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Barbara Lee Running for Feinstein’s Seat

Rep. Barbara Lee, 76, announced last week that she’s running for the Democratic Party nomination to succeed 89-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein (whose memory is just a memory). Southern California Congresswoman Katie Porter, 40 had previously announced, and pompous, sanctimonious Rep. Adam Schiff, 62, will enter the race in due course. Schiff, a closeted neo-con, will be the best-funded candidate and be seen as a “centrist.” Lee and Porter are both members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and likely to split the lib-lab vote, enabling Schiff to slide into the nomination. It feels like the fix is already in. 

Joe Garofoli, who covers electoral politics for the SF Chronicle, expects Lee to be age-baited, albeit discreetly. Porter described herself as the candidate best-suited “fighting the battles of tomorrow” during a recent speech to the 500-member Democrats of Rossmoor (an upscale retirement community in Walnut Creek).

Her subtle message got across. Several Rossmoor Dem told Garopoli that age would indeed be a factor when they voted. He quoted an 81-year-old woman: “I love Barbara Lee, but we all need to get out of the way.” 

Garopoli asked Porter if her line about “‘fighting the battles of tomorrow” was a subtle dig at her older rivals, Porter replied, ”I think it’s a comment on where we find ourselves in this moment, that sometimes the playbook that we have taken to Washington doesn’t work.”

“Porter is running against Washington,” Garofoli observes, “and that includes people who have been in office a long time like Lee (elected to the House in 1998 after eight years in the Legislature) and Schiff (elected to the House in 2000 after four years in the Legislature).

“Porter was elected in 2018 and said Washington won’t change unless there are leaders like her who want to change the system and can relate to ‘ordinary people’ — like herself, a minivan-driving single mother of what she calls ‘three lightly supervised children.’

“…Porter has made herself a viral star through clips of her grilling wealthy CEOs when they testify before Congress — like when she explained to JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon that it is impossible for one of his bank tellers to live on what he pays them.” 

Lee’s supporters says questioning her fitness for the job is ageist. “She has more energy than most of the 25-year-olds I know,” one told Garofoli. Another said, “‘The reality is we have some Congress members who are 40 years old who should not be in Congress’.’”

420 to 1

In the period of intense hysteria that followed the 911 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, Barbara Lee did her East Bay constituents proud by voting against the $40 billion emergency appropriation that Bush/Cheney wanted for “our” shock-and-awe assault on Iraq. The vote was 420 to 1. Adam Schiff voted for the war. Years later, as the disaster became obvious, he claimed, as did many Democrats, that they’d been misled by “faulty intelligence.” But no intelligence was needed to recognize that Iraq had nothing to do with the 911 attack, which had been carried out mainly by Saudis (15 of 19), and planned in Afghanistan and Hamburg. 

I wrote a song called “Just You, Barbara Lee.” When it was posted on YouTube my technically adept friend changed the title to “420 to 1,” thinking that might induce a few potheads to give it a listen. 

In 2004, when Lee was running for re-election in 2004, a fundraiser for her was held at the boathouse on Lake Merritt. An Alameda peacenik/Democrat invited me to sing “420-to-1” at the event. He introduced me to the young woman who was running the event. She was wearing a Madras skirt and reminded me of the 20-somethings who had worked for Sen. Eugene McCarthy against LBJ in 1968. She said I would go on in about 20 minutes.

I left my guitar with her in a little office off the main hall and schmoozed with the attendees, who included Dr. Stephen Sidney, the Kaiser epidemiologist who had published the first study indicating that marijuana smoking did not cause lung cancer. I had interviewed him about the study but hadn’t made him for a progressive. He was accompanied by a 12-year-old son who looked amazingly like him.

In due course I retrieved my guitar and was tuning it when the young woman in the Madras skirt came into the office and said there would be one more speaker, then me. I said, “Wanna hear the song?” She nodded with a smile. I made my usual apology about being a lyricist, not a musician, and explained that Ernst Gruening and Wayne Morse were Senators who had voted against funding the US intervention in Vietnam.

For two and a half verses my audience of one seemed to be digging it. And then, in an instant, Dismay wiped the approval off her face. I had lost her with one line, By the time I was done I knew that I was about to be disinvited.

In the roar of total loss
REASON lifts a lonely voice
Old Ernst Gruening, Wayne Morse
Trying to give Peace a choice
Back when we had a little more democracy
Now it’s you Barbara Lee
Just you Barbara Lee, just you

Underneath the Capitol Dome
Our so-called representatives
Cheer their leader in the Andover sweater
Yelling “Fight! Smite Evil wherever it lives”
They’ve got what’s called a gang mentality
‘Cept you Barbara Lee
Just you, Barbara Lee, just you

In the star chamber night
Forgotten are the scents of old Tonkin
Four hundred and twenty to one
For WAR what’s another forty billion?
Where was Barney Frank, Where was Pelosi?
Just you, Barbara Lee,
Just you, Barbara Lee, just you

HISTORY has a way they say
It sometimes gets repeated
And those who didn’t learn yesterday
Tomorrow might get de- shshshsh
This is still top-secret in D.C.
‘Cept to Barbara Lee
Just you, Barbara Lee, just you
all alone.


  1. Lou January 29, 2023

    Might be a dumb question, but what line did the trick?

    I admit I am going for Porter, not Lee.

    • Fred Gardner Post author | January 29, 2023

      “Where was Barney Frank, where was Pelosi?” There were donors at the event who would have taken offense.

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