On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Yash Gupta
Business School Dean

Yash Gupta

Yash Gupta is Professor and Dean of The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

Myopic move from the 'party of no'

Q: Having failed to stop health care reform, Republican leaders have vowed to make repealing it their rallying cry in the November elections. What lessons could they draw from political history and the experience of leaders in other fields?

It speaks volumes about the state of the Republican Party that none of its House members voted for health care reform. The GOP seems to have embraced an obstructionist identity as the so-called "party of no." This helps no one.

We can't build a society or nation that way. The bulk of the blame belongs to the leadership of the Republican party. They've done little else during this process but object and lay down obstacles. Where were their ideas? Why didn't they offer something constructive to the debate early in the process? Is this a perfect plan? No. Can this be improved on? Absolutely. And now that the bill has passed in the House, the GOP leadership has declared its next step in its strategy -- a repeal campaign.

We've been down this path before on major social legislation in the United States. The Social Security, Civil Rights, and Medicare acts were all strenuously opposed and lambasted as catastrophes in the making. Fortunately, fearful opposition didn't stop the passage of those important measures, just as the rowdy town-hall meetings and outlandish statements of the past year didn't keep this health care bill from passing.

In the case of the Social Security Act, Franklin Roosevelt fought off fierce opposition and stuck to his determination to create a safety net for those in need. Remember, the act wasn't passed until 1935, two years after he took office. In contrast, consider that it has taken just over one year to gain a victory on health care reform and yet many people have complained that the fight has dragged on interminably. Good leaders know the value of patience.

Look at the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Another president, this time Lyndon Johnson, was committed to doing what he felt was right for the country, despite the political costs. One of the leaders of Johnson's own party, Democratic Sen. Richard Russell of Georgia, said of the Civil Rights Act, "We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our [Southern] states." As Johnson said at the time, he knew that by supporting civil rights, he was handing the South to the Republican Party. He proved to be correct in that prophecy. Still, no one would argue today, 46 years later, that passing the Civil Rights Act wasn't the right thing to do.

You can even take the case of Richard Nixon when he decided to visit China. Here was the old Cold War Warrior who, to the dismay of many other old anti-Communists, reached out to one of our major foes. But Nixon took this major step because he sensed that the time was right to do so, though he faced criticism for it.

It would have been good to see some of the Republicans in Congress show some political courage by at least taking part in, if not leading, the effort to reform health care. And now we're hearing talk of repeal, as well as the argument that health insurance should not be mandated by the federal government; in fact, some states' attorneys general say they intend to fight the health care bill on that basis. The counterpoint is that every adult who wants to drive is required to get auto insurance. The anti-mandate argument just doesn't hold up, especially when we're talking about something as crucial as the basic health needs of millions of Americans.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also is opposed to the reform, and this is a myopic view. The chamber should regard this as a competitive issue, as a way to develop our human capital. Even if businesses lose some money in the short term because of the reform, they'll benefit overall because it will reduce absenteeism and increase productivity. If health care wasn't available to everyone, and if your company didn't offer a decent health plan, you would run the risk of losing out on the most talented job candidates. Why would they want to work for you if your competitors offered good plans?

In principle, for improving the health - physical, economic, and otherwise - of the United States, this overdue reform is the right move.

By Yash Gupta

 |  March 23, 2010; 10:59 AM ET
Category:  Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Don't ask me, I support it | Next: GOP scare tactics won't work

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company