CLOSING THE RHETORIC/REALITY GAP…. Perhaps the most noteworthy portion of today’s event in Baltimore, during the Q&A between President Obama and House Republicans, came during an exchange on health care reform.

The president explained that the “component parts” of the Democratic reform plan are “pretty similar to what Howard Baker, Bob Dole and Tom Daschle proposed at the beginning of this debate last year.” Obama reminded GOP lawmakers that they may or may not agree with those three, but by any measure, “that’s not a radical bunch.”

He added, “But if you were to listen to the debate, and, frankly, how some of you went after this bill, you’d think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot. That’s how you guys presented it…. I know you guys disagree, but if you look at the facts of this bill, most independent observers would say this it’s similar to what many Republicans proposed to Bill Clinton when he was doing his debate on health care.

“So all I’m saying is we’ve got to close the gap a little bit between the rhetoric and the reality.”

Hear, hear. The biggest irony of the entire health care debate is that Republicans had a complete meltdown — and may have very well killed the best chance America has ever had to reform a dysfunctional system — over an entirely moderate bill. Whether they actually believe their own nonsense is unclear, but Republicans managed to convince most of the country that the reform plan is a wildly-liberal, freedom-killing government takeover of one-sixth of the economy. It’s tempting to think no one could possibly so dumb as to believe this, but it is, right now, the majority viewpoint in the United States.

But that’s precisely why the president’s comments were so important — Americans probably should learn the truth about this at some point. The Democratic plan is exactly the kind of proposal that should have generated bipartisan support — it cuts costs, lowers the deficit, and adds wildly popular consumer protections, while bringing coverage to tens of millions who need it. It includes provisions long-favored by Republicans and policy wonks of both parties.

Indeed, as I noted the other day, if you were to have assembled a bipartisan group of wonks a couple of years ago, and asked them to put together a comprehensive plan that incorporates ideas and long-sought goals from both parties, they would have crafted a plan that looks an awful lot like the current Democratic plan. That’s just reality.

That the GOP considers this centrist proposal “a Bolshevik plot” only helps reinforce how fundamentally unserious they are about public policy.

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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.