The Triumph of the
Big Government Argument
Examination of the actual talk that shaped the 1994 health care reform debate will reveal that the debate hinged upon the success of the "big government" virtual crisis. I contend that not only did the rhetorically crafted crisis of big government succeed during the August 1994 Senate floor debate, but that it is possible to identify specific discursive reasons for its success. It is possible to extend from the discussion of discourse patterns and to offer an overall rhetorical interpretation suggesting that opponents of the Mitchell proposal were simply successful in "pushing all of the right buttons" rhetorically. Further, it is possible to embrace the concept of narrative rationality developed by Fisher ( 1984) and argue that the crisis of big government passed the test of narrative fidelity, that it seemed to "ring true" for auditors of the debate. In addition, opponents of the Mitchell proposal were more successful, rhetorically, at connecting to the inherent political tension between reassurance and threat, and in capitalizing on the bimodal nature of values on the subject. I will also argue that the rhetorical construction of the crisis of big government was uniquely successful in the use of what I term an "implicit metaphor." Finally, I will contend that opponents of the Mitchell proposal were able to subsume the health care issue and recast it not as a crisis itself, but merely as a symptom of the crisis of big government. I will also explain how that process can be expressed as an exercise in framing and reframing. I will proceed to construct each argument in turn.
As the discussion of discourse patterns indicates, the August 1994 Senate floor debate was characterized by the use of language strategies--naming, blaming, categorizing, plus a recounting of narratives such as personal, other-person, social narratives--and was rich with evidence of many types and some "peppering" of medical metaphors. Both proponents and opponents of the Mitchell proposal employed these various discursive devices, but those who constructed the crisis of big government were far more successful at rhetorically "pushing every button." They hit