‘A RARE BUT CLEAR AND UNOBSTRUCTED VIEW OF WHAT THAT PARTY STANDS FOR’…. My friend Rachel Maddow has been on quite a roll lately, with some tremendous pre-election segments related to the campaign cycle, the candidates, the parties, and what’s at stake. Last night’s recap of the legislative record of the last 21 months was especially noteworthy.

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Rachel noted what we all assume to be true — “Republican will pick a lot of seats” today, and we “will likely be entering into a period of divided power” — but she took stock of what Democrats delivered. Indeed, she noted that when one party controls the levers of power, Americans get “a rare but clear and unobstructed view of what that party stands for, what that party’s made of, what that party values.”

And at that point, Rachel began a stroll down memory lane, noting the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as the first Democratic accomplishment of 2009. It was soon followed by new consumer safeguards related to credit card companies, long-awaited regulation of the tobacco industry, a hate-crimes bill, expansion of children’s health care, and a national service bill.

Then there’s the bigger-ticket, better-known items: sweeping student-loan reforms, the successful cash-for-clunkers program and the rescue of the American automotive industry, the economy-saving Recovery Act, the Affordable Care Act, and Wall Street reform.

Rachel also took note of the words of the national commander of the American Legion, who explained that President Obama and the Democrats in Congress did more for veterans in these last 21 months than has been done in a very long time.

“The Democratic Party has had control of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives for the last 21 months,” she concluded. “Forget the individual fights over the individual provisions of the individual bills. Forget the lost amendment fights and the process complaints.

“Democrats had a choice when they became the governing party. When they won those last two elections and they took control of the two branches of government that are subject to partisan control in our country, they could have governed in a way that was about accumulating political capital with the primary goal of winning the next election. They could have governed in constant campaign mode. Or they could have governed in a way that was about using their political capital, not accumulating more of it, about spending the political capital they had to get a legislative agenda done, to tackle big, complex, longstanding problems that had languished.

“The record of legislative achievement of the last 21 months was not designed to win the midterm elections and it will not win the midterm elections. The pendulum will swing back toward the Republicans and we’ll go back to divided government again. The legislative agenda of the last 21 months was policy, not politics. It was designed to get stuff done for the country. And in that sense, it’s an investment in long-term political reward, not short-term political reward, as Democrats expect after a list of accomplishments like this to be judged as the party that took on problems when it had the chance, even if they had to pay a short-term political price.

“The political capital that Democrats accumulated over the last two elections was spent in these last 21 months. And it was spent on policy, hard votes with long-time horizons that don’t translate into killing the other party in the next election.

“If you listen to the criticism, particularly from the left, heading into these elections, what you often hear is that Democrats are going to lose in these elections because they didn’t get enough done. You know, big picture, if that were true, that would be depressing. It’s not actually the true big picture, though. The fact is, that Democrats got a lot done, a lot of hard stuff done on hard problems in a short amount of time. The price they may end up paying for that is losing a midterm election. Democrats’ choice is whether or not it’s worth it.”

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.