A reader writes:

You write that you yourself would have voted against the stimulus bill; and then, a few posts later, observe that the unified opposition of House Republicans indicates that the "remaining rump will seek ideological purity and attack the president from the get-go."

That's not the debate to which I listened yesterday. What I heard was a Republican Party united in its opinion that the stimulus package was misguided, but reluctant to attack either the motives or the character of its chief proponent. That's a striking change in tone and rhetoric.

To be sure, Speaker Pelosi came in for a fair amount of abuse. And there's no doubt that the rump party is more extreme. But I don't want a Washington in which partisan disagreements disappear. I want a Congress in which disputes center on the substantive merits of legislation. I want a basic presumption of good intentions to prevail, and for each side to listen to and learn from the other's arguments.

By those measures, this first package was a success. It included more tax cuts than Democrats were initially inclined to favor, because Obama listened to those critics on the right pressing for a more immediate stimulus. The President journeyed to Capitol Hill to exchange ideas with his opponents, and the tone of that conversation was open and respectful. The idea of changing the culture of Washington isn't that bills should garner unanimous support, or even a strongly bipartisan majority. It's that legislation should reflect the best ideas of both sides, and that debate should be respectful. We're certainly not there yet, but I'd say we're making good progress.

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