The Kerry Disad


It's an old (and not inaccurate) joke among policy-style debaters that every round must, ultimately, come down to the threat of nuclear war. Even if the debate's about pension reform or agricultural subsidies, one team will find a way to argue that the other side's proposal must inevitably bring about a global thermonuclear holocaust. (Hence the title of R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World as We Know It," supposedly inspired by Michael Stipe's visit to a policy debate "tournament of lies" and sung in the high-speed style of a policy debater spreading.)

So my first thought upon hearing that Dick Cheney had played that card was: There it is! The nuclear war disad! Except, of course, that these days it's not such a stretch after all. Though when it comes to who's actually got the "disad" here, I think Pandagon's on point.


NEXT: Badnarik on NPR

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  1. That’s quite the strawman that guy’s posted there…

  2. I’m shocked! A writer that knows about debate! Wow! I’m a little giddy, still, at the thought that someone from the outside world actually knows what a disad even is… after 4 years of competitive college debate, Julian, you have restored my faith in humanity. Where on earth did you learn of these things?

  3. Though when it comes to who’s actually got the “disad” here, I think Pandagon’s on point.

    No, I have to disagree with you there. It’s a mistake the left make far too often, to attribute Bush’s (and Republicans’ in general) policy to simple penis-length contest strategy.

    Conversely, one could make the argument that Kerry has been making the John Holmes argument far longer than Bush has, with all of his I-fought-in-the-jungles-and-chased-the-VC-down-on-foot
    machismo. But we know that Kerry isn’t simply Rambo. And neither are Bush/Cheney.

  4. I used to debate in high school. I refused to talk at a mile a minute, and I never used the nuke war disad. I also won a few trophies and an award for speaker points, proving that you don’t need to do absurd stuff to win a debate.

    I guess in this election Kerry and Edwards would be the affirmative (they’re arguing in favor of a change to the status quo) and Bush and Cheney would, by definition, be the negatives. That’s certainly consistent with their use of a disad. But did they use the proper “disad shell” to introduce it? Can we see their cards during crossex?

    Finally, shall we decide this election based on the SHITS or based on a net advantage comparison (ads minus disads vs. status quo)?

  5. Brenden- I did parli-style back at NYU, and a surprising number of my current friends are ex-policy (and parli) geeks. One can, terrifyingly, still recite one such nuclear disad card pretty much verbatim.

    db- Well, I assume (and hope) the administration doesn’t actually believe any such thing, but a lot of their public rhetoric seems to frame security questions as some sort of bizarre contest about who hates terrorists more.

  6. I thought Julian’s comment was really funny. Being a former forensics geek and forensics coach, almost every debate round I ever heard or participated in ultimately ends with the Nuclear disad.

  7. I think Pandagon (and Julian?) missed the point.

    The Cheney argument is that Kerry’s stated posture on the WoT is about defence and not offence, ergo Kerry is not aggressive enough to do the job right.

    This isn’t chest thumping, it is about the effectiveness of passive defense against a threat of terrorist flavor.

  8. PS: I debated SHITS style waaay back in HS myself. Is it a libertarian thing? Are we libertarians primarily because we enjoy arguing with everyone else?

  9. Humor aside, each candidate has continuously questioned the other’s ability to lead the country. This is just another volley in the political war that ends in about two weeks.

  10. Ah, brings me back to my days as a 2A/1N. During the 93-94 season, with the “environment” topic, my partner and I put forth a birth-control plan on affirmative. I remember this French exchange student who could barely speak English, challenging me during cross-X to explain why “the sex, it is not good.”

    Yes, I was a master debater. Too bad that’s worth diddly squat in TRW.

  11. I knew that Reason had something special… There’s always a place for debaters, somewhere… I’ve been cutting Reason for my highschool kids to run, and I enjoy your work. Thanks!

  12. crimethink: All of us here at H&R are master debaters!

  13. Bush/Cheney are the aff. They’re trying to convince us that they deserve a second term. All Kerry/Edwards are trying to do is show that they don’t, and hope that that translates to the victory. It’s not usual for this to happen, which is why, I think, Kerry and Edwards aren’t doing better. They’re supposed to be pointing out better ways to do things.

    But of course all discussion is moot when placed next to the important point; that is, Policy is and always was for pedestrians. I mean, cards? Really. Lincoln-Douglas is by far the superior form.

  14. Is that what the REM song is about?? I’d have never know, having not participated in such geekoid activities.

    Whatever “End of the World as we know It” is about, it rocks, second only to “Radio Free Europe”. The lyrics don’t matter in any REM songs (or really in about any song), as long as the tune rocks and the musicianship is great. That song is tight and the stops are excellent. Way before Michael Stipes whiny days of the 90’s…

  15. I did L/D myself in high school, but I never connected C/X debate (the spreading, mile-a-minute policy stuff) to that REM song. Nor have any of the REM-fan discourses on the song I’ve come across.

    Very interesting.

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