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Kurt Schmoke
Political/Education leader

Kurt Schmoke

A former mayor of Baltimore City, Kurt Schmoke is Dean of Howard University School of Law.

The Unripe Moment

[In response to this week's On Leadership question, "Fear Factor"]

Political leaders, like leaders in other fields, are well served by studying the history of those who have occupied the office they currently hold. Valuable insights can be gleaned from your predecessors. However, political leaders must recognize that times do change, and the worst thing one can do is to employ, without adjustment, yesterday's strategy to win today's battle. President Obama seems to understand that in politics, as in law, one must respond to what Justice Holmes referred to as "the felt necessities of the times."

What this means in terms of the executive's relationship to Congress is that the president can learn from the styles of his predecessors, particularly those who were in power when they enjoyed majorities in both houses of Congress. However, he should be wary about trying to implement the techniques they used to gain legislative triumphs in those years which predated the revolution in information technology. The levers of power are now different, as are the controllers of that power. The carrot-and-stick approach has its place, but the time to rely on that approach must be chosen carefully.

President Obama's current problems with Congress, especially regarding health care, don't relate to his failure to use the carrot-and-stick approach effectively. They relate to the failure to galvanize the constituents of these representatives around a specific plan to resolve the health-care system.

The fear factor for many in Congress at this point is voter retribution not presidential retribution. If a majority of citizens can coalesce around a plan and send a message to Congress that "we're with the president on this," then it makes the use of the carrot and stick much more effective. It does not yet appear that that time has come.

By Kurt Schmoke

 |  August 18, 2009; 10:24 AM ET
Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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kurt Schomke: Princeton,Yale Law graduate,former HUD official Carter admin, former mayor of Baltimore, currently Dean Howard Law School. Is a man Obama needs to bring into his brain trust. Kurt a few years senior to Obama, in many ways has been there and done that. The president should reach out to him. After all he's right up the street.

Posted by: edhenson | August 21, 2009 2:32 AM
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Obama certainly does need to grow a pair and start acting like he's the president rather than as an ajunct to the Congress. He also needs to lay out a vision, a plan for change, and use his rhetorical skills to motivate the American people. JFK he's not, that's for sure. He acts more like Jimmy Carter. The other thing Obama needs to do is start hiring people who can help him. There are still too many unfilled senior positions in the executive branch and many of his cabinet selections have been just plain awful. Clinton is a nothing at State, Geither is a wimp, Sieblius knows nothing about health policy -- it's amateur hour on the Potomac, this administration. Very unimpressive to date and certainly not the change I voted for.

Posted by: Bob22003 | August 20, 2009 11:21 PM
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When Obama ordered Health Care Reform & gave the Democrats NO directions as to what he wanted In the Bill or even an outline for the Bill he made a big mistake.
What the 6 Democrats that thought they were smarter that all the rest did was take the master plan of the Hillary-Care Insurance & rewrite it and Obama did not read it(his words on live TV)started to try to ram it though first House of Representatives. I watched that fiasco on Cspan & not one of the 217 that voted yes had read the Completed bill, because the Secretary was still collating the 395 paged that the 6 Congress had made and did not get through until 3AM that morning.
AT the same time Obama was trying to Ram the trillion dollar Health Care Bill down our throats he is also trying to push a Cap & (Tax)oops Trade Bill that costs Trillions more that will cost each & every citizen thousand of dollars extra each year, just so a few can get very very rich. Sounds good don't you think. Heck yes I'm Scard to death of Obama.

Posted by: wildfire1946 | August 20, 2009 10:53 PM
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I understand why President Obama has tried to reach bipartisan solutions to problems. He's been trying to heal the divisions that originated during George W Bush's disasterous presidency. Trying to bring divided Americans back together as you'd expect a good leader to.

Unfortunately, the republicans aren't ready to work together with the Democrats on anything. They're seething mad at having lost the last election and determined not to cooperate with anything President Obama does.

What's good for America is of no consequence to the republican party any longer. They've been reduced to a shadow of their former selves but seem determined to spew out as much or more garbage and lies as in the good old days.

You've made a good effort, President Obama and in return they call you Hitler and a liar. Let the Democrats deliver this great benefit to the American people. Given a much improved health care system, those of today's critics who are honest will become supporters. The fanatics who claim to believe outrageous lies will continue to hate you. That will never change.

Posted by: fredfawcett | August 20, 2009 8:53 PM
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President Obama's health care reform reflects his creditability and sincerity to his people,but I think that he should open more gates with his opponents.

Posted by: haniadel12yahoocom | August 20, 2009 4:25 PM
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Dean Schmoke, I support the President and support health care reform. AGAPN9 makes some excellent points about US health care myths vs. facts. I would be happy to support the President's health care plan if he had one, but President Obama is laying out broad outlines and not really saying what his plan is. I understand if his desire is to have Congress work this out, but the President might be better served by saying exactly what he wants our large Democratic majorities in Congress to do and then arm twist and cajole until he gets them to do it. That's why I spent so many weekends last year campaigning for him. For strong progressive leadership.

Posted by: greyK | August 20, 2009 1:59 PM
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a. Wendell Potter, former VP for Cigna, was on PBS 3 weeks ago and revealed that in 1996 the Health Insurance's portion of
dollars spent on health care was 5%, today its 20%.

b. 9-2-09 I heard on Stephanopolous' show that health care costs 2.5 trillion dollars a year. It's actually 2.4 trillion. We could save $360 billion a year just by driving down the Healthcare Insurance Industry's take back to 1996 levels.

c. We spend the most of any nation and yet WHO (the World Health Organization) ranks us 37 out of 191 nations with health care
systems.

d. The straw dog the GOP attacks is Canada, the prime example of 'socialized medicine' - never mind the fact that Canadian doctors make almost as much as ours.

e. Canada is rated # 33 (by WHO) out of 191.

f. Watch that neither France nor Italy will come up in the conversation - France is rated # 1 and Italy # 2.

g. When you talk about the health care system you have to make a distinction between the group and the individual. For those with health care coverage the US has the best system in the world according to Time Magazine. However, if that is true it's not due to the Insurance companies but the investments in R & D made by the US government from 1945 to 1965 when no other nation was making any.

h. But as far as group totals France's are almost three times as good as ours. And we are all both individuals and parts of groups. God help you if you lose your coverage under the current system and get sick. You either go bankrupt or die.

i. A study by the Toronto newspaper showed that if the US adopted the Canadian system we could cover everyone and save 1
trillion dollars. But if we adopted France or Italy's system we would still save money and have a much better system - maybe
the best due to our superior technology.

j. France's and Italy's systems are mixed - single payer and healthcare insurance - sounds strange but it works.

Posted by: agapn9 | August 20, 2009 11:43 AM
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there is no fear of obama and the congress, there is mistrust and as long as there is mistrust...
obama should let health care reform and other similar bills like cap and trade go and work on putting Americans back to work...

Posted by: DwightCollins | August 20, 2009 7:49 AM
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