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Health care and March Madness

Posted: Sunday, April 04, 2010

After a year of a polarizing struggle over health care, we've all learned more about the issue than we ever wanted to.

Terms like death panels, public options, employee mandate, deficit spending and government takeover became all too familiar. Now that it's over, I should be able to escape into the March Madness of basketball. Instead, I see some amusing parallels between the tournament and the battleground of health care.

First, the imprint of Republican values on the final legislation. A recent PBS interview with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel revealed that the bill signed by President Obama was very similar to the bipartisan bill advanced in 1993 which was then supported by prominent Republicans. The key provision supported by 33 Republicans was employee mandate, a central provision for reform. Yet the polarized politics hid this essential contribution from the Republicans. This would be akin to players deciding not to use the alley-oop play because North Carolina State was the first team to use it. In basketball, however, whatever works, is used regardless of where it came from.

When I learned that a significant number of those who opposed health care could not say why - 41 percent in one poll after the election of Senator Scott Brown in Massachusetts - it reminded me of those who can't elaborate on why they don't like a particular team. Sometimes, those who oppose, generalize their sentiment as a simple desire to cheer for the underdog. Unfortunately, we can't say the same for health care. Helping the underdogs (the uninsured) was a primary objective of health care reform.

Toward the end of the health care debate, the focus switched to the strategy the Democrats deployed to deliver a win. Even though the Republicans used the same strategy to accomplish their legislative objectives, they were "disgusted" by the tactics. Again, as in basketball, use whatever works. This includes intentional misses. For example, Michigan State threw up a brick at the foul line to protect a one-point lead with 1.8 seconds on the clock. Not a single commentator or coach dished this winning tactic.

There is one essential place where we as a nation need to track more closely with the atmosphere of March Madness. It is the ultimate sportsmanship shown by all the teams. For the good of the game, win or lose, all the players and coaches shake hands at the end, and move on. For the good of the country, I wish that majority leader Harry Reid and minority leader Mitch McConnell could shake hands and move on to the next pressing problem. After all, the issue of health care was a hard-fought struggle that went into multiple overtimes. Instead, we have political celebrities like former Governor Palin drawing rifle crosshairs on health care opponents and encouraging her base to "reload."

Governor Palin once said she learned most of her leadership lessons from playing basketball. As a former point guard, I related to that statement. However, it appears she is forgetting one of the most important lessons of the sport - the one we see time and time again during March Madness - show honor and respect for your worthy opponents.

• Kate Troll is a long-time Alaskan who has more than 18 years of experience in fisheries and coastal management policy and has been working the past four years on climate and energy matters.

Her column will appear twice a month.



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