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Resolved: In a democracy, the public’s right to know ought to be valued above the right to privacy of candidates for public office.

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Resolved: In a democracy, the public’s right to know ought to be valued above the right to privacy of candidates for public office.

I get the importance of debating current topics and issues, but we really need to stop when we start struggling to put current issues into “debate terms.” This topic is trash, probably the worst one I have ever read. Not only is it worded poorly, but it relies upon presumptions of rights that may not necessarily be true. It’s also very open to being debated in narrow real world contexts which provide opportunity for abusive positions. Let’s get to it then.

Definitions

Democracy – There is no absolute democracy in the world today, we know that. And that doesn’t make a democracy definition critique of the resolution valid. The word democracy here can be replaced with “democratic society.” Democracies share certain characteristics like popular representation, people being able to run for public office, and a certain level of freedom enjoyed by citizens of the society. Don’t belabor the point about what  democracy is; we all know what this is referring to.

Right to Know – This refers to the peoples’ right to have access to information, personal and political, about a candidate running for public office. Yes, you can debate whether or not this right actually exists, and yes, this does make for a valid critique of the resolution.

Right to Privacy – This is also pretty straightforward. It’s the right of a person to keep information about themselves private. Once again, don’t belabor the point about what exactly is covered within this right.

Candidates for Public Office – Anybody who is either running for or appointed to a government office. Yes, this does include people who are in non-elected positions like cabinet members and justices. These are still public offices even if not directly elected.

Ought to be Valued – This is the most important part of the resolution. It asks us this question: when a candidate’s right to privacy is in conflict with the public’s right to know, which one wins? Should the candidate reveal information? Or should they be allowed to keep all that information private?

Case Positions

Affirmative

1. Utilitarianism – Public knowledge promotes the greatest good for the greatest number of people. When all information about a candidate is publicly available, it allows people to make the most informed decision about a candidate for public office. This ensures that the public opinion holds the character and behavior of these candidates accountable.

2. Rights are not absolute – A person’s rights only extend as far as another’s rights begin. This is why we can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. That is an exercise of free speech that puts other people’s lives at risk. Therefore, that right is limited. Similarly, the privacy of candidates for public office puts the rights of the people at risk. They are at risk of electing a candidate that could damage their rights significantly, or if given undue power, could continue violating the rights of others. Therefore, when it conflict, the public’s right know should be prioritized.

3. Governmental Legitimacy – All governments, and democracies in particular, are only legitimate if they are accountable to the citizens which they govern. This accountability is not possible in a world where candidates are allowed privacy. It prevents the public from fully evaluating and judging the candidates for public office.

Negative

1. Right to Know Doesn’t Exist – Rights must exist as claims of people against each other. Under a balanced social contract, it is not reasonable to contend that people would have a claim on each other to reveal information about themselves. Quite the opposite. People have a claim on each other not to interfere with their privacy. As such, it’s impossible to affirm the resolution.

2. Public accountability happens anyway – The public can hold a candidate accountable without them divulging requested information. The simple act of holding back information is enough for a public indictment of the candidate’s character. We’ve seen this happen across the United States repeatedly over the past few years. The right to privacy can still hold priority, because the right to privacy doesn’t matter in cases where it’s in conflict with the public’s right to know.

Hopefully that helps get you started. Good luck!

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