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

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

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

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


Shelton explains how the power of talk defeated comprehensive health care reform in 1994, and how it continues to affect society today. The 1994 call for reform fits into a century long context of concern. Reform was defeated once again in 1994 by the discursive power of big government. The ripples of the health care reform debate influence ethical decisions, research interests, and overall social behavior today.


Talk is power. That is my general argument. Talk is power. I also have a specific argument--the talk/power connection--ultimately determined the outcome of the 1994 debate over comprehensive health care reform. That specific argument will be developed in great detail throughout this entire work, but the central focus of this introduction is to present my general argument that talk is power. I must acknowledge that this is not an entirely new argument. Indeed, I will examine works drawn from the fields of rhetorical studies, general communication, political science, and other areas that tend to concur with my general thesis. I will, however, assert that general thesis more directly than any of these earlier sources. I will also, as noted, apply that general thesis to the specific case of the 1994 health care reform debate.

It is important to explain how I have reached my general claim that talk is power. the development of that argument could take many paths, as the talk/power relationship is actually a relatively intrinsic and instinctive process. For example, the cognitive scientist Phillip Lieberman (1991) noted, "to paraphrase René Descartes, we are because we talk" (p. 4). the innate or instinctive nature of talk as power is, though, only one ingredient in the structure of the overall proposition. As the focus of much of this introductory chapter, I will draw connections to literature in a number of disciplines, discuss the general importance of power to both discourse and politics, and elaborate upon my own perspective on the argument. I close this introduction with an overview of my treatment of the specific case of the health care reform debate on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 1994, which dramatically illustrates the exercise of power through public discourse.

Talk is power

Chesebro (1976) has reported that "Symbol-using and symbol-arrangement have traditionally been viewed as potential instruments in the acquisition and exercise of political power" (p. 289). Such a longstanding view does not, however, go far enough. Symbol-using or discourse is not merely a "potential instrument" in regard . . .

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