WASHINGTON -- If Tuesday had been a national election, Scott Brown's victory merely would have been the high-water mark of a Republican deluge. A five-point win in Massachusetts would have translated into blowout Republican victories throughout the country. Every Democrat with political skills short of Franklin D. Roosevelt's would have suddenly seemed a "weak candidate."
President Obama now is left with three options as he stumbles toward the State of the Union: He can try to ignore the anger, embrace the anger or blunt the anger.
Ignoring the anger is the advice of the health reform fundamentalists: With victory only a shady maneuver away, just ram it through. Have the House pass the Senate bill unchanged -- a bill that is, in Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's inspiring rallying cry, "better than nothing."
This is politics as psychological delusion -- entirely unmoored from reality. Democratic health reform is unpopular, for goodness' sake, in Massachusetts. Exit polls on Tuesday showed 52 percent opposed to the health bill and 42 percent who cast their vote with the specific intention of killing reform.
What serious Democrat would prefer this flawed, compromised, expensive bill to the political future of their party? Each time the legislation has rolled forward, it has gathered criticism and opposition like dirty slush on a snowball. Who can argue that a final push -- this one smacking of desperate, anti-democratic trickery -- will rescue the situation?
Following Tuesday night, the most dangerous enemies of the Democratic Party are not Republicans. They are the advocates of the current health care bill.
Astute Democrats understand this. Rep. Barney Frank immediately ruled out "any effort to pass a health care bill as if the Massachusetts election had not happened." The hope, says Frank, is that "some Republican senators will be willing to discuss a revised version of health care reform." And "revised" health reform certainly would be more limited. Frank is not being a gutless Democrat. He is being a loyal Democrat -- defending his party against ideologues who care little for its prospects.
Another option for Obama is to try embracing public anger -- continuing to rail against plutocrats who get bailouts and bonuses.