So it appears that Democrats, with control of the White House, the Senate and House, with a mandate that far exceeds anything George W. Bush could ever claim, with a popular leader who trounced his opponent in the 2008 election, facing a rudderless opposition that has never looked weaker, can’t bring themselves to rally behind the idea of health-care reform with a direct government role, i.e. a public option.

Some Democrats, that is. Howard Dean, a former doctor, is rightly calling a direct government role "the entirety of health care reform." Representative Anthony Weiner says, "leaving private insurance companies the job of controlling the costs of health care is like making a pyromaniac the fire chief."

But the White House is wavering – no, caving. Obama called the public option "one sliver" of health-care reform at a town hall meeting over the weekend; Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius added that it was "not the essential element of reform." Does that sound like an administration taking a principled stand?

For several decades, Democrats practiced the politics of watering down what they stood for, in the hope that people wouldn’t think they were too liberal, and proved that this was a wonderful recipe for defeat. House progressives have vowed to oppose any bill that doesn’t have a public option. Let’s hope they do.