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RIP Dianne Feinstein
Nobody will be monstrous, because we're better than that as a nation.
Dianne Feinstein, the longest-serving woman in the US Senate and a central figure in the fight for gun control, has died at the age of 90, according to family members. No details on the circumstances or cause of death yet; those will come in time. Feinstein announced in February that she would not run for reelection in 2024, following 2022 reports that she had experienced serious cognitive decline.
Feinstein entered politics in 1969, winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. She had moved up to the board’s presidency (just one of many “first woman to…” achievements in her long career) by 1978, when former supervisor Dan White assassinated then-Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Feinstein, among the first witnesses on the scene, found Milk’s body.
Feinstein became mayor of San Francisco (“first woman” again, and we’ll mostly stop listing them because until relatively recently she was nearly always that), and in 1990 she unsuccessfully ran for governor of California, losing to Republican Sen. Pete Wilson. When Wilson left the Senate to take office as governor, Feinstein won the 1992 special election for his open seat, becoming one of the many women elected to Congress in the “Year of the Woman” backlash following Clarence Thomas’s confirmation to the Supreme Court despite the very credible accusations of sexual harassment against him. Her longtime colleague Barbara Boxer was elected the same year, and yes, another first, as they became the first two women to simultaneously represent the same state in the Senate.
Throughout her political career, Feinstein was a key proponent of reining in the madness of America’s gun epidemic, and led the drive to create the 1994 federal assault weapons ban. After President George W. Bush let it expire, Feinstein regularly joined other Democrats to reintroduce it. After all the relentless massacres on the altar of the Second Amendment in the past two decades, it’s just possible it may pass if Democrats manage to retake the government and can get rid of the filibuster. If it does make it into law, there’s little doubt the bill will be named after Feinstein.
UPDATE: Alert Wonkette Operative “One Yield Regular” reminded us in the comments of that time in 2013 when Ted Goddamn Cruz, then a senator for just four months, tried to gunsplain “Second Amendment” to Feinstein, and she made abundantly clear that he was not a fool she would suffer gladly. God damn this is good video.
Feinstein should also be remembered with gratitude for her absolute determination, as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to get the truth to the American people about the CIA’s use of torture during the post-9/11 war on terror, when the George W. Bush administration decided that a few war crimes were worth it to fight terrorism, even though the “intelligence” gained by torturing people was usually worthless. As a result of her work — which included dealing with hacking of Senate computers by the fucking CIA — the report’s executive summary and key findings were published in 2014, albeit with heavy redactions. Along the way, former CIA Director Michael Hayden suggested that, in demanding that those responsible for torture be held accountable, Feinstein might have been a bit too emotional, harming the report’s objectivity. It’s a useful reminder that for every “first,” women in American politics have also had to walk through a sewer of mansplaining.
Thanks to Feinstein’s five-year fight to bring out the truth, the executive summary remains right there on the Intelligence Committee’s website for Americans to read, although the full report remains classified. Feinstein rightly called the torture report, in a must-read New Yorker interview — yes, still. Read it if you have any free reads left this month! — the most important work of her career. We wouldn’t think of disagreeing.
Because of her advanced age, Feinstein’s decision to run for reelection in 2018 was questioned by many. In 2022, it became increasingly clear to those close to her that Feinstein was having memory lapses and other symptoms of cognitive decline, but they were intermittent enough that they might not be serious. Given the nastiness of politics — with Republicans attacking Hillary Clinton as being at death’s door, and Joe Biden as so impaired that he’s incapable of presidenting, if they weren’t already dead and replaced by lookalikes — many people were primed to dismiss those reports as just more politics. That became increasingly hard to do by this spring. Feinstein had to take a long leave of absence with a case of shingles (which can be its own kind of torture; consider getting vaccinated, fellow olds!) and then frequently seemed disoriented after she returned.
Despite her clear medical distress this spring, Republicans refused in April to hear any talk of allowing a replacement for her on the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, because with her absence, the committee was tied and Democrats wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything. That’s today’s MAGA party for you: Power over everything and the hell with empathy. But the Democratic response, keeping a clearly impaired Feinstein at work when she was just as clearly suffering, did her a disservice as well. (No, we’re not suggesting it’s equivalent.) Feinstein’s increasingly rare presence in the Senate allowed Democrats to confirm desperately needed Joe Biden nominees to the federal bench, an absolutely necessary counter to the damage Donald Trump and his party did to the judiciary. But at what a terrible cost to Feinstein and her dignity!
This is why I’m always terrible at those trolley problem dilemmas. I just want the trolley to be broken down in the shop that day so nobody is on the rails or in the trolley. I want nobody to suffer. I’d be an awful politician.
The AP reports that this morning,
[Feinstein’s] Senate desk was draped in black and topped with a vase of white roses. Senators gave tearful tributes as members of the California House delegation stood in the back of the chamber and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sat in the gallery with Feinstein’s daughter, Katherine.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was one of several Republicans who gave tributes to the Democratic icon, calling her his friend. “Dianne was a trailblazer, and her beloved home state of California and our entire nation are better for her dogged advocacy and diligent service,” McConnell said.
We’re going to leave it at that, and wish peace and comfort to her family.
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