Talk of Power, Power of Talk: The 1994 Health Care Reform Debate and Beyond

By Michael W. Shelton | Go to book overview
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Chapter 5
The Senate Battleground

Much as the context for the 1994 debate regarding comprehensive health care reform was treated with a wide brushstroke, so too must the text for examination of that debate be developed in a very broad sense. All rhetorical criticism and much of qualitative social scientific research is concerned with "textual" analysis and such analysis has employed "texts" as diverse as historical documents, family conversations, and film. All such interpretations of "text" strive to accomplish the same goal I pursue here--to clearly lay out the broad slate upon which a given discourse event occurs. In pursuit of that goal, I think that it is first necessary to define the structure of the text, what document, stage, or other forum employed and what it actually is. The quiddity or essence of the structural nature of a text may be elusive in many ways, but it is possible to provide an explication of the forum where a debate plays out. Although the 1994 health care reform debate touched upon fixtures running from the White House to the backers of television spots, the specified forum where the debate regarding a specific proposal to actually implement health care reform was the floor of the U.S. Senate.

To explore the "textual" nature of the U.S. Senate, it is important to take three interdependent steps. First, it is necessary to lay out several practical reasons for turning to that specific forum for the investigation of my particular case study of talk as power. Next, the rich history of rhetorical study of the U.S. Senate needs to be illuminated in order to display the keen interests that scholars and students of public discourse have long held regarding that venue for interaction. Finally, to better place the U.S. Senate within the realm of a text, or at least one layer of a text, it is essential to define the forum through the concept of an argument field based upon Toulmin's ( 1958) original notion, discussed and elaborated by many others, and extended here in an operationalization that helps facilitate the investigation of power as talk. Most casual observers would point to the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, the creation of a special health care reform task force chaired by Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the many meetings conducted by Mrs. Clinton and Ira Magaziner, who was in charge of staff

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