Current proposals for health care reform--especially Senator Max Baucus's moderate plan--include no public option, which many liberals have long considered the sina qua non of successful reform. But Baucus's plan does appear to have a very real chance of getting passed, stirring a civil war among liberals. Should the party accept these reforms while they can get them or continue to push for the much-lauded public option? Both sides agree on one thing: nothing less than the fate of the party in 2010 is at stake.

  • Abandon Public Option for the Long Game  The New Republic's Jonathan Chait conceded that current reform plans are imperfect. But Chait argued they're worth accepting and that "sullen" liberals who wanted more should see the long game. "The distance between the status quo and the ideal is therefore so vast that we could—and probably will—end up with a reform that massively improves the system, while coming nowhere close to the ideal," he wrote, calling it "one of the towering social reforms in American history."

    Chait compared current health care proposals with the original Social Security Act, which included neither disability benefits nor coverage for African-Americans, but eventually became the robust program we know today. "The important point was setting a new societal expectation of what constituted basic economic rights, which, over time, would be filled in so that the reality met the promise."
  • Only a Public Option Will Be Effective  Gene Lyons warned, "Democrats could be slow-walking into political disaster" by embracing shoddy reforms that will drive up costs. "A surer way to stoke a right-wing populist rebellion can't be imagined," he wrote, warning that a mandate without cost controls will mean "thousands of bucks out of the pockets of people who've already decided they can't afford insurance." Lyons quoted Howard Dean, who said he insisted on a public option "Because it's the only thing that works." Lyon asked, "Is that because Dean's a left-wing ideologue? No, it's because he's a doctor."
  • Liberals Must Pressure Dems for Public Option  Digby denounced Democrats who support BaucusCare as allowing a "regressive tax on their own constituents." She blamed insufficient political pressure on liberal Democrats to push for a public option. Even if the health care reform that passes is terrible, she wrote, "They won't personally lose their jobs. Even if the whole progressive philosophy is discredited and millions of people turn to the alternative it has no bearing on them. They carry on no matter who is in the majority or in the White House. Many of them are in the leadership themselves, so there is no pressure to work for the greater good of the party as a whole. The problem seems to be that political considerations and consequences are irrelevant to the political system. What do we do about that?"