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Joanne B. Ciulla
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Joanne B. Ciulla

Joanne Ciulla is Professor and Coston Family Chair in Leadership and Ethics at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, University of Richmond, the only undergraduate degree-granting school of leadership studies in the world.

GOP scare tactics won't work

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?

Throughout the health care debate, Republicans warned that if some Democrats voted for the bill, they would have problems getting re-elected. Yet, if Republicans really believe this then, from a purely political point of view, they should have been thrilled that the health care bill passed because they would have a shot at winning more seats and perhaps eventually regaining the majority in one or both houses. But they are not happy and here is why. I think the Republicans have always known that once the universal health care genie is out of the bottle, it will be hard to get it back in.

By election time, the context of the health care debate will be different. Voters will have a better understanding of what the bill means for them. The idea that they will always have access to health care may start to feel pretty good - especially for people who are or fear being unemployed, or never had health insurance, or were denied health insurance, or were dropped by their insurance company. Also, by repeatedly asserting that Democrats who vote for the bill will get thrown out of office, Republicans inadvertently put their opponents a powerful moral position. Democrats will be able to campaign on their moral courage - their willingness to put the interests of the American people over their political aspirations. Leaders who do this certainly look better than those who vote against bills so that they can get reelected.

When governments give citizens a benefit, it is difficult to take it back. It will be tough for Republican leaders to argue for the repeal of the health care bill, unless they have an alternative that keeps what the public likes about the current plan and corrects its deficiencies. The challenge of devising such a plan and convincing voters that Republicans can and will carry it out is formidable. Scare tactics about socialism, death panels, and the deficit will not work in this debate. Such fears are more distant and abstract to most people than the practical concerns about health care.

The health care bill is not perfect and both parties will have to address its shortcomings. Republican leaders should move forward rather than fight old battles. America faces serious challenges and it needs two strong political parties to devise and constructively debate the best ways to solve them.

By Joanne B. Ciulla

 |  March 23, 2010; 3:14 PM ET
Category:  Congressional leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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"When governments give citizens a benefit, it is difficult to take it back. It will be tough for Republican leaders to argue for the repeal of the health care bill, unless they have an alternative that keeps what the public likes about the current plan and corrects its deficiencies."

This was true in the past, but when the dollar collapses under an unsustainable debt and hyperinflation rules, you won't have to "take back" any government benefits. They will wither into nothingness all by themselves.

Posted by: pmendez | March 23, 2010 4:31 PM
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