If anti-incumbent fervor peaks in tomorrow's primaries, the President will have to face squarely his own part in creating it with a Pyrrhic victory on health care.
In yet another instant-history book on the Obama White House, Jonathan Alter reveals that Rahm Emanuel "begged" the President last summer to scale back the mess that Congressional Democrats were creating but was rebuffed. "This is about whether we're going to get big things done," the Change President insisted.
The biggest Change, it turns out, is a tectonic shift in voter mood strong enough to reverse the inertia that has always kept American politics relatively stable, albeit at the expense of making the correction of inequity and injustice a slow process.
Now movement is fast enough to shake pillars of both parties in a rage against Washington of which Tea Party success is only a symptom, a rage fueled by nearly a year-long spectacle of Republicans yowling impotently while Democrats butchered and bargained over thousands of incomprehensible pages to buy off their own dissidents.
Last week's unseating of long-time Sen. Bob Bennett in Utah offers a microcosm of the new mood, in which a Republican stalwart was ousted for such crimes as having proposed, in collaboration with Democrat Ron Wyden, a solution praised by many experts in which "health dollars would be controlled by the individual (a long-time conservative goal) and used within a restructured, heavily regulated, totally universal, insurance marketplace (a longtime liberal goal)."
But such rational behavior, along with a vote for the TARP bank bailout (first proposed by the Bush Administration), was enough to bring down Bennett as a traitor to a mood that recalls William Butler Yeats in the aftermath of World War I: "Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world...The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."
As a president who inherited disasters after eight years of government paralysis, Barack Obama has, in most instances, moved with caution and care to get the country back on the right path and is this week on the verge of getting another complicated bill on regulating the financial industry passed by Congress.
But that news will be overshadowed by his determination, against shrewd political judgment, to go for broke on health care reform that most Americans still don't understand and the results of which won't affect their lives until years from now.
According to one of the President's favorite philosophers, Reinhold Niebuhr, "Moral reason must learn how to make coercion its ally without running the risk of a Pyrrhic victory in which the ally exploits and negates the triumph."
Tomorrow's voting results may very well underscore the wisdom of that advice.