A group of schoolchildren affiliated with the Sunrise Movement, a group that describes itself as “building an army of young people to stop climate change,” confronted Senator Dianne Feinstein at her Capitol Hill office last week. They wanted her to support Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal.
“We’re the people who voted you,” one of the older activists lectured the senator. “You’re supposed to listen to us.” Feinstein asked, “How old are you? How old are you?” She explained, 16. “Well, you didn’t vote for me.” The constant interruptions prompted an exasperated Feinstein to explain, “I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I know what I’m doing. You come in here, and you say, ‘It has to be my way or the highway.’ I don’t respond to that.”
One sensed the dream of each and every kid in the political theater involved not vanquishing climate change but reenacting Children of the Corn on a global scale in real life. Youngsters repeating political mantras as though marionettes exude a terribly creepy vibe. While you do not see the string-pullers, you clearly see their exploitation, their willingness to use human beings as props, their cowardice in hiding behind children, their wish to replace the children, if the possibility presented itself, with cute, anthropomorphic Disney animals to do their bidding. Like Billy Mumy’s Anthony in The Twilight Zone’s “It’s a Good Life” or Wendy and Lisa in the Ray Bradbury story “The Veldt,” the children sensed their power, here the power to speak with a moral authority without fear of rebuttal, and wielded it with bullying intent.
Feinstein nevertheless rebutted. She said, “no,” — the only four-letter word remaining in politics — in refusing their Green New Deal. She labeled it unrealistic to effectively curb global warming in a decade. To Veruca Salt’s “I want it now,” the matron of American politics issued an appropriate spanking.
The scene illustrated an obnoxious, demagogic trend in American politics. Rather than allow ideas to withstand, or not, the give and take of debate, the preferred method deploys people immune from scrutiny to push policy. Here, a survivor of a school shooting demands gun control; there, a purported sexual assault victim demands a “no” vote on a Supreme Court nominee. Gobsmacking the opposition in this manner predictably results in bad public policy.
The symbolic moment, videoed for posterity — and selective editing — showed an adult standing up to the children. This literal scene evoked a figurative one. Irresponsible Democrats, trolling for votes and riding a progressive zeitgeist, promise a guaranteed income, free healthcare for everybody, reparations for various aggrieved parties, and much else that seems at once too expensive and not worth the price if free. An octogenarian unlikely to face voters again put the kibosh, gracefully and with dignity, on this childishness. Democrats who wish to win the presidency instead of just some primaries might want to follow the leader.
Challenging situations mold leaders. Dianne Feinstein experienced a lunatic shooting up her vacation home and placing a bomb on the windowsill of her daughter during the 1970s. She found Harvey Milk’s bullet-ridden body in city hall in 1978, and provided the steady voice to steward San Francisco through that terrible time. In the 1980s, as mayor, Feinstein presided over the epicenter of the AIDS crisis. When Feinstein entered the Senate in 1992, just three other women served in it. The times shaped her. She shaped the times.
And now, at 85, 12-year-olds tell her how to do her job. “You know better than I do,” she explained to an older activist interrupting her. “So, I think one day you should run for the Senate. Then you do it your way.”
For now, Dianne Feinstein does it her way.