By George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling
Perhaps as early as today, the conservative–dominated Roberts Court will choose a metaphor that will affect millions of people and perhaps change the history of our country very much for the worse.
Back in 1978, linguists Michael Reddy and George Lakoff, working independently, demonstrated that metaphor is fundamentally a matter of thought, and that metaphorical language is secondary. Conceptual metaphors shape our understanding and can determine how we reason. Consequently, metaphor is central to law, as Citizens United showed by expanding the common legal metaphor Corporations Are Persons, with vast political consequences.
Today’s likely judgment was prefigured in the 2008 Republican presidential race when Rudolph Giuliani likened health care to a flat screen TV. If you want a flat screen TV, buy one; and if you don’t have the money, go earn it. If you can’t, too bad, you don’t deserve it. The same with health care, he argued, imposing the metaphor that Health Care Is A Product.
This was a sign that conservative strategists were looking for a way to impose this metaphor.
Barack Obama helped them. He bought into that metaphor when he chose the Interstate Commerce clause as the constitutional basis of his health care act. He had an alternative — Medicare for All — since Congress has the duty to provide for the general welfare.