Talk is most certainly power, but that power is not always manifested in a particular way. Much like any other force or path to power, talk may generate effects or consequences both directly and indirectly. Everyone recognizes, in a practical sense, that a truck is a powerful vehicle. Its power is exercised directly as it functions as a means of conveyance for a heavy payload of concrete blocks, timber, or other bulky material. Its power is also exercised indirectly as it bumps the rear end of a car ahead of it and skids and scrapes occur for miles along the highway. The same holds true for talk. A representative from the Red Cross may directly exercise power by making a speech at a local industrial complex that compels dozens of workers to sign up for the weekend blood drive. She may also exercise power indirectly by instilling a sense of commitment among some of her listeners that, perhaps many months or even years later, results in organ donations, assistance at soup kitchens for the homeless, and a host of other social goods.
The paths to power are, indeed, often manifested in a manner that may vary temporally or effectually. Some of the power of talk is very obvious and very direct. That was certainly the case with regard to the 1994 comprehensive health care reform debate, where opposition rhetoric derailed the fourth attempt at such reform this century. Other power connected to talk is more indirect. (These two paths to power are illustrated in Figure 13.1.) The second path to the power of talk is often mediated by interpretations made by various audiences, modifications, or adjustments in the messages and other forms of changes that ultimately produce differing consequences, but can nonetheless still be tied to some "original" instance of talk, such as the 1994 health care reform debate.
The 1994 comprehensive health care reform debate is illustrative of the indirect path of talk to power, much as it has been illuminated regarding its connection to the direct route. The 1994 debate has generated three principal "contemporary currents"