Dianne Feinstein lost a husband to cancer, colleagues to assassination, windows to bullets, races for mayor and governor, her city to ’70s insanity, and constituents to AIDS. Now, at a vigorous 84, she looks like she could lose her U.S. Senate seat to a fellow Democrat.
Feinstein endured the New World Liberation Front’s attempt to bomb her home, resigned herself to retirement from politics after the sudden death of her second husband, and found herself forced to help heal San Francisco after the assassinations of Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone (by a protégé of hers, no less, who effectively made her the mayor after earlier making her president of the board of supervisors by more traditional means) all within a few short years in the 1970s. She nears a half-century in elected office. But, strangely, the most exciting times all came before she won election as mayor of San Francisco and U.S. Senator from California.
Despite her illustrious career in public service, Democrats want to dump Feinstein. Just 37 percent of delegates to the state party’s convention this weekend endorsed California’s senior senior-citizen senator’s bid for reelection. A majority supported State Senator Kevin de León, who primaries Feinstein from her Left.
This does not mean Feinstein enters the Democratic Party primary as an underdog. She bests de Leon in money and name recognition and campaign experience. And the voters in a convention markedly differ from the voters in a primary. Still, the convention results do not bode as good news for Feinstein.
Ideologues of both parties paint in black and white with few shades of gray. Conservatives, for instance, see Feinstein’s decades-long crusade for gun control (despite her packing heat in the 1970s in response to nutters targeting her) and dismiss her as reflexively left-wing. Reality shows her as a more pragmatic voice (and vote). She spoke as a prophet regarding San Francisco losing families in the mid-1970s. As mayor, she closed the bathhouses despite opposition from some gay organizations during the early years of the AIDS crisis. As a senator, she casts more hawkish votes than most in her caucus—supporting the Iraq War, for instance.
One notes all this not to point to these as the right positions but to note that, at least when gauged with the prevailing positions of both parties, she does not always cast the Left votes. There’s something terribly refreshing about any politician whose stances do not come as entirely predictable. It is perhaps this independence that prompts the disposition of Democrats to ditch Dianne.