Pelosi, sí. Feinstein, no.
The above sloganeering is my response to an interview with me that was aired as part of a story on NPR’s Morning Edition yesterday. Last week, the redoubtable Ina Jaffe, intrepid NPR veteran, called me to talk about Dianne Feinstein. The reason she called was that I had written an L.A. Times op-ed some months back noting that Feinstein, at 84, is the oldest member of the Senate, and at the time was considering running for another six-year term, which, if she won, would mean she’d be 91.7 years old when that term expired. I noted that would get her in just under the actuarial wire, since the average life expectancy for 84-year-old women is 92. I ended the column by suggesting Feinstein not run—counsel she didn’t take all that seriously, since she declared her candidacy a few days later.
Ina’s piece was focused on the age issue. What I also said in the column and the interview, however, was age wasn’t the main reason why DiFi shouldn’t go one more round. The chief reason was that the California she’s accustomed to representing no longer exists. It’s a far more liberal state than the one Feinstein has long been navigating by positioning herself on the center-right of the Democratic Party.
Unlike most of California’s Democratic congressional delegation, for instance, Feinstein voted to authorize the Iraq War. She was among the small minority of Democratic senators to vote for George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the rich—and those Democrats who also voted for them came from red or purple states, which California, then as now, was not.
Fortunately, Feinstein isn’t going unchallenged. While she has no Republican opponents, the president of the California Senate, Los Angeles Democrat Kevin de Leon, is running against her from the left. One of the three organizers of the massive anti-Proposition 187 demonstration in 1994, which marked the birth of the modern immigrant movement, de Leon is arguably the most accomplished and most progressive state legislative leader in the country. He’s the author of California’s sanctuary state law, of most of its far-reaching climate-change legislation, and last year steered a single-payer bill to passage in the Senate.
The conventional wisdom is that Feinstein is a shoo-in, but just this week, some of the state’s most powerful liberal institutions come election time—SEIU, which has 700,000 members in California, and the California Nurses Association—endorsed de Leon. SEIU and CNA are longtime rivals that seldom agree on anything. That the two most potent political players in California Democratic elections have both come out for de Leon—risking the ire of ostensible shoo-in Feinstein—speaks volumes about where they think the state is headed, and should be headed. Maybe DiFi isn’t a shoo-in after all.
And just to clear up this age business: I think Feinstein’s fellow San Franciscan, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who also has drawn criticism for getting long in the tooth, should stay right where she is. Like de Leon, Pelosi is a supremely able legislative leader, without whom Obamacare would never have been enacted, and whose politics are far more in sync with left-moving California than Feinstein’s.
Besides, Pelosi would have to win seven more terms to be as old as Feinstein would be at the end of her next Senate term. Hence:
Nancy, sí. DiFi, no.