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 7
Textual Features

A final layer must be added to the "text" of the 1994 comprehensive health care reform debate on the floor of the Senate. Just as rhetorical scholars and conversation analysts sometimes focus upon specific elements of a larger text, some focus here needs to be placed upon specific textual features of the discourse that helped to shape the overall debate. Let me make it clear, however, that such specific discursive features represent only one component of the larger text and they do not provide the only means for examination of the Senate floor debate. Indeed, as I examine the discourse of that debate in Part III of this work, the bulk of my focus will be upon the overall rhetorical and argumentative nature of the debate. A focus upon certain specific discursive features does, however, provide a richness of depth and detail that is helpful in illuminating just how talk is power in this dramatic case.

Although it would be possible to examine dozens of specific discursive features relevant to any argumentative activity, this investigation will focus upon five such features: (1) the development of "crisis" discourse, (2) the use of particular categories of evidence, (3) narratives, (4) a set of items that fall under the rubric of what Schuetz ( 1986) labels "language strategies," and (5) "medical metaphors." Selection of these particular features is warranted by both the individual value of each, as I shall explain, and by the scholarly indications that such features play a pivotal role in public policy discourse. Information regarding each of these discursive features and a method of investigation for each is developed in turn. In addition, I also report more formal analysis associated with examinations of those discursive features. The Congressional Record printed more than 450 pages of debate regarding Senator Mitchell's proposal for comprehensive health care reform, the "Health Security Act," in August of 1994. All speeches printed under the heading of the "Health Security Act" were included for analysis in this project. All of the speeches in this floor debate were coded for the five categories of discourse features. Each of these five broad categories of discourse features was divided into component parts for coding. The crisis discourse category included coding for use of the term "crisis" and the context given for construction of

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