News Analysis: The tragedy of Dianne Feinstein

News Analysis: The tragedy of Dianne Feinstein

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Mark Z. BarabakWed, February 17, 2021, 4:00 AM

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein fields media questions at the U.S. Capitol last month.
Serving her fifth term at age 87, Democrat Dianne Feinstein is the oldest member of the U.S. Senate. (Associated Press)

If Dianne Feinstein hadn’t lived the life she had, her story might be the product of a screenwriter’s over-fertile imagination.

The synopsis: After surviving an abusive childhood, Feinstein overcomes personal loss — she is widowed at age 45 — and repeated electoral defeat to become a pioneer for women in politics and powerful member of the U.S. Senate. Along the way she survives a mayoral recall effort, a brutal Senate reelection campaign, an attempted bombing of her home and a gruesome brush with death.

The opening scene: November 1978, San Francisco’s Beaux-Arts City Hall, where former Supervisor Dan White has just shot and killed Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Feinstein, who chairs the Board of Supervisors, rushes to Milk’s aid. She reaches for a pulse and plunges her finger in a bullet hole.- ADVERTISEMENT -

The closing scene: Deep into her ninth decade, Feinstein is no longer the politically revered figure she once was. There is talk of mental decline, of selfishly overstaying her time in office and calls for the Democrat to resign from the Senate for the good of her state and the country.

The slow, sad fade is not simply a function of Feinstein’s age — she is 87 — but also the fact that times and the political world have changed and Feinstein, whether unwilling or unable, has failed to change along with them.

“She’s not performative and she’s not ideological, and those are the two things that matter now in Washington,” said Jerry Roberts, a veteran political reporter and Feinstein biographer, who first covered her in the early 1970s. Worthy or not, “her time has, in fact, passed because of the way politics have become weaponized, the way the Senate has been transformed, the way social media defines people now.”

A recent poll by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies showed a mere 35% of Californians approve of the job Feinstein is doing, marking the first time in her nearly three-decade Senate career that a plurality of those surveyed hold a negative view. The steepest decline was within Feinstein’s own Democratic Party.Story continuesOur goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting.

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