California Senator Dianne Feinstein recently revealed her intention to seek a sixth term. On Oct. 9, she announced on Twitter: “I am running for reelection to the Senate. Lots more to do: ending gun violence, combating climate change, access to healthcare. I’m all in!”
Access to healthcare. Think of what a tricky word that is, in an age where the public is asking for government help so they don’t die. But I confess, the Senator has inspired me. Perhaps Feinstein’s access to power should be considered, in the same harsh, unforgiving light she shines on the lives of her fellow citizens?
The Times put the matter delicately:
Yet Ms. Feinstein’s decision to seek her sixth term, which she disclosed on Twitter on Monday, comes as Democrats are being swept by generational and ideological turmoil that some party members say might make her a leader out of step with her time.
Over the last decade, California has insisted on shipping sequels to the rest of the world. These new episodes are never as good as the originals. And here comes another installment of a long-running series: Feinstein, Part VI. Realistically: who wants this? Who thinks that another Feinstein term would be good for anyone? Is there an actual need for another episode of Feinstein? Is there another Iraq War that won’t get approved unless she’s at the wheel?
There’s been a lot of talk about Feinstein’s age, but it’s absolutely irrelevant. At every stage of her centrist political career, Feinstein has failed basic tests of progressive vision. The Senator is an avatar of that discredited faith, neoliberalism. That simply cannot stand in the age of Trump. The Senator is out of touch with her constituents, and has stepped wrong on dozens of issues. As an editorial in the L.A. Times pointed out:
The state has clearly moved to the left in the ensuing decades. And while on some issues, Feinstein has embraced the new progressivism, she can’t be said to have led the way on such signature liberal causes as universal healthcare, the $15 minimum wage, campaign finance reform, tuition-free higher education, battling climate change or reining in Wall Street.
Feinstein came to power by trudging up a long road. She served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and then as mayor. She got nominated for governor in 1990, lost to Wilson, and then snagged Wilson’s Senate seat in 1992. What has she done in that time?
Look up her record. She scoffs at single-payer. She voted to confirm nine of Trump’s squad of rapacious plunderers. Feinstein supports capital punishment, and has been a long-time encourager of the drug war. In 2006, she publicly backed a cynical and shabby amendment to ban flag “desecration,” which the Seattle Times described as an “interesting word, given its connotations of religious devotion.”
She consistently supports the most draconian DRM tech protections—that means the heavy hand of IP lawyers on the Internet, on cable and satellite channels. And then there’s her affection for National Security.
Imagine saying this in 2006—imagine believing this—imagine being a grown person, and having a child’s faith in the deep state:
The USA-Patriot Act has come to be terribly misunderstood. Some think it is related to Guantanamo Bay, and the detention of prisoners. Others are convinced that it authorizes torture, or the secret arrest of Americans. It does none of these things.
There is no getting around the Central Problem of Feinstein—or, as the Post puts it, that “she has long been one of the more conservative Democrats in the Senate despite representing the state that defines contemporary American liberalism.”
described the Senator’s history, in a polite open letter:
... your most prominent policy stances have come on national security. As a senator and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, you cosponsored the extension of the Patriot Act; supported the FISA Act, which allows courts to operate in secret while deciding how much spy agencies can snoop into American citizens’ private data; and called Edward Snowden a traitor. You have nearly always supported the expansion of the security state at the expense of privacy rights. Last year, you and Senator Richard Burr proposed a bill that would require tech companies to work with law enforcement break into users’ encrypted data. Data privacy advocates have called the bill “a threat to American privacy.” The ACLU has rarely rated you above 75 percent, and some years your rating has fallen much lower. Let’s face it: You are a hawkish, centrist Democrat in a state full of voters that have become much more liberal than you have shown yourself to be. Perhaps now would be a great time to retire and make way for a candidate who better reflects the views of your constituents?
The Hill agreed, noting that
She opposes California’s push for single-payer health care, which was a core tenet of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) presidential campaign in 2016. She also came under heavy scrutiny and raised eyebrows after saying in late August that Trump could “be a good president” and called for “patience” when it comes to his presidency.
I interviewed Congressman Ro Khanna. Khanna represents California’s 17th district—Silicon Valley—in Congress. A reliable progressive voice, Khanna is one of the six—six—members of Congress who only take donations from individual sources, not PACs. What did he think about Feinstein’s attempted return to power?
“Feinstein doesn’t represent the future of California,” Khanna told me. “She has been hawkish on foreign policy, having supported the Iraq war and Libya invasion. She also has been an advocate for extending the Patriot Act and curtailing civil liberties. California needs a bold progressive voice.” Khanna said he supported former Labor Secretary Robert Reich or East Bay’s progressive Representative, Barbara Lee.
The time is right to challenge the Senator. Progressive forces have been marching up and down the face of the El Dorado State. In June 28, the California Assembly came close to passing single-payer health care, until Speaker of that Assembly Anthony Rendon—friend of Big Pharma—sank the dream.
As my colleague Walker Bragman wrote back in January, “Berniecrats took over the Democratic Party in California, winning 618 of 1120 seats in the Assembly District Election Meetings (ADEM) and 44 of 80 executive boards.” I asked Khanna: given the reality of a Trump Administration and GOP Congress on the federal level, did he think California could successfully articulate an alternative to the rightward drift?
Yes, Khanna said. “That’s why we need a bold thought leader as senator.” As far as the priorities of California’s Senators, Khanna suggested “Tax credits to working families under 75k to make work pay. Medicare For All. Debt-free college. Stop the foreign interventions and wars,” and “No to PAC and lobbyist money.”
These sentiments were echoed by one of Feinstein’s challengers, a man named David Hildebrand, a Democratic Socialist running for Feinstein’s seat. Currently, Hildebrand is a legislative analyst for the State of California. His primary subject of interest is in transportation. “I’m not surprised,” he told me, when I asked him about Feinstein’s reelection announcement. “I’ve been campaigning on the assumption that she would run.”
Feinstein doesn’t represent the interests of Californians, Hildebrand said: “California wants single-payer healthcare. … She voted for the Iraq War, for the PATRIOT Act. She’s been wrong on a whole lot of issues.” Hildebrand said that California needed a working-class representative. That was him, he said; he’d been working since he was very young: “I know the experience of ‘Which bill do I pay this month?’ … Feinstein’s been representing corporations since she’s been in office.” Like Khanna, Hildebrand stressed the urgency of healthcare: “Single-payer would be number one” if he got into office, along with “Ending Citizens United, and setting up a publicly-funded election system.”
Like wild horses, politicians surrender unpeaceably—there is fiendish noise and feral biting involved, always. So it will be with Feinstein. But it’s a fight worth having.
Whatever can be said of California in the past and California now, the state has always been part of the tomorrow of America. It was the final frontier for so many people intuitively heading to the Pacific, to seek what Richard Wright called the warmth of other suns. Are Washington’s swamp-water ways of power shut against progressives? Then we must look to the states and the cities. California can show the way. Even while looking west, let us hope for a new dawn. Replace Senator Feinstein.