Spin Class: How does Corona impact CJR?

A couple people over the last two weeks have sent me links to articles like this about how the corona virus is prompting changes to our criminal justice system. Generally people have been expressing 2 concerns


  1. Doesn’t this thump the topic? Won’t every DA be non unique because of reductions in incarceration caused by the virus-things like links that boil down to “fear of crime” (politics etc) seem the most obvious example, but even federalism and others are being “thumped” by the virus
  2. Doesn’t this hurt aff advantage ground by “solving” part of it?


Before going into the weeds lets acknowledge how unlikely it is that this will prompt a major change in the justice system. While initial reports looked favorable to reform, it hasn’t materialized. Here are some numbers 


After the coronavirus erupted behind bars in late March, U.S. Attorney General William Barr ordered officials running federal prisons to “immediately maximize” the release of prisoners to home confinement to prevent the spread of the virus. In a much-publicized letter, Barr urged them to focus on the most medically vulnerable in facilities with COVID-19 deaths.

But less than a month after Barr’s urgent April 3 memo, the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ results are modest: the number of people allowed to serve the rest of their sentence in home confinement went up by only 1,027 under the new guidance set out by the attorney general—about half of 1 percent of the more than 174,000 people in the bureau’s custody at the start of the month, according to data obtained from the agency and Congress.


Half of one percent won’t thump much in actual material terms. However, most people are getting worried about this because the general assumption is that neg ground this year will consist of perceptiony links to things like elections where the actual numbers don’t matter much. The neg has to go there because “actual” links are so bad.  I talked a bit on the podcast about how I think this is silly and instead of getting more broad/generic with perception links the neg should focus on pics/advantage counterplans and credible disads, but I get it- no one is going to do that.


So, let us assume the only disad you have is the 2020 elections disad. Given the following facts


-the president is a republican

-CJR is generally perceived as left/liberal



we have a choice to make right at the start about the link. While there are hundreds of groups you could read elections links about from the soccer moms to nascar dads to whatever other nonsense term is popular this week, in general the broadest links are “popular or unpopular” with raw poll numbers, and then “base” links, with the final category being voter group. Lets break them down a bit more


Broad Polling

These are links that say “x percent of Americans support y” and aren’t further divided into dems/repubs or other groups. The problem with these links is winning that any of these people will switch their mind over X issue. For example, puppies may be popular wit 99% of voters, but that doesn’t mean Trump getting a puppy would cause people to vote for him. So while broad polling links “sound’ good at first- omg so many people love the plan- they don’t really translate into effective links.


Base Links

These go one of two ways

-fire them up- the plan gets the base eager to go out and vote

-simmer them down- the plan suppresses the base/stops them from turning out.


The problem with base links is that … they are the base, they have generally bought into whatever we are talking about and aren’t easy to move one way or the other.


Voter Groups


To be a relevant voter group you generally need to be

-in play- this means your group hasn’t picked a candidate yet, they are undecided

-have a homogeneous group interest- if the group is “union voters” then the plan would need to be related to labor/something unions care about. If the link is puppies there may be diverse opinion unrelated to group structure.

-be trendy. Almost all of these groups are nonsense that TV news anchors make up to fill the day. So after a while the aff cards become much better than the neg, so you need to keep up with the nonsense



So… what are we spinning? Well these are 3 classic categories of election link, but they all beg the question why/how does trump get credit/blame for the plan? To wrap up this post I am just going to walk through one example from T to B, but first let’s start with a “bad” example.


Lets say the 1NC shell looks like this


A. Trump will lose now- his poll numbers are falling due to corona


B. CJR is massively popular with everyone


C. Doing something popular means Trump wins



The 2AC says some stuff and the 2NC gives the following overview


“Trump has fumbled the coronavirus response- over 100,000 dead and climbing everyday. This has rejuvenated the Biden campaign and given him a commanding lead in national polling- 6 to 11 points. Trump needs to change the narrative and the plan gives him a perfect storm- CJR makes him look compassionate and appeals to non traditional trump voters he needs to win key states.”


This is about what you’d hear in your average debate, and it follows a simple formula


Reason Trump is losing (uniqueness) + Reason the plan is popular(the link)= Trump Win


Now we all understand that is the format of the disad, but does this really make sense here? 100,000 people dead… plan makes him look compassionate? No, it probably doesn’t. Now I get that there are CJR links that say “compassionate conservativism”, and I get that people have bought that in the past but the construction of this argument is not very credible because the link isn’t overcoming the uniqueness. This is to “broad stroke”- by talking about everyone to sound strong its undermining its own credibility.


So while the uniqueness card might be quite good, and the link card might also be great, these 2 authors are not having a meeting of the minds. Their points don’t meaningfully connect to construct a disad.


Now let us look at a potentially better example


A. Trump will lose now- opposition is highly motivated


B. The plan wins over opposition, they vote trump



Let’s stop there- this I think most of you probably immediately reacted with a “nope” as you read it. The highly motivated trump opposition is not going to flip over the plan. While this may seem “more glaring” than the previous example they are really on par…


How about


A. Trump will lose now- turnout will be low generally which favors biden

B. Millennial link- they don’t vote in large numbers because it takes time away from talking about themselves, but they love CJR

C. Only a small % of millennial turn out for trump swings the election



This is not perfect by any means, but it is definitely better

-your uniqueness (low turnout) doesn’t take out your link, they are consistent with one another

-the link threshold is low and doesn’t require you to win an entire group flips  as a whole which means you can accommodate link defense easier



So, now we reach the spin. We have a “credible” link story, we just need to win that trump would get/take credit for the plan. Now I haven’t included any cards, so we aren’t spinning an ambiguous line or trying to cause the judge to favorably interpret evidence for our side. Because of this we need to fill in a lot more gaps than usual- how do we do that? Well you gotta KNOW STUFF.


OMG the worst right? Knowing stuff is so 1999. Remember all those lectures at camp you played solitaire through? Well that was the stuff you needed to know. For example every summer there is a “topic lecture” at every camp. This is the lecture that students attend with the most intensity- furiously typing down everything said- and then forget immediately because it wasn’t debate blocks. Don’t do this.


In order to spin this link you need to know

-what trump has said/done about CJR in the past

-how this specific plan sits in the broader slate of CJR type proposals (is it radical or middle of the road)

-how have similar efforts worked in other areas


So that is where we will pick up in the next part. To equip you for that discussion here is some homework that has “facts” we will deploy later in our spin assault


Trump V Biden on CJR

The First Step Act 

Stealing Credit


To Close- camp this summer will be online for everyone. This means you will be in charge of your learning environment much more than usual. So I just recommended you read those 3 articles, here is what most of you will do


-hover your mouse over the link to see the article titles

-click on the first one

-read 2-3 paragraphs




Here is what you should do

-each article is probably a 5-10 minute read, so thats 30mn of reading

-you also want to take notes by hand, so lets extend that to 1 hour of “homework”




-but after you take all those notes you then want to use those facts to write blocks…

-but then those blocks will need cards….

-should i cut these into cards?

-should i look up more articles?



No, you don’t need to do any of that. You need to focus. Right now we are focusing on how you knowing stuff can help your spin. So when reading these articles you want to MAXIMIZE STUFF KNOWN not do other things like cut cards or write blocks.


So to take notes on these articles I wouldn’t start by just writing down everything I learned from them- there is probably a lot. I would thin in my head as I was reading THROUGH the prism of what we are looking for- facts for spin. So for example, while statistics about incarceration rates are generally good to know, are they relevant here? No, what is relevant is what trump SAYS about those, how he postures in public, and how the public REACTS because that is what the link is about.



So I would take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle vertically, on the left I would write “yes credit/blame” and on the right I would put “no credit/blame” and as I read the articles any fact I could use/spin to support one side or the other I would put under that column. There are no bad ideas in brainstorming (except for all of morty’s) so don’t worry about judging argument quality right now, we are just free forming this list. You want to do both sides at once so that you are thinking through point/counterpoint logic as a habit but you don’t need to worry about making sure every point has an answer/counterpoint, its just a way to keep your thinking going in the right direction.



So let’s say one of the articles had the following paragraph (this is made up).


President Trump campaigned hard in 2016 on a tough on crime platform. Whereas traditional republicans will nod to the justice system Trump made restoring order to a lawless country a repeated theme at his rallies. The number of former prosecutors in the DNC field during primary season is a sign that the part understands Trump’s tactics and is attempting to shut it down. Despite this history trump threw opponents a curve ball this week as he met with Kim Kardashian to discuss criminal justice reform. Commentators on conservative websites speculated that Trump was trying to reach out to new voters.


What would our lists look like here?


Would get credit

-has done it in the past-list specifics

-can be cynical/for votes, doesn’t need to be real

Would not get credit

-history of tough on crime-list specifics

-doesnt want to flip flop/anger base













Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s