But doesn’t the Massachusetts election tell us that reform is a political loser? Well, no. Republican candidate Scott Brown made no secret of his opposition to federal health reform. But his most prominent advertising in the run-up to the election focused on taxes, the local Democratic “machine” and his pickup truck. Until the final days, Democratic candidate Martha Coakley complacently failed to ask voters for their support. Pundits are all too eager to read elections as mandates — and politicians all too eager to claim them. As voters, however, we are limited to the choice before us: We can’t choose the pickup truck of one candidate and the policies of another.

What’s more, Brown is no radical Republican. He supported a health-care bill in Massachusetts that looks an awful lot like the current Senate bill. Revealingly, he now says he wants that law to stay in place. Once a bill passes, Brown’s stay-the-course approach is likely to be the position on national reform of a good number of wavering Democrats, as well as enough Republicans to make backtracking difficult. As a clear concession to that reality, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor said last week that Republicans would pursue only a “partial” repeal of health-care reform in their 2010 campaign…

In any event, congressional Democrats have already voted on health-care bills — they cannot escape that. Instead, they should ask themselves: Would they rather defend a successful law or an unsuccessful year-long legislative imbroglio? As was true after the Clinton health plan went down in flames in 1994, failing to pass health-care reform would cripple public perceptions of the Democrats’ ability to govern. And as was true in 1994, the Democrats most endangered would be moderates, not liberals. The Blue Dogs may be hearing the loudest calls to turn tail. But they stand to lose the most if the governing reputation of their party goes down with reform.