PASS THE DAMN BILL…. Panic and despair can easily cloud the judgment of people who are otherwise reasonable. Today, a few too many congressional Democrats are losing their cool and concluding they’ll be better off if health care reform dies.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, that’s backward. David Axelrod talked to Sam Stein, and offered a more sensible assessment.

“We need to move forward aggressively, continuing on job creation, and on financial regulatory reform,” White House senior adviser David Axelrod told the Huffington Post. “But we should finish health care because the caricature of that bill is there and everyone who voted for it will have to live with that. The way to deal with that is to pass the bill and let people see… the value of it.”

“It is not just getting the achievement under the belt,” Axelrod added. “I think there are tangible benefits that people will accrue across this country as soon as this bill is signed. They will have more leverage, have more prescription drug coverage, Medicare is going to be extended by a decade… If we don’t pass it and [Obama] doesn’t sign it than the caricature created by the insurance industry and opponents in Congress will prevail and everyone will have to live with that. There is no political sense to that and I hope people will see that and move forward.”

I’d hoped that this would be obvious. It’s not. The need for Congress to pass health care reform has actually gotten stronger, not weaker, in the wake of the Massachusetts results.

Let’s review the reasons:

1. The health care status quo is still broken, and Americans still need relief.

Policymakers have been talking about fixing our dysfunctional health care system for 98 years because American families, communities, and businesses need help. If congressional Democrats quit on their signature issue, tens of millions of Americans will still have no coverage; tens of thousands of Americans with no insurance will die; medical bankruptcies will continue to soar; premiums will still strain Americans’ wallets; wages will remain stunted; seniors stuck in the “donut hole” will still suffer; and unsustainable costs will still cripple businesses and government budgets. The problem won’t get better just because the insurance industry and right-wing political forces have convinced much of the country to fear and detest a reasonable solution. If the scare tactics win, Americans lose.

2. The political risks are much greater if Dems throw in the towel.

Congressional Democrats have already voted for the controversial health care reform bill. Do they seriously believe the electorate will be impressed if they spend a year doing the hard work of tackling this seemingly-impossible challenge, pass the landmark legislation, and then let it die? They think that’s the smart political move that increases their chance of wining re-election?

Failure begets failure. Choosing to walk away would be electoral suicide — the attacks from the right will only be more intense for Dems who voted for reform before deciding to throw in the towel.

The reform initiative has obviously suffered in the face of an intense misinformation campaign. But Dems stand a far better chance of persevering if they at least take their case to the public, and explain the strengths of the proposal. There is literally no upside to the majority party asking voters for support after failing to do what they said they would do. Democrats were elected to finally pass health care reform; there will be no reward for turning success into a fiasco.

As Paul Begala said last night, “If it’s the end of health care, it’s the end of the Democratic majority.” Josh Marshall added, “The Dems have no choice but to finish the job. No choice.”

3. This is why Democrats exist.

I’ll just quote Ezra on this one: “[A] Democratic Party that would abandon their central initiative this quickly isn’t a Democratic Party that deserves to hold power. If they don’t believe in the importance of their policies, why should anyone who’s skeptical change their mind? If they’re not interested in actually passing their agenda, why should voters who agree with Democrats on the issues work to elect them? A commitment provisional on Ted Kennedy not dying and Martha Coakley not running a terrible campaign is not much of a commitment at all.”

As Kennedy reminded his party 30 years ago, “If the Democrats run for cover, if we become pale carbon copies of the opposition, we will lose — and deserve to lose. The last thing this country needs is two Republican parties.”

4. Democrats need to show they can govern and get something done.

Voters want to see progress. They want to see the change they voted for. They want proof that policymakers can identify a problem, work on a solution, and then pass legislation. Voters are more impressed with results than excuses.

To come this far before fumbling on the one-yard line only reinforces the worst of the attacks — a huge Democratic majority fought for a year to pass their top domestic policy priority, but then quit when things got tough. The adjectives aren’t hard to guess: weak, incompetent, and ineffective. It’s not exactly the image the party should try to convey in already-difficult year.

5. This is probably a now-or-never situation.

Politicians, by their nature, tend to be a little cowardly. Once in a while, a leader will step up, take a risk, and tackle a chronic problem that policymakers would prefer to ignore. Every time professional liars intervene to crush the solution, the cowardice is reinforced and leaders are reminded not to try to make things better.

If health care reform dies, it’ll be another 20 years before anyone tries again, and all the while, the dysfunctional status quo will get even worse and more Americans will suffer.

Here’s the bottom line for Democrats: show some backbone, remember why you’re there, and pass the damn bill. Americans are counting on you; don’t let them down.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.