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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Reading the tea leaves of infrastructure

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) seems to

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) seems to have made the calculation that a solid infrastructure package could help the Republicans. Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

I generally am an optimist. Except when I'm not. Swinging between pessimism and the sunny side of the street doesn't make me a realist, either.

I suspect I'm not alone in lurching from one frame of mind to another these days. Such are the range of inputs we receive.

Take infrastructure, for example.

Should one be optimistic after a bipartisan group of United States senators — five Democrats, five Republicans — and another 10 or so similarly delineated colleagues agreed on the rough parameters of spending some $1.2 trillion on infrastructure? And after the White House signaled its apparent agreement? And after two-thirds of all senators twice voted to continue with the process?

Or should one be pessimistic after some of the more liberal Democrats in the House voiced their frustration that favored projects and initiatives — particularly those regarding climate change — were not in the bill? And that they might be ready to play the disruptive role for their party that the Freedom Caucus did for Republicans not so long ago? And that there is no shortage of House Republicans eager to foil any initiative favored by President Joe Biden? And that they and their GOP senatorial colleagues are being egged on in obstinacy by former President Donald Trump? And that some Republicans are mouthing concerns about fiscal restraint after four years of obliviousness?

Or should one be more of a realist, calm down, take note of the midterm elections looming next year, and realize that infrastructure projects are typically embraced by constituents? And that being able to take credit for delivering money and jobs is an easy sales pitch? And that Senate Minority Leader and chief obstructionist Mitch McConnell seems to have made the calculation that a solid infrastructure package could help him regain control of the Senate next year?

I dearly want to believe in this blush of bipartisanship. I want to believe that this could work like muscle memory, that having succeeded once will make it easier to repeat the action, that working together to bring home an infrastructure package could lead to some kind of comprehensive immigration reform and some common sense gun control legislation supported by the vast majority of Americans. I want to believe this could be the start of something and not merely a unicorn moment.

But then I think about how one party is attempting to undermine a different kind of infrastructure — the one girding our free and fair elections — and how many of its members are still in thrall to a warped and fictional view of the last election and the events of Jan. 6, and about how so many people are still refusing to do the right thing in the fight against COVID-19, and I'm back to thinking that it will be a miracle of mutual benefit if this infrastructure bill makes it to the finish line.

A wise co-worker once remarked that one never knows what another person really thinks or believes, only what they say they think or believe, a maxim exceedingly apt for Washington. So we read the tea leaves and wonder, and hope.

At times like these, my grandfather used to look for a patch of brightness in a stormy sky, and he always seemed to find one. I see it, too.

Or do I?

Columnist Michael Dobie's opinions are his own.