It’s agony watching the health care initiative snail its way through congress. Pure hell to see an inch of progress one day, another inch the next…a provision refined here, a compromise there, then a goal…a date for committee vote, a stand made for a principle, and then a procedure gets in the way, a new delay-diversion tactic thrown in the way by opponents that needs to be untangled a thread at a time, a report is late, a senator is wobbly, and the goal slips. But you keep on, making millimeters of progress, keeping your eyes on the prize, the most important thing. Because you must.
It’s the legislative process, democracy, they call it, deliberate, unhurried, stick out your chin and let the opponents take their best shot, don’t quiver from the shots at the flank, keep moving, inexorably, moment to moment.
It’s much the same in local government. Witness the Comeau easement, for instance, practically on the eve of its signing. People get exasperated with the progress, hurl invective at the slowness of the process. But eyes have been kept on the prize as obstacles great and small have been surmounted and the ground has been covered, the sand sifted grain by grain. Count ‘em up and the effort is a decade’s worth…more.
That’s the way it has been for any piece of significant legislation in Woodstock, from the zoning law two decades ago to the wetlands law this year. There are no bold strokes in democracy…that stuff is for kings and despots.
So health care may take into the new year. The votes in the Senate to avoid filibuster have to be painstakingly won, cultivated, bought, bullied (and if you’re interested in this kind of stuff, read part three of Robert Caro’s Lyndon Johnson biography, Master of the Senate, about how he managed to get the 1957 Civil Rights Act through that body.) Getting legislation passed is a consummate chess match, brutal, elegant, encompassing rigidity, flexibility, and most important of all, a gripping tenacity.
If media, in its 24-hour, seven day a week news cycles, needs to pronounce its judgment of President Obama’s first year based on whether he’s succeeded in prodding congress to pass this truly transformative legislation, it will fail in its analysis. Deliberative, professional media with longer deadlines has a much better chance of seeing the bigger picture.
So bemoan not its progress. And hone an appreciation of the finer points of the legislative process. ++