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As part of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs, these fellows are engaged in a full-time, nine-month, graduate-level leadership training program that prepares individuals for public-affairs leadership.

House Reps: Don't throw the baby out with the bath water....

Question: In taking control of the House this week, Republicans have committed themselves to investigating and repealing all of the major initiatives taken by the Democratic president and Congress over the past two years. How much should the new leaders of any organization focus on undoing the past as opposed to charting a more affirmative course for the future?

The following responses come from six of the fellows that make up the Coro Southern California 2011 class.

Institutional memory
Leaders need to focus on learning from the past in order to make decisions that will address long-term concerns.  It is the responsibility of the new leadership of any organization to take stock of that organization's history and understand their own role in context.   Few are given as complete and rigorously compiled a catalog as those now assuming power in the House of Representatives.  Armed with this information, these political leaders have no excuse not to look further back than the last two years. As opposed to combing through the most-recent and best-publicized legislation to pick out errors, the new leadership has the opportunity to lay the groundwork for policies that will take many years to codify in law and will endure.  

The success of the "ObamaCare" legislation Republicans would like to undo is attributable to a long struggle that began well before Obama was elected.  The health care legislation that was just passed in the 111th Congress sprang from groundwork laid by Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton years before its most recent incarnation was signed into law.  The new House leadership would be wise to start laying foundations for their own long-term goals. --Andrew DeBlock

Tread lightly, think strategically

As newly elected Republicans take the oath of office, they must tread lightly before getting too comfortable in the nation's capital. The next two years are pivotal in crafting a campaign message for 2012, and an effective strategy must transcend an anti-government, anti-liberal narrative if Republicans expect longevity in a conservative majority.

Any Republican attempt at repealing policies passed under the Obama administration will be undoubtedly roadblocked by a Democratic Senate or the presidential veto. The electorate should be hesitant to expect major pieces of legislation under the new Congress that would undo past policies. Rather, we should expect to witness an intense battle of "framing" to see which party can craft and deliver an effective message that detests the status quo, alleviates the budget deficit and renews the spirit of American democracy in order to restore faith in the American people that their government works. For government--or any organization--constant criticism of past leadership only goes so far. We need leaders who think strategically into the future before they overreach to push themselves out of office and the majority. --Thuy Huynh

Keeping on the road

It makes sense to fix a bike for maximum performance. However, time and effort are wasted when repairs are not based on functional need but on political volition that is disconnected from the outcomes.  Republicans taking control of the House face an enormous responsibility. While some recently elected Republicans may have a fundamental distaste for the Obama administration and the Democratic agenda, they are obliged to work for the future of the United States. Any form of new leadership should pay due respect to past efforts and make decisions based on clear-cut purposes and intentions, not knee-jerk reactions based on ideological or political misalignment. Rebuilding a bike takes far more resources and efforts than riding it out. Functional tweaks made down the road when necessary may be the route to go. --Tim Golden

All or nothing won't do
The new Republican majority has the opportunity to show the country they are leaders, not just politicians.  A leader does not erase the past.  A leader will build off the past to forward his or her agenda.  Repealing President Obama's health-care bill will not magically bring back the health-care debate of 2008.  Democrats who worked to pass this bill and Democrats who initially tried to compromise with Republicans will have less incentive to work with the GOP to fix health care if the GOP tries to amend the current bill.  Refusing to compromise and adhering to an all or nothing strategy is good politics and rhetoric, but it is not good leadership. --Leti Munoz

Political game-playing undermines real progress
The Republican House majority's threat to repeal Democratic initiatives is rooted in a larger, more glaring problem. The party divide within our government seems to have created a cycle of victimization: once one party accomplishes its goal, the opposition waits until it has majority control to undo (or at least to severely compromise) those very accomplishments. This cycle creates stagnancy, constantly canceling out reforms before they are given a chance to succeed.

History is viewed subjectively, on a spectrum from approval to disapproval of past actions. Some decisions to undo past policies, in retrospect, seem clearly to have been the right decisions, even if they were controversial at the time.  For instance, laws allowing segregation in public places were undone in order to give African Americans and other groups the tools to achieve justice.  Similarly, Japanese American internment survivors received monetary compensation and an apology after a prolonged struggle.  Thus, sometimes undoing the past is a necessity in order to uphold equality and open the door to progress--even if the process is grueling and the settlement inadequate.

Yet to invalidate a decision because it is against one's politics, even if it is harmful to others, is a selfish power play. Leaders must understand the factors that led to a decision and truly evaluate the injustice created by that decision.  If possible, acknowledgment of a mistake should be forward looking by creating new opportunities to rectify a past situation, not creating new victims once the tables have turned.  Who will be harmed if health-care reform legislation is undone?  Those with pre-existing conditions?  Recent college grads who can remain under their parents' health plan for a few extra years?  These people's plight should be seriously taken into account by the new Republican House majority. --Thalia Roussos

The Pink Panther goes to Washington

Inspector Clouseau will shortly be assuming his most powerful post yet:  the chairmanship of the House Oversight Committee.  He began cutting his political chops in California nearly seven years ago when he saved the state from fiscal disaster.  His solution?  Dissolve the administration.  Case closed.  The inspector continued with many more stone-turning successes, like when he set his comrade's sights on a seemingly innocuous social justice organization that served the poor.  And now we are rid of that return of Al Capone's brothel empire.

So when our inspector subpoenas the president--the exemplar of corruption in modern times--we will surely discover which "leader" is the real perpetrator of our government's criminal wasteful spending. --Farid Ben Amor

Return to all panelist responses

By Coro Fellows

 |  January 4, 2011; 11:52 AM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Congressional leadership , Government leadership , Making mistakes , Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Let's think for a moment just about schizophrenia, which the Arizona shooter apparently suffered from, and the health care bill that Rep. Giffords voted for and the Democratic congress passed. The GOP is now hell bent on repealing it, of course, because it will help too many people.

Obama and Pelosi just extended coverage to 30 million new people. If those people are similar to the rest of the population genetically, and there's little reason to assume otherwise, roughly 150,000 (schizophrenia has a lifetime prevalence of roughly 0.5%) of them are currently walking around without medication of any sort like this young man. Actually the number is most likely much higher among the uninsured for obvious reasons (for starters, many have been rejected for health insurance for this prior condition).

So thanks to Obama and Pelosi doing something Republicans fought tooth and nail against, 150,000 people like this young man will at least have the chance to get treatment. Possibly keeping them from shooting your family at a Safeway one day. Conservatives, please say thank you to the nice president and Speaker now. On behalf of your family, and the newly-medicated strangers you will never meet, thank goodness. Think about what you are "undoing" here.

Posted by: B2O2 | January 10, 2011 1:44 AM
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The Republican's promised to Repeal AND REPLACE. Most people know that we need to make some serious changes. Most people are know that the 2000 page mess that was jammed through without transparent and serious review needs to be repealed but need to keep the focus on the sensible REPLACE proposals. Don't forget the other half of the pledge!

Posted by: lynnman1 | January 8, 2011 8:47 PM
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Ok reality check, you lost the election.
Got that? Your "achievements" were not viewed as such by 60% of the voters.
Slaughter said today that 56% of the people like the health care bill.
She is delusional, those numbers aren't real.
Let us try to come down to earth.
Sure Obama can veto anything, but he can not veto the coming Court rulings that rule the health care mandate unconstitutional (ask Howard Dean).
Why fight that lost battle? Instead compromise, make some major concessions and work a deal with the House while you can.
What incentive do they have once the courts toss it out?
And maybe i'm wrong but doesn't the house hold the purse strings?
Can they simply refuse to fund departments that they don't like?
And now the GOP has 47 senators?
How many up for relection dems might cross over and join the gop?
Why should the GOP listen to you?
All this frantic effort at the WP to try and shape the coming wave of reform is doomed, they pay no attention to you at all except when Drudge links a story.
By the way is that PBS getting Obama on Super Bowl Sunday?
Hmm no, diss Fox all you want.
Repealing the law will not cost billions, (flawed cbo assumptions based on fantasy) not repealing it will.
Businesses are still waiting to see what happens for fear that new hires will become an sucking chest wound of expense if Obama Care survives..
Kill it and the recession may start to really end, the unemployment rate might start to really fall (ho ho ho, it's 9.4%! what a drop!).
That would help Obama, so what are dems insisting it doesn't happen?
Are you all still smoking Al Gore's global warming brew?
Can you see reality? Or have the all the paid bloggers and activists so dominated your news and news sources that reality seems but a fantasy, spun by some Fox news gun loving, world hating, diversity distrusting rubes?
By the way has "diversity" always been code for Democratic Base?

Posted by: Saladin3 | January 7, 2011 5:57 PM
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NO RETHUGLICAN has offered a single idea over the past 10 years that has gotten us ONE STEP closer to the U.S. being a thriving, growing, vibrant nation....NOTHING. ALL they seem to want to do is find the magic elixir of 1755 that will whisk us away on the way-back machine to that year before we matured as a nation..


It's so easy for these rethuglican clowns to come out of their gopher holes every day and spout the taking points that were issued earlier in the day and glide thru the rest of their ZERO-BRAINPOWER-EXISTANCE with the WORLD begging for so much more. No wonder other nations on the planet are bypassing the US by the HOUR in growth, jobs, financial where-with-all, prosperity of their people, education and skills that are fading away in our Walmart-based existence.

I heard Maria Bartiromo (being a perceived expert on American business) berating the US President today about the .5 % lower unemployment number that he came out and said was better but not moving as fast toward a lower rate than he would like.. She blamed HIM, PERSONALLY for the high un-employment and dire job market that exists today in the US.. How, absolutely idiotic of ANYONE to spew this kind of garbage. IF she would take 15 seconds to explore the FACTS about what has happened over the last few years that have caused this current crisis, or someone could point put to this parasite what REALITY LOOKS LIKE; she would not have wasted my time, again, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is officially a HACK!! AND, a bold-faced LIAR.

Posted by: rbaldwin2 | January 7, 2011 5:31 PM
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I take exception to UNDERLYING's example of removing a few stitches from the wedding dress. The repeal of health care and the 180 billion dollars that this repeal will cost the government sounds more like throwing out the whole dress because you saw a few bad stitches.

The Republican's don't really want to repeal health care, they want to posture and they want to get posing out of the way before the real legislative agenda gets underway.

Posted by: dplunkett1 | January 7, 2011 4:07 PM
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You suggest that the House is merely pursuing its duty in revising unconstitutional measures. Procedurally, I agree, but the reality of the current situation is that determining "constitutionality" is as partisan as political process itself.

Posted by: emg1011 | January 6, 2011 7:22 PM
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First of all, all of this commentary is based on the assumption that are outlined in the question itself. The assumption here is that the Republican party is, in fact, "investigating and repealing all of the major initiatives taken by the Democratic president and Congress over the past two years." The problem with this otherwise insightful commentary, is that this is a loaded and false assumption. What is really going on here is that the first order of business of the Republicans in the House is to review all bills and joint resolutions submitted for approval are require documentation of for each, verifying its constitutionality. If there are, in fact, resolutions that are unconstitutional, they should not be honored. This should not be viewed as the House stepping backwards, but rather our representatives being leaders in government responsibility. If a seamstress makes a few wrong stitches in your wedding dress and you realize her mistake, you do not ask her to design the rest of the dress around this mistake, you require her to remove the problem stitches and re-sew the affected area correctly.

Posted by: underlying | January 5, 2011 7:30 PM
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I agree with Andrew's statement of urging Republicans to create more of their own long-term goals instead of being quick to over-turn legislation. I'd like for the newly elected Congress to survey even a handful of their constituents and it's not likely they will find the new health care bill is their concern; instead it's jobs and how we can get back to work to revive this economy. Let's be proactive folks. What happened to the times of reaching across the aisle and asking one another "how can we help each other, and most importantly how can we help our constituents?" I'm so tired of this us against them mentality -- among both Dems and Repubs. Get it together, and FAST!

Posted by: xuxazuzu | January 5, 2011 6:14 PM
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I could not agree more with Andrew, when he states that Republicans should focus more on creating their own long-term goals. Instead of being reactionary, they should be proactive in pushing legislation that puts their constituents back to work and able to revive the economy. What happened to the days of reaching across the aisle and asking one another "how can we help each other." I'm tired of this us against them mentality, from both parties.

Posted by: xuxazuzu | January 5, 2011 6:10 PM
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when considering how leaders should deal with the past, it matters how the past is being told. to that end, even a political victory can be spun as a disaster, so maybe we should focus on who we are letting define the past and how the story is told.

maybe we will find that the actual leader is not the politician, but the press secretary.

Posted by: emg1011 | January 4, 2011 5:35 PM
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