David Henning—Policy Debate Judging Philosophy

Version 4.12.5—January 7, 2017 NSDA Qualifier Debate Tournament Edition

School Affiliation: The Sheb--Sheboygan South High School Position: Director of Debate
Hired by: Homestead High School, Mequon, Wisconsin Position: Judge

Rounds judged this season (College/High School): 0/20 Lifetime (C/HS): 70/2100+ Years Judging (C/HS): 5/33

Experience with academic debate: I began my debate career during the Carter Administration. I was a policy debater in high school and college during the 1980s. I was an independent (mostly high school) policy debate judge for many years. This is my seventh year as a high school debate coach and was my fourth year as a college debate coach until Lakeland University eliminated the debate program. I've had some success both as a debater and as a coach.

Paradigm: Tabula Rasa, but please don’t insult my intelligence or agency. Be aware that if this is not argued, I do not default to a policy-making paradigm. That also holds for Framework arguments. Ignore my philosophy at your own peril.
Topicality: Show me the abuse in this round. I care less almost by the week for the current state of the topicality debate, especially the “standards.” They never mean anything. “Broader topics increase breadth, narrow topics increase depth.” That’s nonsense. Nor do I like topicality debates that devolve into “we increase education” or “they decrease ground.” I want actual abuse. Tell me which arguments you can’t run, what education you are losing. If the affirmative has disclosed their case/plan prior to the round (I will ask), I will not be impressed by negative claims that they couldn’t predict this affirmative or have nothing against it. You must also explain why topicality should be a voting issue in this round. By that I mean more than a list of words. “Topicality is a voter for fairness, jurisdiction and education”—that’s garbage, and I don’t know what that means. Give me good, logical reasons why I should vote on Topicality. I will vote on topicality, but you must present me with a clear story of the abuse and explain why I should vote against that abuse. Actual abuse, in this round. Potential abuse is not enough. That means an abuse greater than the negatives not getting to run a particular or favorite argument. For the negatives to win the round on topicality they must commit to it seriously. This is a high standard for negatives to meet, but it is not insurmountable. I vote on topicality, even in elimination rounds, but not often. In the past, when I did vote on topicality, negative teams went only for topicality in 2NR. But that is no guarantee—over the last five years teams with such strategies are 6-5 with me. Bottom line: I don't like Topicality. However, I voted on Topicality last year--that team, from the University of Kansas, did everything I asked for and more, not only arguing actual abuse in the round, but running a disad that the aff claimed they didn't link to, at which point the negs pointed to that as an example of actual abuse.

Counterplans: Counterplans are fine. You must tell me why the counterplan is competitive and what advantages result from it. A counterplan that is mutually exclusive with the affirmative plan is a good standard. I am open well-constructed exotic and agent-of-change counterplans. Please try to make your counterplan net benefit something more than “we avoid the disad and the affirmative doesn’t.”
Advantages/Disadvantages: Put the bodies on the flow. That’s a good way for me to evaluate the advantage or disadvantage (or any argument), especially in a policy context. A nuclear war or the destruction of the biosphere and/or all life on earth are all fine terminal impacts for an advantage or disadvantage, especially since “all life on earth” includes me, and a nuclear war is (usually) one of the only exceptions to my next sentence. Do not assume that something (anything) is inherently good or bad. If you say the affirmative team stops (or causes) economic growth or saves money, so what? Growth or saving money are not inherently good or bad—show me what results from that growth or that saved or wasted money. It should be the same for all arguments. Impacts that are worse than death, such as dehumanization or loss of liberty and the like, are fine as long as there is some tangible evidence to that effect. Please be aware that most rhetorical evidence has limits, and often source quality issues, especially in comparison to actual or “real” impacts either in or out of the round, impacts that result from my ballot, or impacts on the activity itself. Claims that an advantage or disadvantage is “generic” or “not real world” or “not common sense” are disingenuous or an excuse for poor preparation; don’t whine about it, win it. This isn’t the real world, and let me state for the record that I oppose common sense, especially in debate rounds.
Kritiks: Kritiks must be explained. I really like the idea of the kritik, but rarely do I like the way kritiks are run. A one or two card kritik is usually insufficient. If you are making the argument, make it. Give me reasons, explanations, solid evidence from (hopefully) quality sources. Be aware that not all kritiks are created equal. Please explain your kritik clearly—shouting “Derrida” is neither explanation nor clarification, and rapidly slurring a phrase like “Marxism without Marx” proves and means nothing. Such a kritik would be inferior to a well-developed and evidenced kritik such as American Exceptionalism, an argument that has both historical precedent and contemporary merit. Present me with an interpretation as to why I should vote for the kritik. How and why does the kritik matter in this round? What will happen if I sign the ballot in favor of the kritik? Does my ballot mean or do anything? Will it impact the world outside of the round? Framework arguments often make or break kritiks. What should I look at (or adjudicate) first and how should I do so? What level or “world” are or should we be in for this round? Winning Framework is often the key to winning the debate. That also holds true for critical affirmatives. Losing or conceding Framework is dangerous—the debate then occurs (and is adjudicated) at the level or in the “world” that the Framework demands. An alternative is nice but not essential for a kritik. Please be able to explain your alternative. A straight-ahead alternative like Marxism or eco-authoritarianism is usually preferable to esoteric “graduate school” notions such as metabolic restoration or Le-con or Foucault. I’ve come around on some K authors, perhaps due to my increasing temporal distance from them, and I've always liked Roland Barthes and Goldust. As with any argument, the clearest explanation of the K and/or the alt has the best chance to win my ballot.
Debate Theory: Theory has its place, but don’t read cards from some debate coach at me, especially if I debated against them in college. Why is that coach any more qualified than you, me or someone judging in the next room? Explain your theory positions to me and tell me why they matter in this round. What are the in-round impacts to your theory argument? Are there impacts on the activity itself? Does my ballot have a role in your theory argument? If you are claiming some kind of “abuse” of theory, show me the in-round abuse and tell me why it should be a voting issue. As for conditional arguments, they are neither inherently good nor bad. I am not a fan of junking up the round with lots of conditional arguments or vacuous theory, about conditionality or anything else. Conditional arguments should usually be of the nature that you could maybe win them if you chose to go for them. If you choose to run your position(s) dispositionally, be sure you understand what that means and can explain it to me in the round. If there is abuse, show me that abuse and tell my why it is bad. Most of what I said about topicality also applies here. Arguments predicated upon “punishing” the other team are ill-advised; such arguments usually hurt the team making them. And remember, I do not default to a policy-making paradigm.

Delivery Style: Speak loud and be clear. That is the most important thing. I work hard to try to get down as much of each speech as possible on my flow. Speed is a tactic, not a strategy. Speed for the sake of speed helps no one; it’s not “cool” in its own right, outside of legitimate tactical purpose. Please speak slower and clearer on tag lines and analytics, and also on any Topicality or debate theory. If I can’t understand or follow what you say it doesn’t go on my flow, and then it’s not in the round. I will shout “loud” if needed. I will shout “clear” if a speaker is unclear. Each speaker gets two “clear” and two “loud” warnings per speech. After that, the speaker is on his or her own. Third and subsequent warnings may each result in a loss of half a speaker point. Far too many debaters ignore my "clear" warnings, and there will be consequences to serial ignorance of my verbal warnings, not least of which is that the arguments will not be on my flow. Be aware that if something is not on my flow it is not in the round. I will not call for a card or look at a block just to fill in stuff that I missed because a speaker wasn’t clear or loud enough. More importantly, failure to adapt to my "clear" or "louder" warnings will piss me off, and result in my discounting, or outright ignoring, your arguments. And I'll probably nuke your speaker points. Purposeful speed is fine, but too often speakers try to go too fast and sound as if their mouths are full of potatos Foucault. Go only as fast as you need to and choose your arguments wisely—do you really need those last three vague and garbled blurbs on some topicality standard? Watch me periodically to see if I am getting everything. Don’t allow me to do any extra work for teams that are problematically unclear in delivery or argumentation.

Performance/Advocacy/Non-Traditional Debate: I am not a fan, but I am open to this type of debate, and have voted for it in the past. However, do not take that as license, since a bad Performance/Advocacy/Non-Traditional debate is worse than a bad traditional policy approach. These terms are somewhat nebulous and interchangeable, so I will use "performance" to cover them all. Should you want to do a performance with me as a judge, you should have strong arguments both for your approach and against traditional policy debate or whatever it is that you are challenging. I like advocacy statements, and arguments that claim to make a tangible, real-world impact, be it in the round or after it. Anything that changes a person's opinion or viewpoint in the round is OK, as is something that has an impact after or outside of the round, say in the debate community as a whole. Teams should argue that by voting for them, I am acknowledging that whatever problem or issue does exist, either in debate or the world outside. My vote alerts other coaches/judges to this issue. The best performances argue that increasing awareness of is more important in the real and debate worlds than is another debate on some policy topic. Teams facing a performance team would be advised to contest the narrative and counter the role of the ballot position in substance. Teams should also defend policy debate, and/or make arguments that voting for them would also have an impact outside of the round (by telling the debate community that I rejected this type of argumentation), or that there are no impacts or results outside of this debate room.

Don't bother with The Project. Unless you can convince me that you will act, and somehow demonstrate that you did act (in a later round, which is problematic given I am deciding this round), The Project is a weak strategic option. I will not participate in "interactive" debate, where the debaters form a dialogue with the judge during the round. This type of debate destroys the purpose and educational value of debate. My role is to listen and adjudicate arguments, not engage in conversation with the teams. Identity debate is even more problematic. Arguments that state I must affirm a team's particular race/gender/class/status for the sake of affirming it by voting for them, and by implication can't ever vote against them, is seriously problematic. I don't like any form or interpretation of debate in which one team "could never win" the debate. Of course, that doesn't mean that the other team should just complain that "they could never win"--if I can think of arguments against an identity approach, you can too.
Organization and flowing are major concerns in a performance debate. Since they do not follow the traditional debate structure, how am I to flow speeches? Anything a team can do to divide up their speech into clear areas--like narrative, role of the ballot, impacts or results, or the like is most welcome. I am not opposed to this sort of debate, and think it might be a good thing for Wisconsin debate in general. As long as a team can justify their approach to me, defeat the other team's arguments against this type of debate, and convince me that there are real benefits, in the debate and/or the real world, I will vote for them.
An “Ideal” Round: There are no ideal rounds. That becomes clearer to me each year. Each round is unique and has its own (de)merits. A good round usually consists of an affirmative case with big, clear advantages or well-explained and evidenced small ones. The negative will present disads, counterplans and/or kritiks that are also specific and hopefully big sig in nature. Negatives should narrow the number of issues in rebuttals. Specificity is always good, as long as it applies, and usually more is better. Bodies on the flow, nuclear wars and things that outweigh nuclear wars make it easy for me to vote for you. Anything that could result in my own death is especially persuasive. Arguments on why these (or other) impacts are important, hopefully the most important thing in this round, or something that says when I sign the ballot it will have an impact on the world outside of the round, are good ways to go. I like arguments about mindsets and language, although these are almost always done poorly. I like speakers who directly respond to and clearly resolve arguments—this isn’t rocket surgery. I don’t find it helpful when a speaker groups a bunch of arguments, and rather than responding specifically to any one of them just reads some block of arguments against the grouping. Clash directly with the arguments of the other team. I prefer fewer positions, ones that are more substantial, have more evidence and invite more clash. Do the line-by-line where possible. As long as you have evidence, no position is too bizarre or counterintuitive, so be creative with your arguments. I've voted for immortality in an elimination round, and one of my high school teams ran (with my approval) Nazi Moon Base. And have fun—a little humor in a debate round goes a long way. If you are unclear about my philosophy, ask me and I will do my best to explain it. The same holds about my decision. I am quite willing to explain my decision and discuss how I saw the round.


"It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life."---Captain Jean-Luc Picard
"The numbers don't lie . . . I got a hundred forty three and a thirds percents of winning."—"Big Poppa Pump" Scott Steiner

“Huh?”—Max McGee; “What?”---Stone Cold Steve Austin

"Wrong thinking is punishable; right thinking is as quickly rewarded."—The Keeper, planet Talos IV
"When Stalin says dance, a wise man dances."—Nikita Khrushchev
"Nothing really matters much, it's doom alone that counts."—Bob Dylan