When it comes to preparation for negative, one problem often arises: you don’t know what cases are going to pop up. Whether this is the first tournament of the year, halfway through the season, or right before nationals, there’s always that empty space on your case list. So, what do you do about it? Just like you can write a generic brief, you can write a generic counterplan. This allows you to go on the offense with your own independent plan of action. Your job shifts from defending a system that’s probably broken to proposing a new system that has a unique advantage over the affirmative plan. And you can do all this without having ever heard the aff plan before the round began!
If you’re going to run a generic counterplan, there are a couple of things you need to make sure of, no matter what your mandates are. Firstly, lay out burdens for the affirmative team. In essence, tell the judge what your opponents need to prove to win the round. This could be they need to provide evidence from 2016 or later. It could be they need to prove their enforcement is the proper legal body to do the job. A burden basically sets a standard for the round. After you discuss burdens, bring out a disadvantage. This way, instead of nitpicking, you show a real-world, substantial problem with passing the affirmative plan. After your disadvantage, you can go ahead and put your plan forward. Finally, make sure you prove how your plan avoids the disadvantage(s) you pointed out in the affirmative team’s plan.
This can be looked at as a three-pronged solution. These counterplans can be coupled with generic briefs you may already have. For example, a generic brief with evidence relating to what makes a “good policy” within the confines of the resolution. Then, look at the plan of the affirmative and point out the stitches they’re missing in their solution. Finally, fix their plan with your own mandates. Here are some of my favorite generic counterplans.
- Timeline counterplan. I have a quick caveat for this one: usually, it is better to run a timeline counterplan along with another counterplan. The reason for this is that just discussing timeframes doesn’t make for much of a debate. It can sound nitpicky and decrease your credibility with the judge. Go ahead and run this with another argument that gives more in the way of a two-sided, detailed discussion. That said, there are several reasons you may want to run a timeline CP. Perhaps affirmative is scrapping a new policy that hasn’t had time to be tested, or perhaps some event will happen in the near future that we should let run its course before we implement the policy. This may be particularly helpful with the higher education resolution. If a team decides to pass a plan during the middle of the school year, that will not work out well for students, professors, or the like. With this counterplan, you could pass affirmative’s plan at the end of the school year. However, my favorite way to run a timeline counterplan has to do with budgets. A lot of plans require budget changes. In fact, most policies have some shifting of money. All too often, teams want to spend money immediately or within some arbitrary timeline. Problem is, that’s not how the real government works. Usually, budgets are passed and policies are changed with the fiscal year. So the counterplan is simple: pass aff’s plan with the fiscal year. You avoid the disadvantages that come with following incorrect government procedures, and you reap the benefits affirmative claims.
- Funding counterplan. This one is very straightforward. You simply argue that the affirmative should grab the money for their plan from somewhere else. Maybe what they’re cutting is a good program, or there’s a more wasteful program it would be better to cut. Make a brief on programs we can/should cut, and how much money we could get from them.
- Enforcement counterplan. This one can be utilized if the affirmative team is missing any enforcement agencies that would be required for their plan. It brings to mind a case I hit at nationals a couple of years back. The team I was debating wanted to remove tariffs on Chinese steel, except they forgot to use the Department of Commerce in their enforcement. Guess who enforces and removes tariffs? Yep, the Department of Commerce. At this point in my debate career I didn’t know about generic counterplans, but if I did my mandates would have been to pass the affirmative plan, but include the DOC in the enforcement. You see, affirmative falls into one major disadvantage: their plan is logistically impossible. They cannot pass their plan because they don’t have the right governmental bodies. When running an enforcement counterplan, run a disadvantage explaining this concept before you suggest your plan. What happens if the wrong enforcement carries out the affirmative plan? Growth of bureaucracy, confusing and overlapping areas of authority for the US government, inefficiency…you could carry on for a while. Too bad for them, but it’s pretty great for you! Get a generic brief on enforcement agencies related to the resolution.
- Agency counterplan. This type of counterplan allows you to argue the affirmative team has incorporated the wrong proprietor to carry out aspects of their plan. Usually, teams pick Congress and the President as their agency. Being negative, you have more freedom. Maybe the plan should be passed through state governments. Maybe NATO or the UN Security Council, or perhaps a specific bureaucratic agency. The options are pretty much endless. This counterplan is somewhat similar to an enforcement counterplan in the way you run it (including the disadvantage before the plan). However, it differs in the fact that it focuses on who mandates that the plan happen, whereas an enforcement CP focuses on who keeps the plan running after it’s passed. You could put together a generic brief on what agencies are most efficient at passing specific types of policies; for example, a “Federalism Is Good” brief. Keep in mind what agency you choose may affect what your enforcement is.
- Consult counterplan. These are especially helpful in international resolutions. For example, if affirmative wants to make a non-aggressive troop movement in Eastern Europe, but they can’t prove Russia won’t be substantially provoked, you could run a Consult CP. You would mandate that we ask Russia if they’re ok with this plan. If they’re fine with it, proceed. If not, then we won’t do it for fear of a larger disadvantage. This can also be done in regards to US states — checking to see if Virginia, for example, approves of a plan that specifically affects them. A good idea is to write a generic brief regarding the nations involved with the resolution and their stances on certain issues.
- Referendum counterplan. This one is especially interesting because it is almost like a mixture of agency and consult. Your plan would be to set up a national referendum on the affirmative team’s plan (assuming it’s significant enough). You let the people decide the future. Your advantages transcend affirmative’s because you give some power back to the people in an age where so many feel powerless and separated from the political system. Write a brief about how referendums can be good things. You could even use Brexit as a model.
- Study counterplan. My personal favorite. If affirmative doesn’t have adequate proof (as in a lack of sources, non-credible sources, old data, etc.), I’d recommend this strategy for a lot of cases. As negative, you argue that the current knowledge on this issue is inadequate for an effective or trusted decision. So, you mandate we study the issue. If our studies find that we need to pass the aff plan, great! So be it. If they find we shouldn’t, however, let’s not do it. My favorite agency for study counterplans is the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Their job is to research government policies and determine if they are beneficial, and to make recommendations on proper courses of action. The best part is they’re enormously credible. Other useful agencies are the RAND Corporation and the Congressional Research Service. Make a generic brief on the credibility of these agencies.
Ultimately, the generic counterplan is one of the most effective, most convincing strategies a negative team can have. They are backed with evidence and proof, put your team on offense, and can be pulled out in a wide variety of situations. If you master these concepts, you can create a purposeful, planned, and strategic challenge for any affirmative team you debate.