Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.

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Action heroes

Question: Will President Obama and Democrats pay a price for their success in passing landmark health care legislation? How often does success prove hazardous to people's careers or backfire in unexpected ways?

Answer: Great public leaders are willing to risk everything --- even re-election --- to achieve the right results for the public good. Without leaders willing to take dramatic personal risks, this nation would never have won the Revolution, ended slavery, survived the Civil War, rebuilt the economy after the Depression, passed Social Security, ended World War II, enacted great Civil Rights laws, protected women's rights.

Americans are often agnostic about their own history. We think that bitter political battles and mud-slinging journalism are a recent phenomenon. The Tea Party in Boston Harbor was not the only inspiration for today's political scrum. In fact, the revered Founding Fathers were a Brawling Bunch for many years, radically opposed to each others' ideas as this fledgling nation tried to find its way from living with monarchy to establishing a true democracy. John Adams flirted with monarchial tendencies; Thomas Jefferson famously fought with his friend over titles and presidential prerogatives.

Abraham Lincoln agonized over the likely consequences of Emancipation. He paid with his life at the hands of the confederate John Wilkes Booth, whose hatred for Lincoln should be a cautionary tale for presidential protectors today.

Theodore Roosevelt, one of the most extraordinary public leaders in U.S. History, heralded the modern era through promoting legislation on everything from trust-busting to creating national parks. He did not seem overly concerned with opposition, trusting his own sense of the rightness of the causes he espoused. He was very successful, until the day his own party threw him out because he had become too progressive.

Lyndon Johnson would never have been mistaken for a civil rights leader prior to becoming president of the United States, but his astute understanding of the moral rightness of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 led him to persist in the enactment of that legislation despite terrible threats. His presidency foundered, ironically, not on his civil rights leadership but on the war in Vietnam that he inherited from President Kennedy, whose role in the early days of the Vietnam era is rarely mentioned.

Richard Nixon was a surprisingly successful president in unexpected ways, perhaps most notably, opening dialogue with China. Here was the old communist-baiter walking atop the Great Wall and chatting with Mao. This was revolutionary! Nixon's downfall was not because he took such a great risk with China, but rather, because he could not resist his own petty demons when it came to third rate politics.

While it's true that these and other politicians of previous eras did not have to contend with the virulence of blogs and the 24/7 news cycle, in fact, their examples of success and failure can continue to be highly instructive for today's leaders.

The majority of citizens are actually sane people who appreciate effective and honest leadership. That same majority --- and I'm quite confident it's a large majority --- abhor the "wingnuts" who are trying to dominate the airwaves as if they speak for everyone. Unfortunately, extremist positions get a great deal of media attention because they are so entertaining, while a middle-of-the-road discussion is pretty boring in television terms.

Successful leaders --- whether politicians or corporate officials or college presidents --- know that, sometimes, the very action that will create long-term success creates a lot of short-term noise. I have a saying: if I don't hear any noise, I'm not doing my job.

Leaders can't be afraid of noise. Nor can leaders confuse popularity with success. A political leader who gets re-elected term after term without any legacy of genuinely effective laws for the public good is not a success --- he is a squatter in a seat that should be relinquished to someone willing to take the risk of action.

The ultimate measure of success is the result of action, not merely the ability to hold on for dear life.

By Patricia McGuire  |  March 23, 2010; 9:23 PM ET  | Category:  costly success Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I beg to differ with your assessment that Obama will go down in history as a great leader who achieved success and risked everything for the greater good. By contrast, in this instance, I believe he has risked everything to achieve good for the 30 million at the expense of 300 million others. And contrary to the great leaders who helped America transforme this country through the Revolution, Civil War, WWII, Civil Rights, Women's Rights,etc. this health care MASSIVE bill fails to accomplish the ONE FUNDAMENTAL thing that all these other past successful accomplishments did: to ensure further freedom for ALL AMERICANS and not to restrict nor prohibit that freedom. In fact, this bill protects or insulates the same leaders who enated its laws from applying it for themselves! Furthermore, this expansive bill will require THOUSANDS of government employees to be hired, all paid further by taxes and takes away the private markets for student loan programs that was conveniently inserted in this "health care" insurance law. But that is the least of the sins of this bill. The greatest sin and the greatest threat of this 2000 plus page "law" is the restriction and further government interference in an individual's rights and freedom - freedom from deciding for myself what, when, why, and how to pay for insurance. This mandate further restricts the freedom and the means for seniors, especially, to feel empowered through the choices they can still make for themselves and the advantages that are currently allowed for them to rely on medicare at their age when they need such care the most. This mandate further restricts the freedom and the will for young people to become more independent and self-reliant. All those young adults who can now rely on their parent's insurance will probably not need medical care anyway but the fact that they now have a free pass and a free option is another debilitating measure.
This is NOT the America that my family and I sacrificed so much to immigrate to and to contribute towards maintaining that intangible and yet most precious of all things: FREEDOM of CHOICE and FREE-WILL of an individual!

Posted by: american17 | March 24, 2010 9:42 AM
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