DIANNE FEINSTEIN NEEDS A DON’T-EVER
Jackbooted tots, aggrieved teenagers and angel socialists, oh my!
By now you have seen Dianne Feinstein dismiss children who had the audacity to expect their representative in a representative government to represent them. Caitlin Flanagan, writing in the Atlantic, “Dianne Feinstein Doesn’t Need A Do-Over,” would like you to remember the role of little girls is to shut the fuck up. What better way to empower the women of the next generation than reminding them they are powerless and their concerns like “clean air” and “clean water” and “a future” are the product of coddling?
According to Flanagan, Feinstein has had a long and storied career for which she deserves respect. This echoes Feinstein’s own sentiment that she has “been doing this for 30 years” and “I know what I am doing.” Flanagan credits Feinstein for driving California to single-handedly reduce their climate emissions to allow the US to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Accords. This is actually the only policy goal she credits Feinstein with. The only other factor that makes her laudable is her “bravery,” which a young girl called upon Feinstein to show in the face of climate change.
“Brave?” Flanagan blurts before noting Feinstein discovered Harvey Milk’s murder, gained the mayorship after her predecessor was shot, her beach house was shot and her office bombed. Feinstein also, according to Flanagan, “knows more about climate science than all the fifth graders in the world.”
So with the stellar resume of having found the body of a gay rights hero and having graduated at least the sixth grade, we are left wondering why Flanagan is so scandalized by children engaging in politics.
The Good, The Bad, and The Petty
The children, according to Flanagan, found their “angel” in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who “has so much star power, charisma, beauty, and political chutzpah” she is poised to be “the next Obama” (god forbid. We don’t need another neoliberal who speaks populism). It’s a desperate attempt to ignore the fact that climate change is an issue whose time came decades ago, and the very same politicians who “know what they are doing” for the past thirty years have, in Ontario slang, fucked the dog this whole time.
So Flanagan wants us to believe Feinstein forced California to carry the US toward the gold standard of the Paris Accord. But the Accord is woefully inadequate and was gutted by lobbyists who used their influence with politicians (like Feinstein) to keep any meaningful change from occurring. Feinstein even recently beat a progressive challenger whose major goal was to stop the influence of donors on our political system. This is the world Feinstein has worked for, where wealthy donors write policy, not 30-year veteran politicians or the people they represent.
But Feinstein was in the center of some scary political violence. So we can count on her courage in the face of global catastrophe, right? After all, the point of activism within legislative politics is to take the passionate support of the people and translate that into policy through people who “know what they are doing.” That’s why Dianne sat them down and said, “I love your energy, here is what I am doing to make your goals happen within the system.”
Oh wait, she chastised them for being too young to vote for her.
Perhaps Flanagan is right to be aghast that fifth graders aren’t completely familiar with the entire history of a single senator in California politics. Her “bravery” at finding the body of someone who actually took risks should be commended, but then why is Flanagan so angry the children asked her to be brave? Surely if Feinstein is this courageous, standing up for bold action on climate change (that is frankly a half-measure) with policies that would create jobs should be a walk in the park. Feinstein is “brave” when it comes to gunfire and children, but not so much when it comes to threatening her political career.
Feinstein forced all of California to change their polluting ways. But emissions, climate change, and environmental activism aren’t new issues. California apparently was able to cut emissions to the point where they allowed the whole country to meet its goals, meaning that under the 30 years of knowing what she is doing, Feinstein allowed California to pollute so unnecessarily they could carry the entire nation’s burden by just making a few adjustments. If Feinstein knows what she is doing, Ms. F’taghn, the rest of us must be prompted to ask: what the fuck is it she’s doing???
Establishment politicians and their cheerleaders in the media want to have it both ways. We’ve been doing this forever, we know better than you. The problems have gotten worse, which is why you should support us, who will do something about it with our experience doing things about it while it has gotten worse.
This argument has been one of the attacks leveraged at the socialist hobgoblin haunting the Democrats, Bernie Sanders. But Sanders has been independent for decades. Feinstein “is the longest-tenured woman in the Senate” and a member of one half of the US duopoly. The party tries to leverage support by claiming they have the power to do something, unlike iconoclast-loner-Sanders, but they marginalize people who actively say they want to do something with the party’s power, like AOC. What is the point of having a powerful party that “knows what it’s doing” when what it’s doing is amassing profits, preventing progress and disillusioning young activists whose crime is caring about the future Feinstein (and Sanders) won’t be around to suffer?
Feinstein’s career has been highlighted by her anti-gun stance, which was inspired by the early days of her career. Since she is so adept at getting results in the system, we can credit her for the decrease in gun violence in the last three decades, as well as the decrease in ownership leading to fewer suicides and accidental deaths.
I’ll Get You, My Pretty!
Flanagan seems to be particularly incensed at people having the audacity to be younger than her. It’s a case study in respectability politics, especially the complaint that a famous senator was referred to “neglecting the honorific.” Feinstein is justified in rebuking the young women by claiming they are tools being manipulated against an Old Woman. The tone disguises the fact that this is the impotent outrage of the last generation at being questioned by the next.
As much as I am disgusted by this (being a millennial I am sensitive to ageism, having killed diamonds and homeownership with my avocado toast) this isn’t really about Dianne (not only will I eschew the honorific, it’s first names! Take that!!). It’s not even about Caitlin. It’s about power.
What Are You Really Mad At?
The Green New Deal (GND), the cornerstone of the Sunrise Movement spearheaded legislatively by AOC, has been a topic for years. I first heard it in the aftermath of 2016. While I hesitate to give Thomas Friedman credit for anything after he gave Mohammed bin Salman a journalistic handjob shortly before MBS had Jamal Khashoggi butchered and almost two years after he had four young Shiite activists murdered, he is credited with coining the term. While various proposals may differ in details, the general spirit of a GND is to create jobs by shifting our energy reliance from dirty fuels to renewable ones that don’t create pollution, poison water, and influence wars in the Middle East and Latin America (hard to invade a country for its sunlight and wind, but give us time, American tenacity will find a way). “Kill two birds with one stone” isn’t hard for anyone, fifth grade or three-decade senator, to understand.
None of the “precocious and misguided” proposals presented to Feinstein are laid out to examine. The fact is none of the demands are unrealistic. All are well within the US’s capacity to implement. A sliver of the yearly military budget could accomplish this. What it takes is not more money, despite endless litanies of “HOWAREYOUGOINGTOPAYFORIT” whenever legislation that would help people is proposed (as opposed to the rubber stamp every time the military wants new weaponry). What it takes is political will. The kind of political will Feinstein does not have. She’s not the only one, of course, but the movement is just beginning.
Comments on tweets by the movement’s founder, Varshini Prakash, include various phrasings of “at least now you are at the right office” in response to their protest at Mitch McConnell’s office. Again, the establishment tries to have it both ways. You mobilize your friends before you go after your enemies, at least if you want to win. Feinstein and the Democrats want to be seen as friends to progressive causes, but when it’s time to put skin in the game, they don’t know you.
And that is how power protects itself, by setting arbitrary rules for engaging in the process. Do not neglect the honorific. Do not make demands of your betters. Let those in charge handle big business, you just come out when it’s time to vote for whoever won’t represent you.
Flanagan dismisses “angel” AOC’s praise of the “glum” occupiers of Nancy Pelosi’s office, “I just want to let you all know how proud I am of each and every single one of you for putting yourselves and your bodies and everything on the line.”
Putting their bodies on the line? The kids were sitting on the floor of the Longworth Building, one of the most heavily fortified structures on the planet. What was she worried about—that Mitch McConnell was going to show up and kickbox them?
Except for that one time they were. From the Sunrise Movement. Outside Mitch McConnell’s office. That aged well, Flanagan.
Flanagan’s condescension is only matched by her glee at their misfortune. Despite wringing her hands over how Prakash’s actions have manipulated and used these kids and gave them false hope, she takes no small amount of pleasure in describing how children with “the kind of perfect and complete understanding of the Green New Deal that only those still freshly acquainted with the worlds of magic and make-believe can achieve” were set to meet Feinstein.
In a pink-and-red sweater and her hair in a ponytail, she exuded the self-confidence of a child about to ace her speech for fifth-grade class president. But standing in front of Feinstein (blue pantsuit, hands clasped behind her back, the patience of Job) she was quickly cowed.
Amazing. A child at her first political action didn’t knock it out of the park immediately. If only she had worn a pantsuit and been pickled by decades of stewing in her own mediocrity, she could face down someone seven decades her senior. How proud Feinstein must have been, her whole political life of 30 years getting…something done, leading up to this. Isn’t it every Old Woman’s goal when confronted with children over whose future you hold power to make them look “like someone had canceled Christmas?” Put her on Rushmore.
Then Flanagan gets weird. And ghoulish.
Children are our future! They must be coddled and exalted, their ideas about politics and the environment received as though they are the unpublished thoughts of Bertrand Russell. Seeing their rudeness treated in the measured and unyielding way that adults use to speak to misbehaving children is weirdly thrilling.
Not sure when children have been treated like nascent Bertrand Russells. Is she referring to Sanders letting BLM activists have the microphone at his rally? Really, he rewarded such rudeness, when he should have thrilled Flanagan by telling them how he knows better than they do.
I’m not even sure Flanagan and I live on the same planet at this point. The news is full of the kind of “kids today” stories I mentioned before, first my generation, now Gen Z. Again this is not new, The Who were “talking bout my generation” years after Rebel Without A Cause and American Graffiti portrayed youth as shiftless, surly and entitled. Flanagan may not be the first who “don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today,” but she’s at a point where kids are standing up for themselves. And it makes her angry.
What Is Done Will Not Be Undone
Hiding behind Dianne Feinstein’s age and gender is just another skip on the broken record of establishment Democrat talking points. Are you upset Hillary’s coup in Libya turned a prosperous country into an open-air slave market? That Honduras is wracked by violence as a result of her policies? That she helped push the Crime Bill that ballooned prison populations? No, you’re mad at Hillary’s vagina.
As climate scientists (with whom Feinstein is apparently personally acquainted, maybe even pitches in) predict ever more desperate scenarios, don’t rock the boat, kiddies. Granny knows best. Just go to school and learn your opinion doesn’t matter. And don’t forget to vote. Until then, we don’t care about you.
Well, fuck that.
Police are shooting innocent and unarmed people in the street. Trump is threatening another coup in Venezuela. Flint still doesn’t have clean water. The richest nation in the world cannot guarantee its citizens clean fucking water. I’m sorry if it makes you uncomfortable, Flanagan, but these are real issues, real challenges, and they require real solutions, not adherence to “the process.” If you can’t see that, maybe you’re “precocious and misinformed.” There are no holidays dedicated to people who counsel civility. In fact, the last champion of “pull up your pants” politics is playing his TV doctor in prison. We don’t trust people who tell us the cop shooting us is our fault, the sludge in our water can be “bootstrapped” away, that wars are just good business.
We need people who are governed by the “fierce urgency of now,” who won’t wait for “a more convenient season.” Flanagan belongs to a generation raised on a “Santaclausified” Martin Luther King, who forgot that when he marched to Washington, LBJ (a “real Democrat”) demanded, “what’s this goddamn n****r preacher doing to me?” The fact that Feinstein greeted them with “grace, patience” and “authority” rather than slurs may be the only progress her generation can point to. Way to clear the bar. As we slide into a neoliberal hellscape, it will be the children who suffer and the children who save us. It’s our duty to help them in any way we can, by teaching them their voice is valuable, that they have a right to be treated with human dignity, and it doesn’t take 30 years of failure, yes, Flanagan, failure, to deserve to even speak to power.
If you don’t want kids bringing signs, I have a suggestion.