For most people in a position of strength, whatever they're facing, their approach is more aggressive. Whether you have a gun and they are unarmed; or you have the chip lead at the poker table; when you're a parent and your child is still dependent on you; if you're in a gang, and your "victim" is alone; or even when you have a majority in politics - you assert power because you can.
But the tables can turn quickly, be it when you run out of bullets, lose chips by betting recklessly, see your child turn into a teenager, face your "victim" when you are alone, or of course when a senator dies and the people vote in a candidate from the other party.
Oddly, strength is more ephemeral than integrity. Look at Haiti, where so many have died and even more have suffered because there is no integrity in their system. Today, in a show of global strength, many are working together to help; but as David Brooks of the NY Times wrote, at some point, the immediate crisis will pass, the passion will fade, and the world will have moved on. The work of helping Haiti build an infrastructure with the integrity to withstand future crises will be left undone. This is not because Haiti is an easily-ignored foreign land; just look at the levees in New Orleans which years after Katrina are still a huge source of risk to the city. We act with bluster and ego and forsake integrity.
When Lord Acton wrote these words in 1887, he knew whereof he spoke: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."
How do great men become bad men? Maybe power is one part amnesia + one part imperviousness? Amnesia because you immediately forget how difficult the journey was, who you were and how you felt before you rose to power, and your conviction that when you got there, it/you'd be different. Is a side effect of the amnesia also a loss of compassion - the ability to empathize with both your people and those you vanquished? I think so.
The amnesia makes you suddenly wake up in power, believing that this is what you were born to do and be, and not only can no-one take it away from you, but that every decision you make is right, every judgment you have is correct, and every idea you conceive is brilliant. There is also a lingering, selective amnesia that immediately vindicates or absolves you of any "small" mistake you might make while in power.
Now look back over the last 12 months at how the majority party in Congress has behaved. Heavy-handed, acting behind closed doors, and with an aura of self-righteousness. Maybe the President has been less corrupted by power than either the House or Senate Democrats, but that hasn't really mattered because he has relatively little say in the actual law-making process.
If the Dems had behaved with integrity, maybe they would have discovered a better and more communal path towards effective healthcare. Now they are contemplating a massively watered-down version of the bill or even unbundling it and trying to pass sections piecemeal. Pathetic.
The House had a Democratic majority in the last midterms during WBII (President George W. Bush's 2nd term), and accomplished NOTHING. Their excuse was the Republican presidency. They learned NOTHING from the Republican majorities during the Clinton presidency, and NOTHING from their failures prior to Obama's presidency. Pathetic.
Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi - both insipid, integrity-free "leaders" - are now in a pucker moment. My guess is they will find something or someone to blame for losing the Massachusetts seat, and continue to blunder through Congress as the grape-brained blithering fools that they are. The midterms will hopefully see them unseated, and the Republicans will enter the next session of Congress with parity or a very small majority.
Sadly, there is no redemption in the Republican power circle either - they relish the failure of the Dems but have demonstrated NO desire to act with integrity in their service of the American people.
What would I do? If I were President Obama, I'd invite a moderate Republican (with a bi-partisan team of two from each party, and one each from the House and Senate) to form a commission to write a healthcare bill by the end of April 2010. The President should personally spend at least one day/week with this group, but claim NO credit for the result - this was their work, not his. In exchange, the President should agree to campaign for that moderate Republican whenever s/he wants. The commission should be fully open to the public, and the conditions for success (cost, coverage span, etc.) should be laid out up-front.
The President can go before the people today and admit that the current approach has failed; admit that while there are good things in the bill, things he supports passionately, the process was wrong. He should point to the data the National Geographic published recently on healthcare cost vs. life expectancy, and how the US spends so much more, and yet her citizens see the doctor less and don't live as long. In the end, our outcome of healthier Americans is at risk, and that's not acceptable.
If I were with the insurance company leaders, I'd recommend an industry-wide preemptive strike to proactively eliminate many of the issues that the current bill has raised about their behavior (exclusions for preexisting conditions, caps on payments, etc.).
Thus far, they and the opponents of proposed healthcare reform have won with scare tactics. If instead they choose to act with integrity, especially when the tide is turning in their favor, they will control the agenda, chose exactly how to adapt to their new model, and maybe prevent regulatory intervention altogether. If they do this right, it might actually be a more profitable venture for them in the long run, irrespective of which party holds the majority. And they will have acted with a measure of integrity.
Integrity is laced with ethos, humanity, and a sense of what's right. It is shaped by accountability, transparency and the belief that your power is less important than the right outcome.