"ALL government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter."
So said the 18th-century British statesman Edmund Burke, revered as one of the founding fathers of modern conservative thought. But the ranks of the Republican Party are today packed with those who have forgotten that compromise is the lifeblood of politics, rendering their party anemic at a crucial moment in the nation's history.
Enter Olympia Snowe, a Republican senator from Maine and a full-blooded maverick who displays the independence of mind characteristic of her home state. She alone among Republicans had the wisdom and courage to vote for the health-care bill that made its way out of the Senate Finance Committee on a 14-9 vote on Tuesday.
Senator Snowe helped write the bill, but she is far from satisfied with it. She made it clear that her vote on this day did not guarantee a positive vote on another - which is entirely fair. This bill has to be reconciled with others and who knows what will happen behind closed doors.
So no one should have the illusion that this is any way a fig leaf of bipartisanship. It is, rather, a reproach on the lack of bipartisanship. It shows what can be done when ideology is put aside and a reasonable give and take is instead the goal. As it played out, everyone in the Senate chamber hung on her every word.
Senator Snowe heard what her colleagues are deaf to in their petulance: the call of history. "Is it all that it can be?" she asked rhetorically. "No. But when history calls, history calls. I happen to think that the consequences of inaction dictate the urgency of Congress taking every opportunity to demonstrate its capacity to solve the monumental issues of our time."
Health-care reform is one of those issues and Republican intransigence on the particulars of this bill or that does not change the fact of its importance.
Democrats would be wise to consider her counsel as a final version of the legislation emerges. Let the compromise and barter proceed to form a lasting human benefit that is both virtuous and prudent.