Reformers feel certain that the time is now ripe for progressive legislation to ensure universal citizen access to health insurance and to contain rising costs in the health care industry. But history shows us that reformers were equally confident in earlier periods of modern U.S. history, only to find themselves defeated by conservatives willing to deploy ideological, emotionally charged arguments against government-sponsored reforms. Today's advocates of inside-the-beltway bargains for hammering out compromise reforms may be vulnerable to similar conservative counterattacks. Reformers need to engage the U.S. citizenry as a whole in democratic discussion about the ideals of government-sponsored health care reforms. Advocates of single-payer plans can do this more readily than supporters of complex public-private schemes such as play or pay or managed competition, but all those who want inclusive and effective reforms during the 1990s must face the challenge of democratic dialogue.