Political Hay

Dianne Feinstein, Enemy of the Left

For angry liberals, the California Democrat is becoming the new Joe Lieberman.

By 11.15.07

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Last year, ultra-liberal elements within the Democratic Party waged a heated political battle against Sen. Joe Lieberman, their vice-presidential nominee of just six years earlier. But if you thought that liberal cannibalism stopped with the attack on Connecticut's junior senator, think again. The left wing has now set its sights on California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, another centrist Democrat who has failed to walk in lockstep with the increasingly puritanical left.

Why are the hardcore lefties so upset with Feinstein? In August, she voted for a bill reforming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) -- a vote they interpreted as a thumbs-up for widespread, unchecked domestic spying by the Bush administration. Just days earlier, as a member of the Judiciary Committee, she was the lone Democrat to vote to send Judge Leslie Southwick's nomination to the Senate floor. That move was described as "incomprehensible" by People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas, who must have been even less impressed with her vote last month to actually confirm Southwick.

But that's not all. Last week, Feinstein sided with Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee on putting Attorney General Michael Mukasey's nomination to a vote. Days later, she sided with them again, helping to confirm a man derided on liberal blog DailyKos as "George Bush's latest torture-enabling Attorney General." To boot, Feinstein confirmed the same day that she supports granting legal immunity to telecom companies that shared customers' details with the government as part of terrorist surveillance efforts.

Such cardinal sins have left Feinstein facing a censure resolution that left-wing activists hope to move at the California Democratic Party's executive board meeting tomorrow. Proclaiming Democrats' "disappointment at, and censure of, Senator Feinstein for ignoring Democratic principles and falling so far below the standard of what we expect of our elected officials," the resolution faces an uphill battle. Before it can be considered by the party's executive board, the resolutions committee must approve the text unanimously. Even if it does, the resolution may not pass -- according to its communications director, the California State Party remains supportive of Feinstein.

Still, that shouldn't suggest that the resolution is without strong backing from important players. It will be introduced by East Bay for Democracy, a chartered Democratic Club outside San Francisco that has already itself censured Feinstein. But, it's also being touted by prolific left-wing bloggers at sites like Firedoglake, Huffington Post and OpenLeft.com -- and it's earned the backing of the Courage Campaign, a group founded and chaired by Rick Jacobs, the chairman of Howard Dean's California campaign.

Such voices are increasingly powerful within today's Democratic Party. The netroots, for their part, were instrumental in ejecting Lieberman from the party last year. This year, they've stayed on the march with efforts to rein in "rogue" (i.e., moderate) Democrats via the establishment of Working For Us PAC, which aims to generate bad publicity and even support primary challengers prepared to run against Democratic "problem children."

Feinstein no doubt meets that description in the eyes of many liberals, even though last year, she earned the lowest possible 0 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, and voted more liberally than 76.5 percent of her colleagues on economic, defense and foreign policy issues, and more than 70 percent of senators on social issues, according to National Journal. By any objective standard, she remains a liberal. But, like Lieberman, according to the American left, she's a right-wing Bush clone, in need of taking down.

Luckily, for Feinstein, she won re-election last year. So, unlike Lieberman, who faced off against liberal darling Ned Lamont at the height of Bush Derangement Syndrome-fuelled anti-war backlash, she's in no immediate political danger. Perhaps this is what has freed Feinstein to take stances that she views as principled, and to dare to take steps like setting foot on Air Force One to survey the damage of the California wildfires with the President. Certainly, were she running next year, the latter scene would have provided much fodder for MoveOn.org-style attack ads featuring Feinstein's equivalent of Lieberman's "kiss." As it is, it still looks likely to generate some criticism.

Ultimately, Feinstein may have to contend with getting the proverbial slap from her party, if the censure resolution moves ahead. But, regardless of whether the resolution passes, she'll have to get used to a playing new role: that of the New Joe Lieberman, Black Sheep of the Democratic Party.

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