The Art of Affirmation: Part 2 – Delivering the 1AR
By Grant Brown
Much of the difficulty and fear individuals face when affirming is due to the dreaded first affirmative rebuttal. This speech is usually the lynchpin of the rest of the debate; if the 1AR goes wrong it’s time to pack it up and go home. This makes clear that the 1AR is an incredibly important speech to master, yet many debaters, some of whom are seasoned veterans, are unable to give adequate 1ARs consistently.
This article, following a similar format to the first of the series, will sketch a view of how to give good, consistent 1ARs. It will attempt to illuminate that the 1AR need not only be considered a speech in which one “fights to survive” but rather can be the site of a devastating takedown of your opponent as well.
First and foremost, you must resist the intuition to be defensive. It is a common trope of mediocre 1ARs that they recoil at the sight of confrontation and attempt to deflate every argument presented by the negative. This takes the form of responding to theory merely through I-meets and standard level defense (“I’m not that unpredictable!”), engaging kritiks only through permutations and link defense, and responding to disadvantages with nothing but impact defense. These strategies ultimately do very little to truly further the affirmative’s position in the debate, as you are left in an entirely reactionary position with little new offensive developments that can give you routes to the ballot.
What should be done instead is focusing on offense. This takes the form of responding to theory through a counter-interpretation, turns to the standards, and an RVI, and engaging kritiks and disadvantages through impact turns. In fact, if you’re not yet strategically aware enough to see clearly where defense might be more strategic than offense (there are certainly points where this is the case), you should err towards being overly aggressive, always. Especially if you are a younger debater, being overly aggressive is easier to meld into a fantastic balance than being overly defensive.
Second, following from the first, generate outs. The crucial movement in a good, offensive 1AR is to continuously set up possible collapsing opportunities for the 2AR. The fact of the matter is that the negative can easily, due to more time, dump on your arguments. If you have one out, this usually results in a sandbagging so vigorous as to lose you the debate, but if you have multiple outs the 2NR strategy loses its efficacy and it becomes a much easier debate on the affirmative.
The best way to describe this strategy is that the 1AR is where a blitz of options is developed and the 2AR is where the best of the blitz is developed and fleshed out fully. These sort of 1AR options may include performative contradiction arguments (these are particularly easy to develop in the increasingly common situation where the negative reads both topicality and a kritik), a new theory shell, turns to a disadvantage, impact turns to a kritik, an RVI, and a wide variety of other routes to the ballot.
Third, moving to structuring, start on the case flow. You should always try to debate positionally, that is, from the perspective of your affirmative, and that entails starting the 1AR by extending your offense. You can always weigh your offense against something else, even if they have responses or overwhelming amount of offense on their own flows, you can lean back against the ropes that are your affirmative and have a shot. If you don’t extend the case, undercover it, or save it for last, you start to lose that option. Additionally, situating the case as the start of the debate puts both you and the judge in the mindset that the affirmative is the basis from which the rest of the debate resolves, ensuring that the burden of contestation is firmly placed on the negative. This once again helps reduce the tendency to be merely reactionary.
Fourth, position your primary responses to negative off-cases inside overviews. There simply isn’t enough time to line-by-line all of the negative’s arguments, making overviews a near necessity. A well-structured overview simply provides a list of objections to the larger thesis of the negative position. It is a sort of gateway of responses which, due to their focus on the core thesis of the position at hand, the negative must answer before the line-by-line even comes into contention. This levels the playing field between the 1AR and 2NR, making your responses count. It also forces the judge to evaluate the debate in a much more embedded sense, rather than simply lining up the debate technically, which favors a short 1AR and 2AR. This is a scary prospect and it takes a bit of guts, but it is worth it one you develop the courage. The truth is that judges, though mostly preferring line-by-line evaluation, simply cannot avoid a well-develop overview and will be forced to consider it even in light of technical “concessions.”
As an addendum to this tip, this is not to say you should never line-by-line arguments in the 1AR. You should attempt to do as much technical work as possible, especially on game-over issues or points of heavy contestation. However, you should reel it in, refuse to default to pure line-by-line, and make smart decisions depending on the situation.
Fifth, trim the fat. It is impossible to both fully and robustly extend every argument in the 1AC while adequately responding to the negative. This requires that you carefully trim the excess portions of the 1AC away in the 1AR. You have to make choices about what you want to include in the rest of the debate, a refusal to dispose of some components in favor of others nearly always results in an inadequate deployment of all arguments when one spreads oneself too thin. This means picking which advantages are most strategic and important, which responses and frontlines to take read, which framework justifications to extend, and more.
Sixth, package the weasel. This strategy describes the summation of complex points into bite-sized pieces which can be quickly deployed in the 1AR and expanded upon in the 2AR. As an example, if one is reading an extremely dense Kantian affirmative, one may read a short paragraph summarizing the main points of the framework and the relevant pieces of evidence involved, this is the first portion of “packaging the weasel.” The second portion arrives in the 2AR, where, adapting to the 2NR responses to your 1AR, you pick portions of your summary to “sit-down” on, unpacking them with greater detail, depth, and comparative analysis than you were able to do in the 1AR. This requires, as previously mentioned, a structuring of extensions with the 2AR in mind. The goal is ultimately to hit the “sweet spot” in which your arguments are just warranted enough in the 1AR for the judge to understand them and accept a development on these arguments in the 2AR as “reasonably predictable” instead of seeing them as new arguments entirely.
This strategy has a number of benefits and is crucial for delivering advanced content within the format of debate. Firstly, it keeps your opponent on edge through their rebuttal, having to deal with the potential explosion of arguments in the 2AR, weighing down their advantage in terms of both explanation time and ability to merely wipe away 1AR arguments with a blitz of responses. They don’t have the full context, which makes it difficult to avoid either overinvesting or underinvesting in an argument. Secondly, it is crucial to ensure that the 1AR is not bogged down in content. There are many 1ARs which become lost in the complexity of their own arguments, spending massive amounts of time explaining intricate theoretical details of their affirmative which are not entirely necessary. Thirdly, as a sort of summation of all of these benefits, this packaging techniques allows the full realization of “spin.” Being able to spin an argument with your own knowledge, analysis, and comparison is a hallmark of being a great debater, and this strategy enables you to really take the debate into your own hands.
As a final concluding note, some may consider this strategy as “tricky” or “cheating.” I would heavily resist this characterization. Debate, ultimately, is a game of persuasion and articulation, mastering the art of rhetoric is just as important as having mastery over technical skills. This tip merely leans into this part of debate strategy and functionality which has fallen to the wayside in favor of merely technical evaluation.
The 1AR is not merely a moment of defensive survival, but rather is an opportunity for a vicious offensive advance. Like most things in the realm of debate, the paradigm through which one views the 1AR structures our approach to its possibilities. In thinking deeply about the 1AR as a strategic speech, with a variety of movements available to it, one can begin to successfully refute their own intuitions and begin the process of improvement.