Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

03 Oct 2008, 8:59 a.m.

If The Election Debates Were Like High School Debate

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2008 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

  • On any given day there would be three or four debates
  • Sixteen or more debates would determine the winner, tournament-style
  • You'd see team debate ("Oxford-style") where each ticket found out 90 minutes before the show what side of the issue they were supposed to take
  • All the debates in a single year would center not just on one issue (e.g. immigration or China), but on a single specific resolution (e.g., this year's "The United States federal government should substantially increase alternative energy incentives in the United States")
  • It would be perfectly acceptable to read evidence and citations off index cards, and in fact the judges would frown if you couldn't cite evidence for your arguments
  • In between rounds and while waiting for the administrators to tally the judges' scores, the candidates would read, do homework, play arcade games, re-enact Monty Python skits, go for short walks in unfamiliar cities, or try desperately to find edible food they could afford on their allowances
  • Instead of big-shot journalists, the judges would be teachers and candidates' parents


Mollie Marr
03 Oct 2008, 13:56 p.m.

If the debate style were Lincoln-Douglas, candidates would be expected to have a working knowledge of past and present political, economic, and social philosophy and a substantial knowledge of the historical context of their particular resolution. They would also have to research a new resolution every two months and would be required to merge philosophical and policy evidence into working arguments. Their depth of knowledge on 6 different topics would be tested and unclear arguments would be verbally tackled by their opponents during cross-examination. In addition to winning or losing the debate, speaker points are awarded to the debaters based on their eloquence, poise, delivery, and knowledge.

03 Oct 2008, 18:00 p.m.

If the debate style were "Dramatic Interpretation", candidates would be expected to recite a Monty Python sketch.