The White House is about to relaunch its health reform campaign and some, including Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, are hopeful that the president will “more aggressively fight for a strong health reform bill with a strong public option.” Behind the scenes, however, his staff may be looking for the best way to kill it.

George Stephanopoulos outlines five questions the White House must answer in order to take charge of the health care debate. Chief among them: “What is ‘death with dignity’ for the public option? Is it better for the president to sacrifice it himself? Or convince Democratic leaders behind closed doors to come to him? Some will argue for taking the public option issue to the floor, passing it through the House and sacrificing it in conference – but once you’ve gone that far, it may be impossible for House Democrats to back down. So, giving it up on the front end in some fashion is likely the preferred option.” (h/t: Political Wire)

Inner-circle Democrats like Stephanopoulos and the president’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, shouldn’t be trusted when they speak about the public option. In cold political calculus, it’s a loser. But a president with vision might recognize that this is the moment for health care reform and that a plan that actually accomplishes something is worth fighting for.

Without a public option, the schemes lawmakers are cobbling together may hurt more than help. Who wants to be forced to buy a bad insurance policy, and how on Earth does that qualify as reform?

Promising the sky and delivering nothing — or worse, a phony plan that angers voters without assisting them — would sink the Democratic Party in 2010 as surely as it did in 1994. The Democrats might hold on to a slim majority, but of what use?

For better or worse, the Democrats have tied their fate to health care reform. Just getting a win isn’t going to save them. The plan has got to work. They’ve got to be able to point to something real and say, “We did that, now vote for us.”

The benefits of a public option wouldn’t kick in before the next election. It alone would not save lawmakers who were in trouble. But if it works, if it’s as bold and effective and cherished as Medicare, then maybe voters will feel as passionately about the public option as the people who demand, “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!” — PS

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