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In Politics and Leadership, Declaring Victory Often Means the Opposite

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media, September 11, 2009

I have often read or heard the phrase "declare victory and move on" lately, especially regarding the fight to reform the healthcare system. Perhaps you've heard the "declaring victory" phrase before too. It's often used in the occasion of political fights of one sort or another. It's also often used as a face-saving way to get out of unpopular wars.

That ought to tell you something.

Recently, I've heard it used regarding the political brawl that has evolved from the president's call to reform healthcare through Congressional legislation. This past Wednesday night, President Obama took to the airwaves to jawbone a sluggish Congress to pass a healthcare reform bill already. Obama continued to push stringently to cover the uninsured in any legislation, while refusing to change his nonposition on the latest political hot potato, the so-called public option health plan. Yawn, but I understand his position even if I don't agree with it.

If reform goes down in flames because he insists on a public option or rejects it, there's no way victory can be declared. Fine. That's politically prudent, if not necessarily visionary leadership. But let's be honest, that's one way the status quo stays entrenched.

I don't mean to pick on him, because he didn't use the words "declaring victory," but recently, New York Rep. Michael Arcuri said a curious thing regarding healthcare reform.

"I can't tell you how comprehensive it will be, but I do believe something will get passed," Arcuri, a second-term "Blue Dog" Democrat, told the New York Times.

As if that's what's important: Getting something passed, rather than something of substance and sustainability. I don't know about you, but it sound to me as though getting something passed is much more important than passing legislation that shares sacrifice among all stakeholders in this fight. But get anything passed and the president and Congress will be able to declare victory, whether or not anything meaningful or sustainable is achieved regarding cost and access issues in any healthcare reform legislation.

Though there's been much grandstanding from both parties over the merits and shortcomings of the Democrats' approach to reform, which seems to center on the public option, there's been comparatively little attention to a key part of the healthcare debate: The unsustainable increase in costs that healthcare has experienced over the better part of the past three decades. And let's not forget that amid this brinksmanship between the two parties, that those who would secretly prefer that nothing get done are probably gleefully watching this spectacle like a football game that's rigged in their favor.

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