The crux of what I'm saying is: Healthcare reform is not unpopular; the healthcare reform process is unpopular. The two are difficult to disaggregate which is part of the reason why I discount the polls that say Healthcare reform is unpopular. Given the wide agreement that the healthcare system in this country is too expensive and broken to a greater or lesser degree, I think that the passing the bill and putting some reform in place may ex post facto render Healthcare reform popular. I may be wrong and, whether it becomes popular will depend on the ability of its proponents to present it convincingly in a popular light, but three things are true today: 1. The healthcare reform process is unpopular; 2. the duration of the healthcare reform process has hurt the Democrats politically; and 3. healthcare reform is necessary. If the Democrats are going to pay a political price regardless of its passage—and they will—then passing something, giving them the opportunity to change the conversation and demonstrate an ability to govern, is the better tactic.
UPDATE: David Plouffe writes in today's Washington Post:
[P]olitically speaking, if we do not pass [healthcare reform], the GOP will continue attacking the plan as if we did anyway, and voters will have no ability to measure its upside. If we do pass it, dozens of protections and benefits take effect this year. Parents won't have to worry their children will be denied coverage just because they have a preexisting condition. Workers won't have to worry that their coverage will be dropped because they get sick. Seniors will feel relief from prescription costs. Only if the plan becomes law will the American people see that all the scary things Sarah Palin and others have predicted -- such as the so-called death panels -- were baseless. We own the bill and the health-care votes. We need to get some of the upside.