CRAVEN, CONFUSING COWARDICE…. I can appreciate why there’s at least some optimism in progressive circles about health care reform’s chances. The odds of success are clearly better than they were, say, six weeks ago.

But it’s important to remember Democrats’ capacity to shoot themselves in the foot.

By all appearances, the margin will be razor-thin in the House, where it will be imperative to keep as many Dems who voted for reform the first time on board with final passage, while reaching out to Democratic opponents to change their minds. When weak-willed incumbents like this one show almost comically-bad judgment, the task is all the more difficult.

Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-NY) voted for House health care legislation in November. But he says he’s almost certain to vote no on the Senate bill when it comes up for a vote in the House later this month, according to a report in the Utica Observer-Dispatch.

“There would have to be some dramatic changes in it for me to change my position,” Arcuri said.

Back in November, he was saying somewhat different things. “There are some parts of the Senate bill I like better, and some parts of this bill I like better than the Senate version. I look at this as piece of the whole — this is the first step in a process.”

And why, pray tell, would Arcuri vote for health care reform before voting against it? He apparently has three reasons.

The first is that he thinks the health care reform bill should be broken up into parts, and considered piecemeal. Whether Arcuri realizes it or not, this is absurd — reform doesn’t work piecemeal; the parts are interdependent.

The second is that he doesn’t like reconciliation. This, too, is a rather pathetic excuse. Not only does reconciliation exist for budget fixes, but Arcuri is in the House, where there’s already majority rule and no need for reconciliation.

The third is Arcuri’s concerns about the excise tax, which is at least coherent. But keep in mind, under the White House approach, the excise tax’s eligibility threshold is raised, and implementation would be delayed until 2018, which is intended specifically to address concerns like Arcuri’s.

In truth, Arcuri’s opposition sounds like someone searching desperately for an excuse. He’s just scared. I understand why — Arcuri represents a swing district in central New York, and he doesn’t want to lose his job for doing the right thing.

But it gets us back to the same inescapable electoral dynamic: Arcuri already voted for health care reform. He has, in other words, already taken the proverbial hit. Arcuri can reap the possible reward only if he helps deliver on the promise. If he turns tail now, the political problem doesn’t get better for his re-election campaign; it gets considerably worse.

Later this year, Arcuri is going to see one of two television attack ads in his district: (1) an ad that tells voters, “Arcuri voted to pass a liberal health care reform bill”; or (2) an ad that tells voters, “Arcuri voted to pass a liberal health care reform bill — and then ran anyway when things got tough.”

His fear notwithstanding, Arcuri will be in a much stronger position to defend himself on the heels of success, not failure. I’m not suggesting he take one for the team and vote for reform regardless of the consequences; I’m suggesting that it’s in Arcuri’s own self-interest to support good legislation that will help his constituents.

Cowardice always seems easier, but the consequences are usually far more severe.

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.