President Joe Biden speaks about his $1.85 trillion spending bill in...

President Joe Biden speaks about his $1.85 trillion spending bill in the White House on Thursday before heading off to the G-20 summit in Italy. Credit: JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Before President Joe Biden jetted off to Europe for meetings with world leaders at the G-20 gathering in Italy and the big climate change summit in Scotland, getting his $1.85 trillion spending bill passed was characterized at various times and in various ways by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the White House, other Democratic officials, and assorted involved parties, pundits and observers as necessary for Biden to be able to show his international colleagues that American democracy still works.

After the big lie about the 2020 election, the Jan. 6 Capitol assault, the efforts to undo the last electoral results and twist the next ones, and the nation's ruinous ongoing polarization, it's only natural that the world looks at us with a collective arched eyebrow. So the desire of America's leader to reassure the world that America is functional is well-justified.

But you don't need passage of a mammoth transformational piece of legislation to prove that. The process of getting to the point of taking a vote is proof enough. Because that's the essence of democracy.

Granted, negotiations in Washington have been difficult. But democracy is always difficult. It's messy and maddening, even in good times. Smooth sailing on critical legislation is rare — witness the 20 years it took to pass Medicare — especially when partisan tensions are high.

Negotiation and compromise, built into our system from our founding, are exactly what's supposed to happen. They're a sign that democracy is working, not that it isn't. Certainly, negotiations will be more fraught when one party decides to sit them out and when the other party committed to doing the governing includes such disparate actors as Joe Manchin and Bernie Sanders as well as numerous others of divergent philosophical families.

Many onlookers have been eager to assume at many points that the process was going off the rails because it wasn't coming to a quick conclusion. That's another manifestation of our national results-now mindset in which we neither want to, nor generally have to, wait for anything. It's a time when we can stream anything we want anytime and get answers from Siri in milliseconds, when the new coach has one year or maybe two to turn the team around and something is terribly wrong if the Amazon shipment takes more than two days, and when our brains are additionally stimulated by 24/7 cable news reporting every tiny step and offhand utterance as a decisive blow or monumental gain.

Legislation that takes months to come together? Oh, the horror.

The Democrats didn't inject any sanity into the proceedings by giving themselves arbitrary deadlines that likely were impossible to meet. Again, the urge is understandable. Deadlines are meant to get one focused. They add urgency to the process. But they also can make it look like you're failing, and make it easy for critics to say you're failing, when you don't meet them. Given the opportunity, Democrats will shoot themselves in the foot every time.

Nor has the media helped. Its obsession with the process, and its characterizations of the normal give-and-take of negotiating and the time-honored use of leverage as obstacles and setbacks rather than traditional stages of parleying, have described a party at war with itself with casualties and hostilities mounting.

In the meantime, progress inarguably was made. The ball kept moving up the legislative field. Which, on its own, doesn't mean they'll cross the goal line. And if they don't, or if the bill that's passed is too narrow to be transformational, well, democracy is never best graded on a short curve (see Medicare).

If this bill does become law, the cry will go forth that democracy does indeed work. But it was working all along, even as the other attacks on it continue.

Columnist Michael Dobie's opinions are his own.


FOR OUR BEST OFFER ONLY 25¢ for 5 months

Unlimited Digital Access.

cancel anytime.