Bipartisanship is a Process not an End Result

I never tire of saying that you cannot predict beforehand the results of a respectful conversation. This truth makes a charade of calls for international diplomacy that stipulate up-front what the results of that diplomacy must be. It also helps to clarify that the elusive word “bipartisanship” needs to be viewed as a process and not an end result. I will illustrate by considering the current debate as to whether President Biden is being bipartisan in his attempt to get Congress to pass a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package.

As I have argued elsewhere, the unyielding pre-condition for a respectful conversation to take place is that the conversation partners embrace that rare combination of “commitment” and “openness” that combines a willingness to express one’s beliefs about the contentious issue at hand with clarity and deep conviction at the same time that one is willing to listen carefully to the contrary beliefs of conversation partners and the reasons they have for holding to those contrary beliefs and a willingness to re-examine one’s own beliefs in light of this careful listening; which could lead (but doesn’t have to lead) to changing one’s beliefs.

In that light, I believe that a politician on either side of the political aisle is being bipartisan if he/she practices such respectful conversation characterized by exemplification of this rare combination of commitment and openness; whatever the end result of practicing such a process may turn out to be.

So, relative to the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package that President Biden has proposed, he is being bipartisan if he practices such respectful conversation in his engagement with Republicans who have proposed a $6 billion relief package. A good sign was his willingness to listen to the contrary views of 10 Republicans. It is my hope that in the weeks ahead, when there will be time to refine the 1.9 trillion proposal, such respectful conversations will continue. President Biden has indicted his willingness to talk further about elements of his proposal, like the targeting of the $1400 relief checks. I hope that such respectful conversations continue. It is possible that such ongoing conversations will not lead to major changes in the current $1.9 trillion proposal because of the compelling argument that the current needs of Americans in the wake of the devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic are so great that bold steps must be taken (an argument that is embraced by almost 70% of Americans). If this means that legislation is passed  that has no Republican support, the process of bipartisanship will still have been practiced if deliberations have been characterized by respectful conversations.

The above reflections throw light on President Biden’ claim that he wishes to promote “unity” rather than division among Americans. Such unity does not mean that all Americans will agree with whatever relief package is eventually passed by Congress. Rather, the unity that we must seek is a shared commitment to a process of deliberation that is characterized by respectful conversations.