05/24/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Oh, Me of Little Faith: Health Care and Progressive Rejuvenation

After witnessing a year of dithering - and watching those brutal months of lethargy leading to the infamous Lost Summer of 2009 - I never thought that President Obama and the Democrats would get revolutionary health care reform done.

And they didn't.

But they did pass sweeping health insurance regulation, a historic development that may - just may - be the first step in a true reconsideration of the American "system" for providing health care, a movement that should widen the social safety net, improve care, encourage business and help us all get closer to our promise as a nation.

Led by an energized Barack Obama, who clearly realized that his Presidency rode on the outcome and that his hands-off strategy simply wasn't working, Democrats passed the biggest extension of that safety net in the last four decades. In taking the risk and riding boldly at the head of his troops, Obama largely secured his domestic legacy and energized his political base - which happens to be diverse and opinionated and loud (who'd want it any other way). He also set the the table in political terms for other signature Democratic goals: immigration reform, environmental legislation, and much-needed financial services reform.

Six months ago, I was among the legions of progressives who were down on Obama - but I've watched him fight back since just before Christmas with a growing sense of admiration and excitement. The President is easy to admire for his tone, his intelligence, and his personal story; it's the tenacity I doubted (along with the skills of the White House staff). But as they say on the game shows, "Johnny, tell Tom about his consolation prizes."

I may still believe that a concerted effort from the day after the election through the first 100 days could have yielded real, broad, structural health care reform - and I may not entirely admire the shape and substance of the much-kneaded legislation - but I cannot argue that this bill isn't an accomplishment of stunning political proportion.

If the passage of the health care bill has raised the President a tick or two on this cynic's politicometer, then Speaker Nancy Pelosi has surged from the bottom to well above eye level.

With the kind of counterclockwise arm-twisting martial arts motion the experts refer to as "Tae Kwan LBJ," Pelosi bullied the package across the line, one hacky-sack Congressman at a time. In John Boehner, who seems to have dyed his face in strange oppositional tribute to the DailyKos, Pelosi faced a counterpart who held total control over his caucus. OK, I'm exaggerating. Boehner just repeated the talking points from Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity that all the Tea Party, er, that is to say, Republican representatives did. Who can forget those wonderful handmade signs on the balcony of the minority leader's office - such artistic talent, such sharpie skillsets! And those wingtips - don't get me started.

But this post is not about the GOP. They speak for themselves and their word is "no."

It's about those rock 'em, sock 'em Democrats. As Lance Mannion says - and who am I to disagree - "nothing like this has happened in my memory." And it's true.

So it's on to immigration, I hope. As Al Giordano wrote this week: "It is unconscionable that twelve million people - children, elders,
workers, homemakers - in the United States of America are left
defenseless and persecuted for simply existing."

No kidding, and maybe - just maybe - the political wind is at the Democrats' backs. I agree with Bill Clinton's counsel to Congressional Democrats from last fall - winning breeds winning. And the early post-passage polls bear it out. I suspect the fall won't bring Blue Dog Armageddon for the Dems - but their do-nothing obstructionism against a President who was more-than-willing to deal may well damage the Republicans for quite a while (and I'm not alone, even among conservatives).

But today, I'm newly-baptized in the faith of progressive legislative process (and let's give a shout-out to left-wing bloggers who needled and bugged and pushed the President and Congress). So I'm breaking out my old Mao T-shirt and cussin' like Vice President Biden. This hopey change thing seems to be workin' out just fine right now.