive arguments- ideally tailored so that you are reading ones that respond to the offensive arguments given in the 2AC


Now, this may seem like a lot- and it is. But one reason you are making a lot of arguments is “deterrence”- you want to discourage the 1AR from extending this as it is one of the better affirmative arguments. If they do decide to extend it you want to make it painful/difficult so that you still have a chance to win based on technical concessions



Time to chose- you either need to commit fully and win this argument, or you need to spend your time elsewhere. Extending it for 20 seconds and missing 1/2 the line by line is not going to cut it- judges are probably looking for reasons to ignore/not evaluate a theory debate on politics so you need to not just be line by line competent, you need to be dominant. This may take 45 seconds or more, but if the DA is a net benefit to the pic winning an arg like this isn’t like winning other defense like “no internal link”. Judges will often interpret that defense to be less than absolute, reducing the risk of the disad rather than eliminating it, and give an RFD that says “you have no offense, so .0001% risk was enough on the DA”. A theory argument, on the other hand, rarely gets interpreted as just reducing risk, so that 45 seconds can be the basis of winning the debate on “zero net benefit’ in a way that other defensive arguments cannot.



Assuming the 1AR did a good job you need to take this seriously for the reasons explained above-this is a more threatening than usual defensive argument for your strategy. You want to spend a decent amount of time here. Extend a mix of offense and defense, but make choices/don’t go for everything so you have time to weigh/resolve arguments.



Sometimes you will end up going for this for 5 mn, but more likely you won’t have enough things to say to fill the full time so you will be going for theory in conjunction with other arguments. Make sure you think strategically- going for this + solvency deficit doesn’t make a lot of sense- if you lose theory you aren’t going to win on a random solvency deficit as you have no other defense on the disad. When going for theory like this you will want to emphasize passion/ethos- judges may be reluctant so you must marshall the leverage of shame. Make them afraid to look you in the eye and say “I didn’t vote on politics theory”-and you need to do this without being an ahole. Don’t personalize it/make it about the other team- talk about what debate as a whole looks like if these kind of arguments proliferate/why it would be a bad model.


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