Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has a health-care problem. He got an innovative insurance law passed when he was governor of Massachusetts; the plan served as a model for Obama’s own health-care initiative. Now, in order to win the Republican nomination for president, Romney has to separate his plan from what Republicans disdainfully call “Obamacare.” How can he make a distinction without a difference? Rhetorically, of course. In a lecture at the University of Michigan, he applies a tropical remedy.
The decision we took was to insist upon personal responsibility.
Metonymy (meh-TAH-no-mee), a belonging trope.
A belonging trope takes a part or trait of something and makes it stand for the whole Kahuna. Obamacare requires people to buy insurance or otherwise pay a fee. This is called a mandate. Romneycare requires people to buy insurance or otherwise pay a fee. This, according to Romney, is insisting upon personal responsibility.
The “mandate” label implies a government forcing you to do something. It requires you to take personal responsibility to obey the law. Romney’s label takes that trait—insisting on personal responsibility—and pretends that this aspect of a mandate is a distinction from a mandate. Pretty tricky, yes. But what’s a moderate Republican to do?
Tropes lie behind the most effective labels, in part because they’re so hard to spot. In this case, you need a rhetorical MRI. Not that we’d mandate one. That’s your responsibility.