THE BLOG
11/17/2010 02:49 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Single Most Important Thing

Last night, on a recently resurrected Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Bill Maher was his usual confrontational self, likening Glen Beck's rants to playing with one's own, ahem, fecal matter. At one point during the exchange between Olbermann and his like-minded guest, Maher said something poignant and, of course, controversial: He claimed that there weren't any moderates in the GOP. Of course that's an exaggeration--I've interviewed Maher before and being over-the-top his the name of his game. There are a few relatively moderate Republicans in the Senate, alone--namely Olympia Snowe and, arguably, Scott Brown. (Sometimes it appears as though Lindsey Graham wants to break free from hard-line conservative cronyism--just not most of the time.) Still, Maher's point is well made. The Republicans have taken a sharp turn away from bipartisanship, compromise and, perhaps most strikingly, civility in government.

Here in Colorado, we can be thankful that being a moderate was the winning formula a couple of weeks ago. Governor-elect John Hickenlooper and Senator Michael Bennet (by most accounts improbably) join Senator Mark Udall and other marginally left-of-center politicians in representation of our state. But, what's the theme here? They're all Democrats.

I had hoped that when the Republicans picked up a slew of seats in Congress that they would be willing to cooperate, get some things done and move forward. (I think, but am not sure, that many people who voted for some of these Republicans hoped for the same thing.) But, then we get this, from Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."

Certainly the comment has been widely publicized, but probably not widely enough. "The single most important thing"? Really, Mitch? How about creating jobs or preventing a terrorist attack or, hey, even abolishing the filibuster in the Senate?

It'd be easy for progressives to dismiss the right wing wave as a bunch of crazies--much as Matt Taibbi did in a recent Rolling Stone roundtable. (Many of the people at those pre-election rallies were, it seems.) But, for better or for worse, the Democrats have to try to be progressive and bipartisan, no matter who may be lurking on the other side of the proverbial aisle. And not "progressive" as Bill Maher or Keith Olbermann (or even myself) might envision it. They need to keep moving forward with creative legislation and keep progress going by any means necessary.
The Republicans didn't have much of a message in the midterm elections and nihilism and/or naysaying is all they've got now. (If a Republican Senator has proposed a constructive measure for the upcoming Congress, please let me know what is.) For his part, McConnell has seemingly ranked repealing health care second on his to-do (or to-don't?) list.

That, of course, would be a shame. It took decades to get a health care bill through the Senate and just because the provisions haven't come to fruition, yet, shortsightedness and fear should not trump constructive--here that word is again--progress. The bill is relatively--and this one again, too!--moderate. On the same program last night, Maher compared it to Bob Dole's proposed medical legislation of the '90s and even if no Republicans voted for it, many concessions were made to right-of-center Dems. (Anecdotally, this week I received a note from my health care provider--a major national company--outlining four additional coverage requirements that will go into effect before the New Year because of the signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Waiving pre-existing conditions for children under 19 and allowing those up to 26 to be covered by their parent's insurance: Who could possibly be against that?)

Certainly the Democrats and President Obama did a terrible job of defending such accomplishments and, more importantly, of turning them into votes. In his post-election coverage in The New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg wrote, "This year, more Democratic candidates seemed to apologize for the health-care law--notwithstanding its imperfections, their party's greatest accomplishment in generations, the fulfillment of a century-long dream--than to proclaim it. Compromise, timidity, and the ugliness of the legislative process--not all of it unavoidable--have exacted a steep toll." He believes the next legislative sessions will be marked by Democrats trying to fend off health care repeal while the economy rides the laissez-faire rollercoaster. Still, the Democrats have no other options besides trying to work with Republicans; the new numbers don't lie. All the while, these Democrats need to keep the American people's progress in mind as their "single most important thing." If the Republicans act solely as a cork in the bottle, then here's hoping those who think like Mitch McConnell won't be popping any champagne on November 6, 2012.