The very public way in which the existence of a center-right in the Democratic Party proved to be a mirage has done more to undermine the party's chances for victory in 2010 than any other aspect of the health care debate.
When liberal Republicans failed to rally to Bill Clinton's 1993-1994 agenda -- including his failed health care proposal -- they laid the basis for their total demise in subsequent years. Sen. Jeffords, Chaffee, D'Amato, Packwood, Hatfield and Specter (as a Republican) are gone. Sens. Snowe and Collins are all that remain of the once dominant Nelson Rockefeller wing of the GOP. They have been replaced by real Democrats.
Now that Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu and Byron Dorgan in the Senate and the likes of Marion Berry, Tom Perriello and John Spratt Jr. in the House have shown how easily they fold under pressure and how thin their conservatism really is, their states and districts will no longer be deceived into re-electing them. They will be replaced by real Republicans.
The Democratic game of electing moderates in conservative districts who then vote to keep liberals in power is over. It over-reached. By collapsing so completely and so publicly, it has become self-evident to the most gullible of voters that there is no such thing as a moderate Democrat. You are either an Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid clone or you are a Republican. That's the new two-party system.
In Bill Clinton's day, there were such things as moderate Democrats. Voters were not deceived when they cast their ballots for center-right Democrats. For example, when welfare reform passed in 1996, it got the support of 99 House Democrats, while 99 voted against it. But those days are long gone. Only their memory remains. And voters have only just come to grasp this essential fact.
All of which leaves the Democrats with a problem: America is not as liberal as they are. Voters will no longer return moderate Democrats to Congress any more than they select liberal Republicans.
Democrats have had a tortuous history as a party.