In debating modern issues, the first weapon that must be adopted into your arsenal is: "that's just your opinion". This is the nuclear warhead in all informal debates, and some formal ones. Here's how it works: when it becomes obvious you're loosing because your opinion isn't sufficient to carry the weight of your argument; you lob those words into your opponent's camp. He will then spend his time marshaling facts and information to support his position-like you care-thus give you time to advance emotionally based attacks like accusing him of mean spiritedness and lacking compassion. This keeps you on the offensive which is always best in debating.
If your opponent becomes flustered at your emotional attacks, this will provide a wonderful opportunity for retreat with the two of the one-two punch. This is accomplished by accusing your opponent of being a very angry person as you withdraw from the debate with an announcement of your unwillingness to debate such hostility. If there is any sign at all of frustration, this is sufficient for your scheme if you draw enough attention to the frustration.
If this method begins to fail there's a flanking maneuver which I call the "duck and jive". This is where you change horses mid-stream because the horse you're on is drowning. It is accomplished by dumping a previously held position mid-debate, and taking up a new one . You might have seen this in Abortion debates where one suddenly finds himself debating capital punishment, or the virtues of freedom, or some such thing as that.
It is best to never take up a defensive position. But if you actually have a position, and its worth defending, there is a position that appears to be a defensive one but isn't. I call this the "faux defense" and its best employed along side the "fat line center" tactic, which I'll discuss later. This is best used when your own position is being challenged and is accomplished by charging your opponent with being judgemental and intolerant. This causes him to retreat from an otherwise offensive maneuver, and to again take up a weaker position of defending his motives rather than advance a strong argument. In the mean time you continue harassing attacks on his character under cover of a faux defense. You will be aided in these attacks by the notion that your opponent's defensive position implies there is something to defend; all the while portraying yourself as taking a stand against judgemental bigoted attacks. You can catch an example of this on the floor of the Senate or Congress just about any time there's a debate. It's also prevalent in political campaigns.
In conjunction with the faux defense, the so called "fat line center" is a wonderful way of keeping everyone confused. Otherwise know as a faux-neutral, it derives its name from the axiom that there is a line of demarcation delineating positions in a debate. To take advantage of this technique one "fattens the line" so to speak, to enable himself to ostensible position his argument as a neutral one rather than "taking sides". Often labeled "moderate" this gives the appearance of neutrality thus shifting the playing field in such a way to make the opponent's position appear extreme. It also allows one to couch all his arguments from the perspective of "reasonableness". This is a very powerful position from which to better relate to the subjective thinker who has only himself as a reference point; and so is always neutral. This method will draw on his emotions and elitist tendencies proving very effective in the ultimate goal of his persuasion.
For the finishing touches use what I call "ice the cake", so named because it sugar coats what is actually a final jab as you end the debate. You accomplish this by summarizing your position by employing the two words "I Just". This perhaps is the most sneaky little trick that the modern debater can employ, and it's effective too because those two words have a way of armor plating your opinion. It really is quite amazing; you can actually say anything you want following those two words and there can be no response. Take the abortion debate again for example, a final statement could be: "I just don't think its right for an old rich man in Washington to be able to tell me what I can and can't do with my body". On the war in Iraq one could say: "I just think that we should all get along", "I just don't think its right to kill"; or on immigration: "I just think that if someone wants to make their life better, we shouldn't stand in their way, that would be mean".
Once the debate is over always declare yourself the winner. If the matter comes up again, refuse to debate it while claiming that the debate is over then continue to advance your position as if it isn't. Then harp on the need to move forward and stop waisting time with endless debates. Remember that if conventional wisdom-whether real or imagined-supports your position lean on it. If it doesn't, claim it a gray area, and then lean heavily on the argument that "we can't know". It always helps to add urgency to your argument so that you can advance a weak position simply by declaring: "what if I am right?".
One last word of warning. Do not ever engage in private debate, for that would be a waste of your time. To convince an opponent is never the purpose of a debate, but rather to persuade the subjective spectator. You will find all these tactics quiet effective to the end of persuading subjective thinkers, and there is more than an abundance of them to persuade. And you have not won until they are persuaded. Happy debating.
Right vs Real - A longtime friend of mine has always drawn a distinction between "right" and "real". Ask a Christian a plainly-known question like "Are we saved by faith o...