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Once again, John McCain answered the call.

The senator from Arizona rose from his sick bed Tuesday to travel to Washington to cast the deciding vote on a measure to begin debate on a health care bill, and also to deliver a stinging rebuke to a Senate riven by partisanship and populated by politicians who, as McCain said, are more interested in “winning” than they are improving the condition of the American people.

He urged the Senate to restore its role as “the greatest deliberative body in the world” and relearn the art of compromise to achieve legislation that works for the broadest number of Americans.

“Our deliberations can still be important and useful, but I think we can all agree that they haven’t been overburdened by greatness lately,” the aging parliamentarian said. “What have we to lose by trying to work together to find those solutions?”

That’s a great question. And one every politician in Washington should be made to answer.

The breakdown not just in civility but in effective governing that has been building for a generation is cheating Americans of opportunity and progress.

McCain reminded the senators that they make up an independent body, equal to the executive branch, and that they don’t work for the president. He spoke directly to those in his party who are scared to death of breaking from rigid ideological positions for fear of backlash from ideologues.

“Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the internet. To hell with them!” McCain told them.

Many Democrats cheered McCain’s call for collaboration — after they voted unanimously as a caucus against the procedural bill to begin debate on the House health care bill passed earlier this year. If the Arizonian’s words are to bear fruit, Democrats in particular will have to back off their total resistance stance and contribute their solutions and votes.

If McCain gets his wish, Tuesday’s vote will be followed by vigorous debate on how to straighten out the mess that is Obamacare, with both Republicans and Democrats allowed to offer ideas and amendments.

A comprehensive bill remains a long shot. Most likely the Senate will pass narrow legislation that moves to conference committee, where the real work will be done.

Whatever happens, the Senate should heed the scolding delivered Tuesday by perhaps the last adult in its midst.

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