Column: Civil Feinstein delivered results but irked ideologues
Senator Dianne Feinstein, California’s most successful senator, has become an anachronism. She practiced politeness and made compromises with the other side.
In this way, the state’s first woman senator has accomplished so many important things in an increasingly antagonistic political world.
In this way important legislation was passed before social media and cable “news” provided wide ranging platforms for demagogues and encouraged the ideological extremes on both sides.
Today, politeness and compromise are seen as too old-fashioned, especially among many younger political activists.
Republican voters in California have never really accepted the Democrat, who at 30 is California’s longest-serving senator and currently the oldest member of the Senate. I suspect that’s mostly because her hometown is uber-liberal San Francisco.
And polarized progressives in her own party have grown increasingly intolerant of the pragmatic centrist, claiming she is too soft and unrelated to today’s tack politics.
“I like working non-partisan,” she told me two years ago. “Some leftists don’t like that. But the Senate should do that. It benefits people.”
One of their most inexcusable “sins” was hugging a Republican.
OK, maybe it wasn’t the wisest gesture given the heated political climate.
She was the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2020 when President Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee, conservative Amy Coney Barrett, was up for confirmation. Feinstein was criticized by the Liberals for an allegedly poor performance. But there was nothing a Democrat could have done to keep Barrett out of court. Republicans controlled the Senate.
After the hearings concluded, Feinstein congratulated Committee Chair Lindsey Graham (RS.C.) on the day’s well-conducted session.
“I shook his hand and he hugged me and I got hell,” she later told me.
“If I can’t be on good terms with someone just because they’re Republican … that’s not good.”
The whole hug controversy seemed bizarre. Watch a professional basketball or soccer game and you’ll see players hugging after a contest. But that’s no longer allowed in America’s most important game: government.
Another Feinstein sin: publicly hoping that the Republican president would pull himself together and become a good leader. Sure, it was the offensive, classless Donald Trump. But are we really so polarized that wishing an American president well is taboo?
“Look, this man will most likely be president for the rest of this term,” she told the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco in 2017, eight months into Trump’s presidency.
“I think we need to have some patience… I just hope he has the ability to learn and change. And if he does, he can be a good president. And that is my hope.”
boos from the audience.
“I have to be able to get things done,” she told the crowd. “You have to work with people. And a punch in the nose won’t do it.”
But Trump became more abysmal. And Feinstein often denounced his policies, which included attempting to drill for oil off the California coast, implementing a “hateful deportation program” and “appeasing American Nazis.”
However, it was considered too soft. Soft?
Fighting the CIA and intelligence agencies for years to expose the un-American torture of terror suspects was hardly gentle.
None fought the gun lobby to pass a 10-year federal ban on assault weapons. She paid a political price for this.
A moment from Feinstein’s 1994 re-election campaign, which she narrowly won, will stay with me for a long time.
She was in Chico. A man in jeans and a girl about 8 years old were standing on a sidewalk. As Feinstein got out of her car a few yards away, the man took the child by the hand, knelt down and pointed a finger at her.
“Look,” he said to the girl. “You don’t want to grow up like that.”
A US Senator – an object of hatred in this father’s eyes – was no role model for his young daughter. How warped was that?
The white man was among numerous gun worshipers who protested the senator’s ban on assault weapons.
Feinstein’s greatest sin, of course, was growing old. She is 89 and suffers from memory lapses, it has been widely reported.
“I don’t feel like my cognitive abilities have diminished,” she said in December 2020 when I asked her about it. “No, not really. Do I sometimes forget something? Well possible.”
But apparently it has gotten worse. She has been pressured by party activists and pundits to resign, or at least to announce that she will not run for a sixth term. I guess she didn’t need the pressure. She is a realist.
On Tuesday, Feinstein announced what was expected: She will serve out her term and retire late next year.
“That time has come,” she told reporters outside the Senate chamber. “There is time for all things under the sun.”
As always, she is supported by an experienced, loyal staff. She pushes her hard.
“She’s a constant manager, a real believer in details and does her homework. And she insists that everyone else do their homework,” said Gil Duran, her former Senate press secretary and journalist.
He added: “Most of the people I know who are senior executives have a lot of respect for her. There is a difference between demanding and humiliating.”
Former political writer Jerry Roberts, who wrote a biography of Feinstein that focused on her tenure as San Francisco’s first mayor, said, “When she started her career, she was a black-haired beauty and everyone thought she was a show horse. But she was a workhorse.
“All they cared about was the work, figuring out how to fix stuff. We’re in dire need of that in California today.”
Thankfully, she chose to complete her tenure rather than resign. So millions of California voters will choose their successor – not a governor.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2023-02-16/column-civil-feinstein-delivered-results-but-irked-ideologues Column: Civil Feinstein delivered results but irked ideologues