Democrats, it's time to step up

President Barack Obama speaks to a joint sessi...

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This country’s best chance in generations to make significant progress toward health care reform isn’t the only thing on the line over the next several weeks.  So is the Democratic Party’s opportunity to be taken seriously by American voters come November.

To borrow a phrase from my Long Island childhood, it’s time for Democrats to put up or shut up — to decide or to be derided, correctly, as the party of endless dithering.

Of this I’m sure: the party will fare better in the next election if it manages to pass an imperfect but important health reform measure than if it stutters away another chance, this one set up beautifully by the president.  That polls show tepid popular support mean little. That the Republican Party will whip up a vitriol stew means less.

Come November, showing the voters backbone is what will count.  Remember Harry Truman? The buck stops here, with you, Democrats. And it stops now.

Divided as they surely are on details, the American people know the current health care system is not hunky dory. They know its price tag is heading through the roof.

This time Barack Obama has done his part, and done it right.

After he emerged from the shock of Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts, the president shed his oval office cocoon.  He spoke directly to the American people. He mixed it up with Republican congressmen, face-to-face. He cajoled leaders of his own party. And he has incorporated modest, but significant suggestions of the GOP such as setting aside $50 million in grants for state demonstration projects to, as my TrueSlant colleague Rick Ungar writes, “explore alternatives to medical malpractice cases, and a proposed crackdown on Medicaid and Medicare fraud.”

Writes Susan Milligan in my morning Boston Globe, “Despite polls that signal that strategy holds dangers for Democrats, the president is gambling that the voters who sent him to office want action on health care and share his impatience with inaction in Washington.”

It’s the right gamble.

Obama pulled a page from the Republican playbook yesterday, calling for a simple up or down vote. He pointed out that this process (called reconciliation) has been used for other big legislation — welfare reform, COBRA extended medical benefits, the Bush tax cuts, to name a few. Holler about the rules as Republicans will, the president has historical precedent on his side.

He has cleared the way for Democrats to make a statement, to show their guts and wisdom. If they muff it by once again shuffling in place while Republicans build a juggernaut against them, they will have no defense come November.  Sadly to be sure, they’ll deserve the drubbing that will come their way.

But if they master the discipline to muster a majority, they just might do better than expected.

Regardless of what happens, I don’t think the outcome will hurt the president. This time he has stepped up. He’s begun to grow into the promising leader his campaign suggested.

About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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