Whoever is declared the winner, the outcome of the Massachusetts senatorial election is neither a mandate for President Obama's liberal agenda nor a license for a return to status quo ante of George Bush.

The fact that a conservative has put Ted Kennedy's seat in play is a repudiation of Democrats' recent partisan governing style, and an agenda that is simply out of step with the real change Americans want.

From health care to jobs to the banks, it's time for Democrats to stop accusing critics of deceiving the public and to step back and ask what voters will accept.

On health care, Americans don't want a comprehensive federal takeover and higher taxes. To cover the uninsured, they would support reforms that make Medicaid and other federal programs for the poor much more cost efficient, and changes that lower prices and don't more severely ration access for middle class Americans already paying for health care.

A new health care bill should focus on lowering drug prices to those paid by health systems in other high income counties like Germany and Canada, ending the inefficiencies imposed by a mindless malpractice system other advanced countries don't have, and aligning doctors pay and insurance company administrative costs with those in Europe.

Real reform should not require new taxes or higher premiums, but rather should lower the cost of health care -- that's the yardstick the president should use, not budget neutrality.

Regarding unemployment, the president needs to acknowledge that the stimulus package will not deliver the 4 million jobs promised, and that fanciful dreams of replacing 8 million or 9 million jobs over three years with new opportunities in green industries and smart buildings are just that -- fanciful dreams.

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