Discover more from Wonkette
Dianne Feinstein Deserves Better Than This
This is sad to watch.
Dianne Feinstein returned to the Senate Wednesday. We're supposed to consider this good news. We don't need to rely on Lindsey Graham's good graces to confirm President Joe Biden's judicial nominees. We can fully investigate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his sugar daddy Harlan Crow. We have a key vote to help prevent a debt ceiling catastrophe. Those are all compelling reasons to welcome Feinstein's return. I'm just not sure they are good reasons.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer greeted Feinstein outside the Senate chamber. An aide helped the 89-year-old senator out of a car and into a waiting wheelchair.
“Where am I going?” she could be heard asking, as she slowly settled into the wheelchair. Her hand was visibly trembling as she took her seat.
“I’ve got something in my eye,” she said, as her eye appeared bloodshot.
“Hi Dianne,” Schumer said, walking up to greet her.
“Hi Chuck,” Feinstein replied.
The senator from California did not look well.
This is a clear decline from how she seemed just a few months ago and certainly a stark difference from 2018 when she last won re-election.
Feinstein was absent for several months due to complications from shingles, which led to a brief hospitalization in March. Twitter personality Brian Krassenstein suggested that Feinstein should fully recover from her bout with shingles. This assumes a great deal about the recuperative abilities of someone who's almost 90. (We’ve all had elderly loved ones who took a bad turn and never came back.) Krassenstein also assumes that shingles is the primary cause of Feinstein’s current state.
There’s been a shocking lack of transparency about Feinstein's health, so it's frustrating when (often well-meaning) defenders compare her to male Senators John Fetterman or John McCain, both of whom were open with the public about their conditions. Feinstein has only conceded that she had shingles, and despite the recent articles about her mental fitness, she's not given an extended on-camera interview in years.
McCain was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer in 2017. When he spoke with Lesley Stahl on "60 Minutes," he still looked and sounded like the John McCain people knew and had voted for (well, not me, personally). That's simply not the situation with Feinstein. We knew what the trajectory was for McCain during his final year in office, but with Feinstein, it feels as if we are all parties to elder abuse but it's impolite to question our complicity.
Yet, we wouldn't do this regarding an obviously ill person in any other job. We'd probably all protest the Starbucks where 89-year-old baristas were wheeled into work. We'd set up GoFundMes so these people could retire with dignity and not push their failing bodies to the breaking point. Schumer said Tuesday, “I’m glad that my friend Dianne is back in the Senate and ready to roll up her sleeves and get to work. After talking with her multiple times over the past few weeks, it’s clear she’s back where she wants to be and ready to deliver for California." I don't doubt the sentiment. People grow attached to their workplace and colleagues after decades of service, but this still feels barbaric. Why are we forcing an almost 90-year-old woman to "roll up her sleeves and get to work”? When is she allowed the rest we all deserve? We often hear that it is Feinstein’s choice to continue serving, but if that's true, we need to hear more from her than carefully crafted press releases.
Feinstein cast her first two votes in months Wednesday afternoon. Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin said he expects Feinstein to report to the committee's business meeting at 10 a.m. when the committee plans to act on some judicial nominees who were in deadlock during Feinstein's absence. Feinstein later released a statement about her schedule for the foreseeable future.
“Even though I’ve made significant progress and was able to return to Washington, I’m still experiencing some side effects from the shingles virus,” she said. “My doctors have advised me to work a lighter schedule as I return to the Senate. I’m hopeful those issues will subside as I continue to recover.”
Shingles side effects can involve long-term nerve pain and serious complications involving the eye, including blindness. Feinstein's bloodshot eyes, which she'd minimized, is obviously concerning. Other complications include hearing problems, brain inflammation, and death.
A Senate seat isn't a peerage, and as long as Feinstein remains in public office, she is accountable to the public. Her constituents deserve to know the full story about her health. People have compared Feinstein to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who also lived with shingles in the final years of her life.
Her friend Nina Totenberg told NPR’s Teri Gross:
Oddly enough, one of the things that was the most painful is that a couple of years before she died, she got shingles. And in typical Ruth fashion, she just ignored it. She thought it was some little rash, and she should just tough her way through it. And after about two weeks, she went to the doctor at the Capitol who said, "You've got shingles," and prescribed whatever you prescribe for shingles. But my husband [surgeon David Reines] was in a state about it because he worried that because it had gone on so long and because she had other challenges, that she would never get rid of it entirely. And that's what happened. The blisters went away, but the pain did not. And my husband and her doctor tried everything they could think of to relieve the pain. And the only thing that worked was a lidocaine patch, which you can't have on for more than 12 hours a day. So she had to pick which 12 hours: Did she want to sleep or did she want to be comfortable on the bench? And the answer was she wanted to sleep.
Totenberg has described the pain a frail Ginsburg endured as she desperately tried to survive the Trump administration. There are no similar considerations for Feinstein. If she went home for good tomorrow, California’s Democratic governor would replace her with a Democrat. Democracy itself does not hang in the balance, but even if it did, I don’t know if I could in good conscience support torturing an old woman to speedily confirm judges.
Of course, we don’t know why Feinstein won’t resign, despite her obvious frailty. Perhaps, like so many others, she might think surrendering this one part of life as the first, irrevocable step toward surrendering herself entirely. I’ve noticed that Feinstein’s supporters often share photos of her from decades past when citing her considerable legislative achievements, many also from decades past. It reminds me of a scene from the TV series “Boston Legal,” when a character describes seeing an aging Muhammad Ali lose horrifically to Larry Holmes: “The tragedy wasn’t that he couldn’t still box. He could. The tragedy was that he still thought he was Ali.”
We must all accept eventually that we are no longer “Ali,” even the most powerful among us.
Follow Stephen Robinson on Twitter if it still exists.
Catch SER on his new podcast, The Play Typer Guy.
Did you know SER has his own YouTube Channel? Well, now you do, so go subscribe right now!
Click the widget to keep your Wonkette ad-free and feisty.