The entire health care issue has been a plague of language, of words that have no integrity. Words, as Emerson said, derive from natural facts. Their power of naming and imagery comes from the actual, natural experience they invoke. While computers, the Internet, and other electronic media have greatly enhanced the transmission of words, they have also infected them with a disease.
The words with which the Affordable Care Act has been addressed provides an unsavory look into how language has been reduced to an environmental irritant. The words used to address health care reform seldom rest upon fact. The dissent against the upholding of the Affordable Care Act illustrates the case in point:
But the health care “market” that is the object of the Individual Mandate not only includes but principally consists of goods and services that the young people primarily affected by the Mandate do not purchase. They are quite simply not participants in that market, and cannot be made so (and thereby subjected to regulation) by the simple device of defining participants to include all those who will, later in their lifetime, probably purchase the goods or services covered by the mandated insurance. Such a definition of market participants is unprecedented, and were it to be a premise for the exercise of national power, it would have no principled limits.
This argument is further reduced to the kind of conclusion stated on a right-wing blog:
No, Congress can't compel you to buy something you don't want just because it thinks it's something you should have.
These statements make a point, but they falsely portray what the essential premise of the Affordable Care Act and the need for reform rests upon. That premise is quite different from these characterizations, and it has been stated by the advocates of the reform act and even by Willard Romney when he implemented health care reform in Massachusetts. That premise is that there are many people who want and need health care, but cannot afford it. It is the premise that has put health care reform into the legislative agenda over the years, and it raises questions of social justice and equality. The focus on the aspect that young people who have chosen not to buy health care insurance will be made to do something they do not want to do excludes the considerations of economic inequality and justice from the discussion. Those issues, raised by the Declaration of Independence and repeated dutifully in every recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance are the issues addressed by the Affordable Care Act.
In his majority opinion in the Supreme Court decision, Justice Roberts bases a great deal of his argument and discussion on the explanations of federalism put forth in the Federalist Papers. His discussion is limited to discussions of federal power and excludes those considerations of the role of federal power in addressing issues of inequality and injustice, which are the reasons many people cannot afford to buy health care.
As someone who spent a lifetime studying and teaching and trying to employ language of integrity as the essential tool of human intelligence, I find the scope of discussion over health care--and all issues of the day--a mark of the degree of intellectual failure of our culture. The easy transmission of language is also the root cause of its being reduced to the simple-minded, stupid level of bumper-sticker banalities. It merely feeds the ignorance and deficiencies of grammar that have become the intellectual diet of a population overfed on popular culture. The signal point of diagnosis is that even the Supreme Court and many of our professors have engaged in narrow-minded and banal discourse in order to be "relevant" to current culture--ignoring that current culture is impaired by ignorance. That ignorance is also the premise of discussion about education.
We call the courses of English speech and composition courses in rhetoric, but we fail to teach rhetoric as the arduous use of language and the making of knowledge, which are, in fact, the essential definitions. The only hope for a cure for our sick and crippling politics is an infusion of language of integrity based upon a full apprehension of the facts of life in which we live.
As it is, we are immersed in language that is contrived to exclude those facts. And in that exclusion lies the assumption of our current political dialogue that we are not created equal and have no inalienable rights. A language which does not register all the facts is too sick to work.