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 8
Discourse Patterns

The U.S. Senate is no exception to the general rule that talk is power, particularly in political deliberation and decision making. The rich history of rhetorical studies and other communication scholarship concerning the Senate certainly tends to confirm that view. The interpretation of the results of the present enterprise should also go a long way toward confirmation of the central role of a host of discursive features in the practice of political debate, in this case, the August 1994 Senate floor debate on Majority Leader Mitchell's Health Security Act proposal to assure comprehensive health care reform. In fact, many of the Senators who took part in the August 1994 floor debate made explicit reference to the "discourse" that was being used, the "language" that shaped the debate, and the tendency by some to use "semantics" for their own purposes and ends. It is, initially, wise to examine the results regarding each specific discourse feature: crisis discourse, evidence, narratives, language strategies, and medical metaphors. However, in addition to examining the general role of each of these specific discourse features, it is also important to note that in each case there was a distinctly different utilization of these features by advocates or proponents of reform and opponents of reform. Those speaking in favor of the Mitchell proposal tended to employ a very narrow, present-oriented approach to discourse. Those advocating reform spoke narrowly of the consequences, primarily to individuals, of inadequate health care. They tended to describe the nature of what they perceived to be an existing problem. Opponents of the Mitchell proposal employed a discourse that was broader and more future-oriented in nature. The opponents of the Mitchell proposal broadened their discourse beyond health care to point to the role of the government in general, and to construct a negative impact on the larger economy due to the governmental expansion that they saw as inherent in the Mitchell proposal. Each of the specific discursive features will be examined in this light.

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