WASHINGTON -- The final outcome of the health care reform debate is uncertain -- who can predict where a writhing eel will land? -- but we have learned a few things already.
First, we know that President Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership could not persuade a majority of Americans of the wisdom of their plan -- and have largely ceased to try.
As of this writing, a president who seems willing to interrupt prime-time programming on the slightest pretext has not scheduled a speech from the Oval Office to make his final health reform appeal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is working her parliamentarians overtime to achieve the congressional equivalent of the Immaculate Conception -- a law without a vote. One gets the impression that Democrats would prefer health reform to slip by the House in a procedural maneuver on a Friday night during the NCAA basketball tournament -- which it might.
The most visible Democratic domestic priority of the last 40 years must be smuggled into law, lest too many Americans notice. Politicians claiming the idealism of saints have adopted the tactics of burglars. Victory, if it comes, will seem less like a parade than a heist.
Liberals tend to blame this state of affairs on the brilliance of Republican fear-mongering. Meaning the slashing wittiness of Sarah Palin? The irresistible charisma of Mitch McConnell? The more likely explanation: Americans are engaged in a serious national debate about the role and size of government, in which the advocates of government-dominated health care are significantly outnumbered and vastly outmatched in enthusiasm. America, despite liberal fear-mongering, has not become "Glenn Beckistan." But it is not yet Europe.
A second thing we have learned during the health care debate is that the Democratic Party's commitment to abortion rights is even more central to its identity than health reform.