They passed the damn bill

THEY PASSED THE DAMN BILL…. There’s a temptation, the morning after an extraordinary event, to try to capture What It All Means with something resembling insight. But when dealing with success on health care reform, and a historic victory a century in the making, where does one begin?

Perhaps with the expectations of Nov. 4, 2008. There was a sense among many when Barack Obama won a sweeping election victory that big things were not only possible, but in fact likely to happen. This was going to be a special time to bring about long-overdue change.

But as 2009 progressed, it wasn’t just cynics who started to wonder if change is even possible anymore. Indeed, it was hard to miss an emerging pattern — a progressive idea is proposed, the right reflexively rejects it, corporate interests scare the gullible, the media ignores the substance, th debate becomes overwhelmed by falsehoods and confusion, the public sours, Democrats grow frightened and fractured, and the idea dies. Introduction leads to demagoguery leads to failure. Lather, rinse, repeat.

In this sense, the debate stopped being simply about health care quite a while ago. If the recipe had been written on how to kill anything of significance, then it was easy to suspect that we might never see social reform on a grand scale again. Ever.

And just when it seemed our political system would be limited indefinitely to playing small-ball, something interesting happened. President Obama decided to keep fighting. Speaker Pelosi decided to keep fighting. Americans who elected a Democratic majority decided they weren’t going to be satisfied with failure, and they got to work.

In a result that was hard to even imagine two months ago, they won, delivering the change America needs, and delivering a brutal setback for those who demanded failure. Paul Krugman noted:

This is, of course, a political victory for President Obama, and a triumph for Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker. But it is also a victory for America’s soul. In the end, a vicious, unprincipled fear offensive failed to block reform. This time, fear struck out.

Given fear’s long winning streak, that’s no small feat, especially on a scale so grand.

It’s generally wise to not exaggerate current events in a historical context, but I don’t think it’s hyperbole to compare this breakthrough to passage of American bedrocks like Social Security and Medicare. The health care reform bill represents a towering legislative accomplishment and a transformational moment.

President Obama told Americans last night, “In the end, what this day represents is another stone firmly laid in the foundation of the American Dream. Tonight, we answered the call of history as so many generations of Americans have before us. When faced with crisis, we did not shrink from our challenge — we overcame it. We did not avoid our responsibility — we embraced it. We did not fear our future — we shaped it.”

And the nation, its people, and its future are better for it. Cherish this moment; they don’t come often.