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Yash Gupta
Business School Dean

Yash Gupta

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

The price of missed opportunity

Q: Even before we know the outcome of the health care vote in the House, how would you rate President Obama's leadership on the issue?

Health care was a major campaign theme for Candidate Barack Obama. But, as President Obama, he has allowed others to define this crucial issue. To me, that signals a missed opportunity for leadership.

The president didn't adequately define his priorities for health-care reform. He wasn't clear about what would be sacrosanct to him and what he might be willing to compromise on. Perhaps most importantly, he didn't emphasize the positives of reform.

For example, he could have stressed that providing health coverage for millions of Americans who are uninsured and cannot afford care is not just a moral imperative, it's also an economic imperative. Think of the savings when these individuals can count on good preventive care instead of having to rely on the costly method of turning to hospital emergency rooms whenever their medical problems flare up.

This leader who has been praised for his great verbal gifts failed to articulate a clear, concise, and compelling vision for one of his high-order priorities. He didn't need to supply all the details, just a solid outline that would help guide the process. However, we never saw one.

And so now the president is trying to rally support, but this is something he should have been doing last spring. He could have prevented the scenes of last summer's rowdy town hall meetings. His lobbying for reform now in public appearances has less effect now, and it smacks of desperation. His popularity has declined, and the public is less certain of the need for reform than it was a year ago. It has been an unnecessarily difficult struggle, providing fodder for his opponents as the midterm elections draw nearer. It also has distracted him from other major domestic issues, such as employment.

Sometimes a leader has to nudge the process along, and President Obama didn't do that in the case of health care reform. Perhaps he was getting bad advice from people who didn't want to risk losing any of the immense goodwill with which he entered the White House. But that's no way to lead. If you're afraid to leave the shore, how are you going to cross the ocean? If you're slow to take charge, you'll miss the boat.

By Yash Gupta

 |  March 18, 2010; 2:44 PM ET
Category:  Public policy Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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You're right. It took way to long for administration and Dem leadership to see the Republicans for what they are. Furthermore, it has become apparent, at least to me as a resident of the deep south since the mid 50's, that racial hatred is at play here. Besides the racial aspect is another barely conscious motivation seething from the Republicans: hatred for pointy-headed liberal academics. So Obama is a Black 'A' student, enough to make any self-respecting Republican gather the children and grandchildren into the protective ring.

Posted by: Lookinginfromoverseas | March 19, 2010 6:16 PM
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Obama wanted to do it differently than Clinton. He wanted Congress to take leadership on this issue which was a fair expectation. Where he might have misjudged is the vicious and single-minded opposition by the Republican Party and other right-wing groups.
This is a big lesson for him and other Presidents. Do not trust Congress that they can deliver anything useful. There are one too many pulls and pressures. Also bipartisanship is unworkable with today's Republican Party. Do what you have to do and with the resources you have. GOP is interested only in one thing--to put a long nail in the coffin of this first black presidency. This is their new Civil War. When you face such evil you can easily go wrong. This is not failure of leadership. Obama still lives by his core values.

Posted by: ithinker | March 19, 2010 4:20 PM
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