Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Plan Advocates

Before I begin this post, I'd like to quickly say that Climate Aid had an advocate. The GAO was totally in favor of defunding the programs. So don't be hating, kids.

It's time to delve into a subject that may be very touchy to all the squirrel huggers out there: plan advocates. I'm assuming everyone knows what an advocate is. It's someone who... advocates the plan. Not that hard. What baffles me is that there are teams everywhere that run cases without advocates. Hopefully they'll read this and repent. We can pray. 

The need for a plan advocate

Let's start with some basic groundwork. Why are plan advocates necessary for an affirmative team? Some debaters would tell you that they aren't. I respectfully (and correctly) disagree, for a few reasons. 

1) Advocates = Solvency literature
I've seen this happen to teams over and over again. They have a plan that makes sense on the surface, but has a gaping solvency hole that they just don't seem to understand. E.G, this year, I watched a team running a case to add Freedom of the Press as a requirement for Russia to graduate from Jackson-Vanik. They argued that because JV worked on emigration, it would work on other human rights issues too. What they didn't understand is that the JV amendment doesn't apply to Russia alone, so their plan was not only extra-topical but also illegal. Needless to say, they had no plan advocates and thus no evidence to get out of these holes. 
These issues are solved by having solid plan advocates. Good advocates don't just go "oh, bee tee dubs, why don't we try this?" They publish papers, testify before congress, and put out literature. That's why they are called advocates. 

2) Advocates save you the embarrassment of bad plan text writing
Plan advocates help you write solid plans, in one of two ways. They either write the plan themselves, or put out guidelines for what needs to be done. Let's take the cyber-warfare case, for example. While I'm not a fan of this case, it provides a perfect example of this type of advocate. Here's part of an advocacy card from the Center for Security and International Studies: 

"The recommendations in this paper are designed to accelerate reaching two goals: (1) expanding the number and quality of highly skilled cyber-security professionals and (2) giving those who hire those workers or who buy their services even better indicators of the skill levels of those whom they are engaging."

This card lays out criterion for a plan of action. These kind of advocacy cards help you make sure you aren't leaving things out of your plan when you write. 

3) Advocates make for better debate
It's true. Cases that are made up without the assistance of actual experts make for sloppy debate. Even congresspeople don't just make up their bills. They have teams of researchers and panels of experts that testify. Please do everyone a favor and have a plan advocate. If you try to write your plan on your own with no advocates or supporting literature, it means there won't be any specific evidence for or against your plan. It doesn't help you win, it just makes the debate ugly.

What makes a good advocate?
 So now you are probably wondering, "Wow, Wolky! That's brilliant! How do I make sure I have a good advocate?" 

Free Trade cures Lupus
I'm so glad you (I) asked that question. There a few things to remember when you are looking for a strong plan advocate.  First off, check and see if Dr. House advocates the plan. If he does, you don't need to look anymore. But if he doesn't, you should find someone else. Let's go over a few facets of good plan advocates. 

1. Field contextuality
First, remember that an advocate should have some sort of expertise or experience related to your plan. This seems common sense, but you'd be shocked how many teams quote random think-tanks or lobbyist groups. 

2. No money involved
Make sure your advocate doesn't have money/political victory at stake in the plan. Take, for example, when people quote the senators from Iowa advocate corn ethanol subsidies. Iowa exists because of corn. It's their largest crop and a huge source of campaign money for their representatives. Quite clearly, a senator from Iowa has a huge interest in getting money for corn ethanol, even if the subsidies are damaging to everyone else. 

3. No Think-Tanks
Don't quote think-tanks as plan advocates. Think-tanks universally get their money from corporations and lobbyists, and are essentially paid to advocate things that benefit the people that fund them. The CATO Institute was founded with a huge grant from oil companies. The Heritage Foundation gets lots of money from manufacturing and energy companies. The Brookings Institute gets donations from Israel. Accordingly, the things they advocate universally match the interests of these donors. Using a think-tank as a plan advocate opens you up to (justified) indictments. 

4. Texts, not Concepts

  • This is a plan advocate: The US and Russia should ratify a BIT based on the Russian model text.
  • This is not a plan advocate: Investment is good. 

A plan advocate should advocate the plan, not the concept or goal of the plan. This is important to remember. Don't just Google "Free trade good yummy" and expect to find a solid advocate. Remember: the more specific the advocacy card, the better. The advocate needs to support the plan text, not the goal of the plan. 

Debating against cases that lack advocates

So, what do you do when you are faced with an irritating and stupid case that doesn't have a plan advocate? It's easy to say that a case needs an advocate, but how do you translate that into a round? Here are some tips for how to slam an affirmative team when they don't have an advocate. 

1. Vagueness Fun
Teams that don't have advocates also usually have vague or poorly written plan texts. Instead of worrying about how to turn the lack of advocate into an argument, think about what it teaches you about the affirmative team. It tells you that they made the plan up themselves. Accordingly, they have invariably failed to account for important details, timeline issues, costs, etc. Throw up a vagueness block off of some of the bad plan writing, and watch them scramble to find solvency evidence that doesn't exist.

2. Focus on solvency
Remember what I said about  advocates going hand-in-hand with solvency literature? Well, you are debaters so I know you can follow this logic. If they don't have an advocate, they usually won't have a ton of solvency evidence either. And what's the first thing you should do if you know the affirmative doesn't have solvency evidence? I'd attack solvency, personally. But that's just me. 

3. Feel free to run bad DAs that barely link
You heard me. Run big DAs that have sketchy links to the affirmative plan. This will work in the absence of an advocate for a few basic reasons. First, because they can't say 'They didn't link our plan to the disadvantage with evidence" because that's exactly what they've done with their advantages. When there's no solvency/advocacy cards from the affirmative team, they set the precedence for the round that you can just run impacts with no evidence links. Secondly, they will usually lack the all-important spikes and turns that are characteristic of well written plans.

The bottom line is that plans without literature set the tone for the round. That tone is that you don't need evidence to link the plan to arguments. That's a precedent that favors the negative over the affirmative, and it's why you need an advocate. Go get one. 


  1. While think tanks are suboptimal advocates, I don't think a flat prohibition is in order, at least with some of them. Brookings, for example, has a huge range of independent and adjunct experts who write for them, most of whom have fantastic credentials and often disagree on important points. (You can find articles "from Brookings" on the same topic that come to very different conclusions.)

    Different think tanks engage in different levels of author censorship.

  2. ^^ A very good point to make. However, in that case, you can usually cite individual authors as advocates because they have credentials that extend beyond the think tank.

  3. In general, I concur, plan advocates are quite useful and important. A couple of caveats here, from someone who took a plan-advocateless case to nationals last year. Vagueness is one of my more favorite things, but it's only useful if you've done your prep in c-x and made sure they won't have answers for you. Otherwise, you are wasting your time making the aff look good. Second, it is very possible to have plausible solvency without a specific plan advocate. Use weakly-linked DAs with caution. Also, even if the aff has no solvency evidence, if they're smart, they will have logical warrants for their advantages, and will be able to make badly-linked DAs look bad.

  4. THANK YOU! WOLKY!! Finally, an article that I can wholeheartedly reccomend. I used to advise caution due to your stance on JVA. (Which I was undefeated with from March through Nationals). But I'm so happy you've taken a pro-advocacy stance. You should post a link to this on HSD. Advocacy was getting beaten up on there...

  5. Can I quote you against estate tax repeal please?!?!?!? All the estate tax teams cite the American Business Foundation which is an organization that is made up up wealthy families who would stand to gain huge amounts of money from repeal. (for example, the CEO/founder of the AFBF would gain about 1.5 billion dollars if the plan was passed.)