It was Pelosi, in a meeting with President Obama after Republican Sen. Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts, who rebuffed Rahm Emanuel’s argument that comprehensive health reform couldn’t pass, so Democrats should retreat to a modest bill that focused on expanded coverage for children. ‘What makes you think I would support that?’ she bluntly asked. Pelosi understood, as did Obama, that Democrats had to act in this session of Congress — or forfeit for another decade or more the chance to move decisively toward health care as a fundamental right of all Americans. She then persuaded her members to live with the Senate version of reform, and to trust that the filibuster-challenged body would pass the necessary amendments.

It was a legislative tour de force from someone who plainly believes that the purpose of politics goes beyond serving the self-interest of politicians. From the stimulus that averted a second Great Depression to Wall Street reform to the transformation and expansion of college student aid, Pelosi and the President have written more landmark legislation than anyone in nearly half a century. Majority Leader Harry Reid did his best in the sclerotic Senate, and at critical moments change squeaked by the Republican blockade.