In policy debate
, a disadvantage
(abbreviated as DA
, and sometimes referred to as a Disad
) is an argument that a team brings up against a policy action that is being considered.
A DA usually has four key elements. These four elements are not always necessary, and some are often combined into a single piece of evidence. A Uniqueness/Link card, for example, will include both a description of the status quo and the plan's effect on it. A traditional DA, however, has a structure as follows:
The negative team typically defends the status quo
. If they are doing so, they must show that their disadvantage is not already existing in the status quo. If a disadvantage stated that a plan would lead to a recession, and the status quo was already in a recession, the DA would be considered non-unique
and thus a moot point because it has not proven that the affirmative plan makes things worse than the status quo. Uniqueness is sometimes the brink when it points out that the status quo is very close to having the disadvantage occur.
For the disadvantage to have relevance in the round, the negative team must show that the affirmative plan causes the disadvantage that is claimed. If the DA stated that the plan takes money from the government, and the affirmative team shows that the plan does not increase governmental spending, then the DA would be considered to have no link
The internal link connects the link to the impact, or, it explains why the affirmative plan will cause the disadvantage to occur. Not all DA's use an internal link. The internal link in our example would be that government spending leads to economic collapse.
The impact is what makes the policy action undesirable. Going along with the example, an impact would be that economic collapse may cause nuclear war
In many cases, internal links are often undesirable things by themselves, and could be considered impacts. However, the worst of the consequences, or the final one in the chain of events, is usually given the label of "impact". For example, nuclear war is probably worse than economic collapse, so nuclear war is given the "impact" label, even though economic collapse (the internal link) could itself be viewed as an impact.
The nuclear war impact is the terminal (i.e. final) impact in virtually every disadvantage today. While it appears outlandish to outsiders and even debaters now, it originated in the 1980s during the height of the nuclear freeze movement, specifically after the publication of The Fate of the Earth by Jonathan Schell. Barring nuclear war, the terminal impact usually ends up as extinction anyway, either human extinction or the extinction of all life on Earth; the most common mechanisms for these are cataclysmic climatic change (in the style of The Day After Tomorrow) and all-consuming conventional war.
Other terminal impacts might include severe human rights abuses, such as near universal slavery. These types of impacts are usually argued under a deontological framework or as a turn to a human rights advantage.
Types of Disadvantages
A traditional DA follows the structure above. Traditional DA's can include or exclude the internal link.
A linear disadvantage does not have uniqueness. The negative concedes that the status quo has a problem but insists the plan increases that problem's severity. A commonly-accepted theory holds that a sufficiently philosophical linear disadvantage with an alternative becomes a kritik
.There is also much controversy over kritiks being linear disadvantages, due to the fact that most kritik argue the affirmative plan over a discursive level, while a disadvantage argues the affirmative's actions.
Non-kritikal linear disadvantages frequently face attacks from the Affirmative on debate theory; the theory that linear disadvantages are abusive (i.e. unfair) to the affirmative team has such widespread acceptance in the world of debate that the linear disadvantage has become especially rare.
A brink disadvantage is a special type of linear disadvantage which claims that the affirmative will aggravate the problem in the status quo to the extent that it passes a brink, at which time the impact happens all at once. The negative team claims that in the status quo, we are near the brink, but the affirmative team's plan will push us "over the edge."
The Politics Disadvantage
A politics disadvantage is a special type of disadvantage, in the way that it links to affirmative plan. Rather than linking to the specific plan action, it links to the fact that a plan passes at all. Politics disadvantages typically will say that a plan will pass through Congress, thus causing
a shift in the "political capital" of either the President, or a political party, which will affect
the ability of the affected group to pass other bills. An example of a politics disadvantage would be: Uniqueness: Immigration Reform will pass in the status quo. Link: Plan decreases the President's political capital, perhaps with a specific link that increasing civil liberties would be a flip-flop for President Bush. thus, Bush has no political capital to pass his Immigration Reform. Impact: That Immigration Reform is key to preventing terrorism.
A variant of the Politics disadvandage is the Elections disadvantage, which is run during either Presidential or Midterm elections cycles. For example, in a presidential election, it might argue that a certain Presidential candidate or his or her opponent is currently weak (or strong), but the affirmative plan will cause him or her to gain (or lose) popularity, and that either his or her election is undesirable or the election of his or her opponent is undesirable. A midterms version could focus on particular races or the general balance of the Congress; an example of a single-race midterms disadvantage would be that the reelection of Senator Daniel Akaka is critical to free speech, and plan prevents Akaka from winning; a "balance of Congress" disadvantage might hold that the plan is a credit to the Republicans, who would increase their grip on Congress and allow extensive drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
In some sections of the country, politics disadvantages are frowned upon because they link to virtually every affirmative plan, destroying the on case debate and focusing solely on the disadvantage. Supporters, however, say the politics disadvantages are "real world" and provide education on how bills are passed and politics in general.
Other debate theorists have recently created a model of fiat that appears to preclude the politics disadvantage; however, its use in any given debate round is entirely dependent on how well the affirmative argues that the judge should accept the model, a somewhat time-consuming process.
Other Types of D/As
Tradeoff DA - plan takes $ from more important things
Economy/Spending DA - plan leads to economy collapse/recession
Federalism DA - aka the "fism DA" - says that plan = undermine federalism (balance of powers between USFG and states), and since most countries model their democracy on the US, if the US destroys their federalism, then wars will break out in other countries as a result
Constitutionality DA - plan = unconstitutional, and creating it would set a bad precedent, causing other unconstitutional policies to be passed
Overpopulation or "Malthus DA" DA - By the plan saving lives, it undermines natural death checks, which lead to overpopulation and a "Malthusian" catastrophe because of it
Responding To Disadvantages
Disadvantage responses can generally be classified into two categories: takeouts
, which simply seek to refute a claim made by the negative in the disadvantage, and turns
, which argue that the situation is somehow the reverse of the negative's claim.
By reading evidence that says the impacts will occur regardless of plan passage, the links and impacts (and thus the entire disadvantage) become largely irrelevant.
A very simple argument. The affirmative simply claims that the negative's link is false.
- Uniqueness: The United States-India nuclear deal is likely to pass now, but just barely. It requires extensive expenditure of limited political capital.
- Link: The plan uses political capital that would otherwise be used for passage of the deal.
- Internal Link: Failiure to pass the deal will reduce American influence on the Indian subcontinent.
- Internal Link: Reduction of American influence on the Indian subcontinent will lead to nuclear war between India and Pakistan.
- Impact: India-Pakistan nuclear war will spiral out of control into a global nuclear conflict.
No Link: The plan expends no political capital
No Internal Link
A variant on the No Link, it states that either the link or the previous internal link does not lead to another internal link.
Using the example above, an a no-internal-link could either be that the failure to pass the deal will not reduce American influence on the Indian subcontinent, or that reduction of American influence on the Indian subcontinent will not lead to nuclear war between India and Pakistan.
The Straight Turn is generally accepted to be a better method of debating against a disad than no links and no internal links, as it is an offensive argument
. The straight-turn is in two parts: controlling the uniqueness--i.e. that the disadvantage as read by the negative is non-unique--and reading a link-turn (a piece of evidence that states the plan does the opposite of what the negative link says).
Uniqueness: US Military Strong
Link: Plan Decreases military power
Impact: Weak military leads to nuclear conflict.
A non-unique and a link turn would go something like this:
Non-unique: Military weak now.
Link Turn: Plan increases military power.
This strategy turns what was previously a "disadvantage" to the plan into a benefit or advantage of the plan.
Another way to debate against a disadvantage is an impact turn, in which the affirmative team reads evidence stating that the disadvantages impact would actually be good. If the impact to a disad was global nuclear war, an impact turn would say that death is good. Often impact turns function at the level above this. The argument is then sometimes called an internal link turn. For example, if the disadvantage argued that the plan hurt free trade, which was key to avoiding war, the affirmative might argue that in fact free trade caused war, environmental destruction, and other negative consequences. This type of turn is often much harder to convince the judge of (in part because of the structure of a debate round, in particular, the negative block), but some believe that it makes a round much more interesting.
Other Ways to Answer a Disadvantage
In answering the Link, an affirmative might argue that the link has no threshold, i.e. that the link does not make clear the level of a particular type of action that will cause the impact, or that uniqueness overwhelms the link; that conditions in the status quo are so far away from the threshold that the impact will not happen. This second answer is rarely made however, because it is a strategic gamble.