After the bloodletting over the health-care bill, President Obama is now at a crossroads.
Not one opposition member voted for his health-care reform. That, along with tawdry buyoffs for fence-sitting members of the Senate and a reconciliation process that avoids another Senate vote have made a mockery of Obama's former healing campaign rhetoric.
In reaction, will the president now pick his next fights more carefully -- avoiding the sort of shady legislative dealings and us-vs.-them rhetoric that helped ram this bill through?
Or will the methods used to pass "Obamacare," which many polls deemed unpopular leading up to this weekend's vote, become the model formula for a new damn-the-torpedoes, full-speed-ahead progressive agenda?
We will learn soon on a variety of issues.
Obama may well try again for a comprehensive cap-and-trade bill to reduce carbon inputs. The increased taxes resulting from such legislation would trickle down into added fees on power bills for households and businesses. Such European-style state regulation would delight his liberal base and cement his credentials as our first activist green president.
Yet, given the shaky economy and controversies over the very science of global warming, forcing cap-and-trade through would ensure more months-long acrimony -- identical, in other words, to the health-care fury.
Far easier world be a bipartisan effort aimed at more reliance on nuclear power, and radical expansion of drilling for vast deposits of domestic natural gas.
Pro-industry supporters would welcome the boost for employment and greater independence from costly foreign energy. Liberals could applaud fewer greenhouse gases than currently produced from existing coal-fired plants.
President Obama apparently also wants to do comprehensive immigration -- and spoke of his plans in a taped video at this past weekend's immigration march in Washington.
But Obama's version of comprehensively solving illegal immigration through earned citizenship/amnesty can likely only be pushed through by legislative gymnastics, demonizing the opposition as nativists and energizing partisan activists by paying them back for their blanket support in the 2008 campaign.In other words, it will also require the same kind of knockdown, drag-out fight we just saw over health care.
Again, far better for the country would be a bipartisan effort to take less-dramatic steps at ending the influx of illegal aliens.
The president could do an about-face and complete the stalled border fence, and enforce all existing laws against employers of illegal aliens -- putting off the messy fight over amnesty and guest workers until the borders are secure.
Liberals and unions would welcome the rise in wages once low-income American laborers had fewer illegal competitors. Conservatives could be assured that without an annual addition of a million new illegal aliens, there would be greater chances for integration and assimilation within American society.
It could be a win/win situation for everyone -- except a minority who counts on open borders and serial amnesties for those who break federal laws, along with a Mexican government that exports its population rather than make the necessary changes to allow them to stay with their families at home.
Then there are the now-record annual deficits and spiraling national debt. Even the new revenue from a promised return to the higher Clinton-era tax rates and a radical lifting on the caps on income subject to payroll taxes won't balance the budget.
Or he can acknowledge that new local, state, payroll health-care and income taxes will soon take over 60 percent of incomes of precisely those who pay the majority of existing taxes -- and decide instead to offer a real freeze of all federal spending to the rate of inflation.
These areas where Obama could find centrist solutions and bridge differences are almost endless -- from an end to agricultural subsidies to energy independence. But getting things done incrementally and quietly would not bring out the drama, the headlines and the partisan emotions like the fight over health care.
What lessons will the president draw for the future from last week's health-care brawl?
I doubt it will be that the president and Congress should not ram through unpopular legislation on a strictly partisan and bare majority.
More likely, Obama's conclusion will be that a win is a win, and it's time to move on for more of the same bare-knuckles brawling.
If the latter is true, Americans may see more change but surely will end up with far less hope.