Interpreters of the recent election results have been pointing fingers in many directions about alleged successes and failures of policies and messaging. Having run a consulting business for more than 10 years I see a parallel between how people vote and how people and organizations making hiring decisions. That is, people voting for their elected officials are essentially making decisions about who they want to hire to run their government.
Politicians certainly want the people who voted for them last time to vote for them the next time. This is a fundamental tenant of business success, i.e., getting your current clients to become repeat customers. In business, a sure fire way to make a customer happy and come back is to over-deliver. This is easier if you can also under-promise, but that’s not always possible if you’re competing with others for the same customer. Which is why politicians almost always go the opposite way, i.e. WAY over-promising in an attempt to outdo their opponents, while also using negative messages to undermine the credibility of their opponent’s promises.
The result is that elected officials, (and by extension “government”), WAY under-deliver on their promises. This has been true for almost every elected official, with a few exceptions whose over-delivering was generally not due to their own actions. (For example, the budget surpluses at the end of the Clinton Administration were largely due to a booming economy, which may or may not have had that much to do with the Administration’s actions.) And in situations where governments do deliver on promises, actions often takes longer than people think they should. (In fairness to government agencies and officials, this is because rules for transparency and accountability require lengthy processes for implementing new programs or changing existing ones.)
Under Delivering = Political Upheavals
Over the past 10 years, perceived under-delivering has driven dramatic swings in elections. At the most fundamental level, economic and employment downturns and sluggish improvement drove Obama into office and the Republicans into control of Congress. And because it became apparent that neither party seemed able to deliver on their promises for actual economic recovery, the Tea Party has risen as a “plague on both your houses” solution.
Whether the Tea Party will survive and flourish in our political system, be assimilated, or wither and die remains to be seen. The actual outcome will likely depend upon the state of the economy, job growth, and the military situations in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next 2-6 years – as well as how the Democratic and Republican parties shift their own actions and communications about their promises. (Although I highly doubt any politicians will start under-promising as a strategy for then being able to show how they over-delivered.)
Whether the Tea Party Machine comes to resemble Terminators, Cylons, or Borg will be determined by their own actions and the economic and political environments in which they will be competing. But what does seem clear is that if the economy and employment don’t improve then voters will continue to look for new alternatives to those who have a track record of over-promising and under-delivering. Businesses that do this don’t last long and get pushed aside by innovators who can deliver. Will that happen in the political marketplace? Only time will tell.
What This Means for Health Reform
The resurgent Republican party – in part fueled by the Tea Party movement – has promised to dismantle, defund or repeal the health reform law as it’s being implemented. But some of the specific components – particularly the basic insurance reforms – are generally liked by people on an individual basis… once they understand what they are. In this instance the Republicans have put themselves in a tough position, because if they actually deliver on their promises, they may find that people aren’t very happy with the results, i.e. no increased assurance about their ability to get or maintain health insurance. So if philosophy and a commitment to fulfilling their promises trumps political wisdom, whatever they can undo they will. But if they seek to maintain their political momentum, they will be best served by undoing or stopping only those provisions that don’t have popular appeal and/or are not fundamental to improving the security people have about their health insurance, such as the 1099 reporting requirements.
p.s. Sorry to have not posted in so long. I’ve been busy helping a community in the Midwest launch a community-wide multi-stakeholder initiative to transform health delivery and financing in their region. Very interesting work and a great real-world implementation of what I and others have been writing about for many years. More on that later – and I promise to write more soon on specific health issues. Best Wishes, M