She Helped Refocus The Democratic Party Establishment
I’ve followed Dianne Feinstein’s career since she was a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. She was a member of the Board long before I moved to San Francisco but I was there when they made her president of the Board in 1978 and that wasn’t a popular move with the people I was friendly with. I never voted for her— not for Sup, not for Mayor, not for Governor, not for Senator— not in a primary and not in a general election. She was way too conservative for me.
I was close with Harvey Milk when they served on the Board together. She disliked her more than he disliked Dan White, the member who eventually assassinated him. She was way too conservative for Harvey as well. White House assassinated Mayor George Moscone the same day he shot Harvey. Because of that, Feinstein became acting mayor. The following year she ran for mayor as an incumbent. It was her third run for mayor. She came in 3rd, against Joseph Alito, in 1971, third, against Moscone, in 1975, butte finally won in 1979 with Quentin Kopp running at her from the right and Jello Biafra attacking her from the left. There were 9 candidates and she won with 46.6%. Kopp came in second and Biafra third. She beat Kopp in the runoff with 54.0%. Four years later she didn’t have a serious opponent.
She ran for governor in 1990, won the primary handily and was beaten by Republican Pete Wilson in the general. When Wilson resigned as senator she ran in the special election to complete his term and beat Republican incumbent, who had been appointed by John Seymour, by 16 points. 2 years later, she ran for the full term and her opponent was super-rich GOP closet case Michael Huffington, who she beat by 2 points. She never had a serious challenge again until her last race, when she was obviously incapable of running or serving as a senator. Kevin de León, who was endorsed by the California Democratic Party, made it a D vs D general and scored 45.8%, drowning in her campaign war chest. She spent $16,865,427 to de León’s $1,755,107.
Last week I had to bite my lip hearing all the accolades about her on the radio from her admirers, mostly about what a trail-blazer she was for women. No one mentioned what a conservative she was and how disappointing she was for progressives. I thought I’d wait ’til after she was buried before writing about her. Problem with that is that no one has announced a funeral yet. “Funerals for U.S. Senators typically involve a mix of traditional and ceremonial elements. The specific details can vary depending on the wishes of the Senator and their family, as well as any cultural or religious traditions they may follow. Here's an overview of how funerals for U.S. Senators are generally conducted:
Planning and Coordination: Funeral arrangements are typically made by the family of the deceased Senator in collaboration with funeral directors, government officials, and sometimes the Senate leadership. Senators may have expressed their preferences for their funerals in advance.
Lying in State or Honor: In some cases, especially for Senators who have held prominent positions or made significant contributions to the nation, their body may lie in state or lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. This is a ceremonial honor reserved for distinguished individuals. Members of the public and dignitaries often pay their respects during this time.
Funeral Service: A funeral service is held, usually at a place of worship or a significant location chosen by the family. It may be a private or public service, depending on the family's wishes. Religious or spiritual leaders may officiate the service, and it may include eulogies from friends, colleagues, and dignitaries.
Procession: A procession from the funeral service to the burial site is common. This may involve a hearse carrying the casket and a procession of vehicles with family, friends, and dignitaries. The route may be planned to allow members of the public to pay their respects.
Burial or Interment: The Senator's casket is usually buried in a cemetery chosen by the family. The burial ceremony may be private or attended by the public and can include religious or military rites if applicable.
Memorial Services: In addition to the funeral, memorial services may be held in the Senator's home state or other locations significant to their life and career. These services provide an opportunity for the broader community to pay their respects.
I won’t be attending. I once clammed on Nixon’s grave. I wanted to piss on it but there were too many people around. I wouldn’t do either to Feinstein’s. Hopefully I’ll have forgotten her soon. Over the weekend, Liza Featherstone wrestled with the same mixed feelings I have. She didn’t enjoy how the mainstream media rushed to eulogize her while acknowledging that her “death is sad for those close to her— but the hymns of praise miss her real significance. Celebrated as a ‘pragmatist,’ Feinstein in fact helped remake the Democratic Party into a political vehicle for the very rich, and relatedly, the military-industrial complex.”
For me, Feinstein wasn’t so much a trail-blazer as one of the most corrupt members of Congress and someone who should have been arrested, tried and imprisoned decades ago. She used the Senate to further enrich herself and her family ands never stopped doing it.That, more than anything else, makes me want to puke when I hear the media singing her praised so unreservedly. She served the rich and the rich served her.
Featherstone also recalls that “her tenure [as mayor] only inflicted more devastation on the troubled city. As Bay Area leftist journalist Larry Bensky has written, she dutifully advanced the interests of the rich, allowing the real estate industry in particular to add ’30 million soulless square feet’ of downtown office construction, while neglecting the needs and neighborhoods of the working class.”
The New York Times’s obituary calls her ‘a tough campaigner who sometimes took conservative positions.’ Even the left-leaning Mother Jones— which is named after, well, Mother Jones!— got in on the festschrift, labeling Feinstein a “trailblazing Democrat” and citing their own 2017 feature on the senator, which quoted her friend Orville Schell calling her “the last bastion of bridge building in the Senate.”
What the establishment loved about Feinstein is clear from these obituaries: she opposed what elites deem the excesses of the Left. On the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, before Roe v. Wade, she carried out harsh penalties against illegal abortion providers, and in a 2022 interview with New York magazine’s Rebecca Traister, she didn’t seem to regret her actions in the least. As a senator, she supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, catastrophically. Even more horrendous, her husband, Richard Blum, had significant investments in the arms industry, which meant that Feinstein profited personally from the wars she backed— and, therefore, from the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Afghanis, and Americans.
From 2015 on, the movement around Bernie Sanders gave Feinstein’s centrism a new importance for the ruling class. As the Washington Post put it, “she held down the center of the Democratic Party as it moved swiftly to the left.” She was a leading voice urging Sanders to drop out of the 2016 presidential primary, and publicly fretted ahead of the 2016 Democratic convention that his supporters would unleash riots and chaos, in a repeat of 1968. (Many Democratic elites believe that Richard Nixon won the presidency that year in part because of violent televised confrontations between police and antiwar protesters at the Democratic convention. A government-supported study later pinned the blame for most of the violence on the police, but that did not affect the narrative: liberals have been blaming the Left for the chaos and for Nixon’s election for the last fifty years.)
In recent years Feinstein’s role as centrist disciplinarian took the form, perhaps most notably, of bringing enormous condescension to the climate debate. When a group of children visited Feinstein’s office in 2019 as part of a delegation from the Sunrise Movement, the progressive climate group, demanding that the senator support the Green New Deal, the sweeping blueprint for decarbonizing the economy championed by democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Feinstein had the most bluntly patronizing reaction. “You can take that back to whoever sent you here,” she remarked, implying that the young people were not political actors in their own right. Learning that one of the activists was sixteen, she still dismissed her with a brusque “you didn’t vote for me.” Equally winningly, the senator informed the young people, “I’ve been doing this for thirty years. I know what I’m doing.“ The exchange went viral and served to educate many young people about the depraved indifference of the Senate— and Democratic Party leadership— to the very real threat climate change poses to their futures.
In what seemed a fitting coda to a career spent serving the monied class, Feinstein’s refused to give up her Senate seat to the very end despite the consequences. Because she was no longer able to reliably show up, Feinstein became an obstacle to confirming President Biden’s judicial nominees and counteracting the conservative project of stacking the judicial branch. Her absence also caused the defeat of Biden’s effort to curb pollution from heavy trucks, a measure that would have, over the next couple decades, saved an estimated 18,000 children from developing asthma.
Feinstein deserves credit for evolving on some issues, as all politicians should do. Like most centrist Democrats, she initially opposed but ultimately supported gay marriage. She changed her mind on the death penalty, eventually rejecting it. In one of her more dramatic and significant reversals, she went from an enthusiastic proponent of George Bush’s post–September 11 war on terror measures to one of their most powerful critics; as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she oversaw a 2014 report on the CIA’s horrific torture techniques, and the Obama Administration did not appreciate her honesty.
Those moments were admirable, but Feinstein should be remembered far more for her stalwart advocacy against the Left, and for representing the nation’s worst monied interests. Let’s hope her passing will be seen in retrospect as part of the demise of the centrist, plutocratic politics she espoused, in which socialists and young climate activists are mere irritants and war is just a good investment opportunity.
To be fair, I should say that she was good on gun policy too. But when Jeremy Peters called her a “liberal lioness” a decade ago, the few people who still used the word “liberal” to describe “progressive” just stopped. I might also add that she was one of the most reactionary members of the Senate when it came to marijuana laws, opposing all reforms long after many Republicans had come around.
Over the weekend, Sarah Jones noted that by the time she died, DiFi’s name “had become a byword for Senate gerontocracy.” A rehabilitation campaign, led by fellow conservatives, was already underway the moment show died. “Now that she’s gone,” wrote Jones, “it would be kind to call her a hero for women, but to do so is to tell only part of the truth. Feinstein blazed a trail to ruin. Women surely deserve more from their icons… Feinstein’s own political views also prevented her from being much of a lodestar for anyone. She watched democracy fracture but did not always see the cracks. She opposed filibuster reform because, she said, ‘if democracy were in jeopardy, I would want to protect it, but I don’t see it being in jeopardy right now.’ When Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett appeared before the Senate, Feinstein hugged Republican senator Lindsey Graham and thanked him for running ‘one of the best set of hearings that I’ve participated in,’ making her seem radically tone-deaf. She behaved, often, as though the future were guaranteed to be bright. Who can forget the way she scolded young climate activists because she thought there was no way to pay for a Green New Deal? ‘Some things take longer than others, and you can only do what you can do at a given time,’ she told Traister last year. ‘That doesn’t mean you can’t do it at another time. And so one of the things that you develop is a certain kind of memory for progress: when you can do something in terms of legislation and have a chance of getting it through, and when the odds are against it, meaning the votes and that kind of thing. So I’m very optimistic about the future of our country.’ Nobody should give up hope, but Feinstein’s optimism felt unwarranted— even insulting with her emphasis on bipartisan civility. The Senate is an undemocratic institution made worse by people like Feinstein and her friends across the aisle. People who cling to power despite age or ability, who believe against all evidence that our institutions can still save us. No politician should be an icon, in life or in death. Feinstein’s legacy reminds us to be wary and to demand better from those who would serve. Facile appeals to identity did her a disservice in life and are even crasser in death. She failed us. That may be unpleasant, but it’s the truth. Better admit it and learn than repeat her mistakes. Women are worthy of more, as is everyone.”