Listen to the content all those "pretty speeches" Obama made on the campaign trail (and after) and you'll notice some recurring themes. This is no time for (partisan) politics as usual, for example. Or that the issues facing our nation are big enough that we can find common ground within them.
What the author calls a "quest for the lowest common denominator" is, in actuality, exactly what Obama promised us. Let's pass the parts of health care reform we agree on (and, despite the constant bellowing from pundits and senators alike about public options or abortion rights, there *is* a lot we agree on) and move on to the next thing. Because there are a whole lot of next things waiting for our attention.
Anyway, this Atul Gawande piece in the New Yorker makes me think what we're getting isn't so bad in the first place: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/12/14/091214fa_fact_gawande