By contrast, jumping in the deep end involves a little more risk: You might feel really cold for a few seconds. But you'll probably get comfortable pretty quickly. And, once you've made the decision to jump, you're guaranteed to be in the water. You can't get un-wet.
When it comes to achieving universal health care, Obama wants to wade into it: He doesn't want to move everybody into universal coverage until the arrangements are all in place and people feel totally comfortable with it. Yes, he's promising to cover everybody. But the promise is only as good as his word, sincere though it may be.
Those who prefer mandates--a category that, again, happens to include rival John Edwards--prefer to jump in the deep end. They want to seize this opportunity and get the mandate on the books from day one (even if, as practical matter, it's phased in so it becomes fully effective only after a few years). In so doing, they are offering what is, in effect, a stronger guarantee.
The trouble, of course, is that fundamental health care reform isn't a swimming pool. Not only that, but we don't have an especially clear thermometer to assure us that the water's safe. We do have a historical record indicating that everyone who's ever jumped in the pool has wound up on life support. Under the circumstances, I think people who believe that jumping is likely to produce good results have a lot of convincing to do.
My argument for caution, meanwhile, would just be based on the experience of 1993-94. There you had unified Democratic control of the House, Senate, and White House. A plan was introduced. The plan was overwhelmingly popular.
Many Republicans, under the circumstances, were naturally inclined to seek a compromise with the administration. They were, however, persuaded to take a huge risk and rigidly oppose the plan. The risk paid off massively. Opposing the overwhelmingly popular Clinton health care plan didn't damage GOP popularity at all. Instead, it helped produce a GOP landslide win in 1994.
Unless the Democrats have 60 Senate seats in 2009, I think it's overwhelmingly likely that this is going to happen again.