Sunday, April 8, 2012 | 2 a.m.
To my Christian friends, Happy Easter. To my Jewish friends, Happy Passover.
Easter and Passover have always been celebrated within a few days of each other, one celebrating the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt under the able leadership of Moses and the other a testament to the life of Jesus Christ and his leading an entire people, a huge part of our world, toward one of the world’s great religions.
In both examples, it was the ability to lead, coupled with the people’s faith in that leader, that propelled both religions forward at a time of great strife.
In an effort to apply a modern message to the teachings of both religious events, I want to share with you the thoughts of two people I had the pleasure to listen to this past week.
The first is my friend and our country’s 42nd president, Bill Clinton, who was in Las Vegas on Wednesday to speak to members of the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association.
The room at the Encore was packed with people who were vitally interested in President Clinton’s views on health care specifically and, as is always the case when people have the chance to question him, myriad other topics.
I want to focus on health care because, as President Clinton explained, in Arkansas that would be the pink elephant in the room. You don’t walk into a person’s living room, see the pink elephant, and compliment the owner on the beautiful sofa. People expect you not to insult them by refusing to deal with the obvious. If there has been a failing by the proponents of the health care bill, it has been an almost universal refusal to discuss with the American people what the bill actually does. And that has allowed those who oppose universal health care to, frankly, just make stuff up.
Think about your own life and all the decisions that are made that affect it. There was a time in our country when leaders could make decisions with which we disagreed but, as long as our leaders explained their actions, shared their reasons and treated us with respect, we always re-elected them. That is because we appreciated the sincerity and the clarity with which they acted on our behalf.
Today, however, it seems the politicians would rather not face the voters who question what they have done and why they have done it. That frustrates many people to the point that they get mad and may even attend a tea party to share their discontent with like-minded citizens. And we all know what happens then!
President Clinton believes health care is a moral imperative, which is consistent with the Easter message celebrated today, to care for the least among us. His position is also based on an economic imperative that demands that we find a fix for the health care challenge.
That challenge, simply, is that America spends 17.4 percent of its gross domestic product on health care and has outcomes ranking behind some 35 other countries in terms of longevity and good health. Almost every other country with whom we compete not only has better health outcomes but spends far less on delivering that health care to its citizens, and almost every one of them has some kind of individual mandate or government-mandated program.
The United States spends hundreds of billions of dollars more for health care than our nearest competitor. Think about that number imbedded in the price of goods and services we are trying to sell on the open market, and you will see very clearly the incredible economic disadvantage we have created for ourselves. But, if we can fix our health care system, make it cost competitive with other countries, our other attributes of American productivity, innovation and quality will make us the world leader into the future. To ignore this elephant in the room, to fiddle around for another decade or two while our competitors beat our economic brains in, is folly.
In the context of the Supreme Court case that could determine whether the law passes constitutional muster, President Clinton believes we are far better off fixing what we now have than we are trying to start over. Starting over means, as a practical matter in today’s polarized world, doing nothing for a long time — while our competitive advantage continues to slip down a health care-cost driven slope to the bottom.
We all know President Clinton is an extremely bright and very persuasive individual. He was in that room full of health care professionals. That is because he deals with facts, with argument and with logic, and most Americans, given the time to listen to him as well as the inclination to do so, would be persuaded. And, even if they disagreed with him, they would not “hate” him as is the case in today’s political environment. They would just disagree.
My point is simply that leadership not only entails good ideas but also the ability and desire to sell those ideas to people who want to know because everyone wants the respect of a responsible explanation.
I have written about President Clinton’s easy-to-read and most informative new book, “Back to Work.” It should be required reading before anyone votes in November because it is based on facts, not ideology. He has nothing to gain but good government and a healthy America because he cannot run again. And, if it gives us nothing more than an informative respite from the incessant chatter on the cable “news” channels, we would all be better off.
So, President Clinton’s speech Wednesday was my first example of real leadership. Like the messages of Easter and Passover, his is an example of a person who not only has a good idea about which direction to go but who also has compelling arguments to persuade a majority of the American people to follow him there.
The other example of leadership that I encountered last week came from a less presidential source.
Tom Selleck plays a police commissioner in New York City in the TV series “Blue Bloods.” He is a wise, no-nonsense and compassionate man who deals daily with family issues, police matters and the politics that go with both.
In one encounter with the petty political machinations of a mayor more interested in his job than actually doing his job, Selleck’s Chief Reagan, a good Irish Catholic name for this Easter story, defines leadership.
When the mayor puffs up his chest and declares that he is seeking consensus for a particular action he knows is necessary, Selleck scolds him. “Leadership is not seeking consensus,” he said, “leadership is molding consensus.”
Did Jesus seek consensus? Of course not. Through his actions and his words, he molded it. And Moses? Did he ask everyone whether they should flee the Egyptian Pharaoh? Did he ask them which way to go? Of course not.
As we reflect on the meanings of Easter and the lessons of Passover, we should be cognizant of the message of leadership.
If the United States wants to lead through this 21st century, in this most competitive and interdependent world in which we live, we need people who will mold consensus by standing in front of us and telling us what we need to hear and not what we want to hear. There is a big difference, you know.
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.