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When Older Isn’t Wiser

America's most enduring political figure now lives in slow motion. Hampered by bad hips, she walks at a glacial pace, usually gripping the arms of two aides who lead the way, her legs flopping around like a puppet's as she shuffles through the corridors of Capitol Hill.

However dramatic, does that passage, written by a Washington Post reporter in 2001 about South Carolina’s gaga senior U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, remind you of anyone in the U.S. Senate today? (Hint: I changed the pronoun from “he” to “she” in the quote.) 

As a native Bay Area Democrat I have mostly sung Dianne Feinstein’s praises lo these many years, from the bloody carnage of the San Francisco City Hall murders until she led the #MeToo charge against Minnesota U.S. Senator Al Franken, which prompted his dramatic 2018 resignation just three weeks after her opening salvo. A former model and conservative talk-radio-host-turned politician (before Franken’s election to the U.S. Senate) by the name of Leeann Tweeden released a tasteless gag photo of him taken 11 years earlier during a 2006 entertainment-of-the-troops visit to Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Iraq. It actually reminded me of my TV-reporter days when we all took similar photos of each other for the Christmas party. The Franken resignation was an enormous loss for our country that keeps on giving, and Feinstein poured the gasoline and lit the match for the conflagration that consumed him without even the pretense of a presumption of innocence or due process. I can only write about this because I am a woman. The fires of woke Hell itself would metaphorically incinerate any man who wrote it, including at this paper. Equality has cynically come to mean reordering the bigwigs on top instead of doing what’s best for everyone, man or woman, from the bottom up.      

Feinstein needs to do the right thing and retire already. Her professional race is over, why limp over the finish line? She can‘t possibly need the money. Forbes pegged Feinstein’s personal wealth at around $200 million this year, and as the country’s most senior senator, she surely qualifies for the maximum U.S. Senator annual salary of $203,700 ( And unlike the vast majority of the Californians she represents, Feinstein also has a defined pension plan that pays 80-percent of that salary for life. Neither of these employer contributions from the public purse would even show up as a blip on her personal financial spreadsheet, of course, but it seems like a good time to remind both ourselves and all of our electeds that, before taxes and deductions, the median gross annual income of tens of millions of Californians in this richest of states is $78,672, and outside of government work the defined pension plan has gone the way of the dodo. So if she doesn’t need the money or employee benefits, what gives?

Senator Feinstein has regrettably fallen beneath the hooves of the four horses of this particular apocalypse: prestige, ego, pride, and hubris. Dubbed the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Effect, it’s the emotional inability to give up the glory that really drives doddering senior senators and other powerful public servants to keep hanging on long into their dotages. And as women we are free at last to be every bit as obsessed with power, status, and public image as the most ego-driven of men. In and of itself this is hardly surprising; all mammals on Earth have dominance hierarchies. And those fortunate few at the top stay there until they’re toppled by younger, stronger members. It’s the toppling piece that’s missing in the Feinstein scenario, especially tricky these divisive days when the individual in need of toppling is a woman. In our shared cultural moment few men would dare raise a voice to publicly criticize a high-profile woman. YouTube and cell phones lurk in the shadows…waiting patiently for the first woke slip. And getting back to the Strom Thurmond example, men cling to their professional standings longer than they know they should, too. Knowing when to call it quits and walk away is an all-gender skill, too infrequently employed.  

I get it, intellectually.  But…it’s just that I expected things to turn out differently back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s when we were all marching and writing about equal pay and independence under the law (in my view still the real cornerstones of gender equality). Our future vision at that time was a rosy one of cheerful cooperation within families and other less traditional domestic arrangements, a kind of flexible home-team approach where everybody pitched in to the extent he or she was able. In hindsight it was a utopian vision, probably even a naïve one since those years morphed paradoxically into today’s reality: historic economic inequality, even with everybody in the house working except the cat and dog; an economic system where the poor are increasingly locked into their poverty; a way dumbed-down education system, and general discontent from everyone about how the other guy or gal is getting a sweeter deal than the next guy or gal.  

Maybe that’s why senators hang onto their seats so long after their own youthful hopes for the country have been crushed beneath the weight of years of quid pro quo. They understand, but can never say, that after all those years in their front-row seats they know for sure that the country’s real power structure, measured in wealth and the power it generates, is so fortified and inbred to be impregnable. 

One Comment

  1. Kirk Vodopals May 26, 2023

    Her staffers are propping her up like a puppet. It’s disgraceful. I emailed the honorable Senator and respectfully requested her resignation…
    Everyone should do the same

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