The most Democratic state in the nation elected a Republican to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. That's a verdict President Obama and congressional Democrats can't obscure with excuses or set aside as a fluke.
Of course, it's anyone's guess exactly what Massachusetts voters were saying Tuesday as they strongly favored Republican state Sen. Scott Brown over state Attorney General Martha Coakley.
But the election certainly does not mean that Democrats should pass health reform by any procedural means necessary. Brown's ability to deny Democrats a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate was an undeniable part of his triumph.
Even some of those Americans inclined to support efforts to reform health care, including The Eagle editorial board, have objected to the side deals and secrecy of the process. When you campaign on transparency, then operate in the dark — making inexplicable and costly exceptions for certain states and constituencies — you invite distrust.
And while Obama and the Democrats have been obsessively focused on overhauling health care, Americans have been worrying about joblessness, government spending and the threat of terrorism.
Health care still needs reform. And Democrats at least have tried to make their plan pay for itself — something Republicans didn't bother to do when they added the Medicare prescription-drug benefit in 2003.
But it wouldn't be a bad thing if Obama and his allies on Capitol Hill now reordered their priorities and sought to tackle the problems of access and affordability in American health care incrementally, and with some measure of bipartisanship.
That would require Republicans, including those in the Kansas delegation, to be serious about health reform themselves. The House Republican plan offered last fall didn't count. Though it had some good ideas, including medical malpractice reform, it would have increased the number of uninsured to 52 million people by 2019 and increased the deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Republicans also have mistaken the public's uneasiness with the Democrats' reform for an endorsement of the status quo, casting themselves as defenders of a system that has left many uninsured — including 330,000 in Kansas — and many more underinsured and at risk of uninsurability and medical-related bankruptcy.
Still, the Massachusetts results, last fall's New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial elections, last year's tea parties and town hall near-brawls, the opinion polls finding that 57.3 percent of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track — added together, they prove that the Democrats have not made their case, especially on health care reform.
Public opinion matters, and it's not on the Democrats' side at the moment.