In 2017, I called on Sen. Dianne Feinstein to retire.
Specifically, I opined, “The idea of her being wheeled into the chamber and having aides make decisions on her behalf—a la Strom Thurmond—is not the best way to end an otherwise distinguished career in public service.”
Unfortunately—and a reminder to my most devoted critics—sometimes I’m right.
Clearly, the senior senator from California is being protected by her staff. This is not an easy task, as the senator was a difficult task master even when she was clearly mentally competent. Her obvious, current cognitive difficulties must make the task more difficult. Even when Feinstein was mentally sharp, her tough demeanor was difficult to deal with. As a former advance person for her, I can testify to that difficulty.
That said, she has been overall a terrific senator—and her legacy should not include her current predicament.
Personally, she saved my life. I was behind home plate at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on Oct. 17, 1989, the cement second deck right above me, when the Loma Prieta Earthquake hit. Had she not single-handedly fought and paid for Candlestick to be upgraded for a significant earthquake as mayor, many people would have died. Nobody ever writes that part of the story.
Therefore, it’s with tremendous gratitude and immense sadness that I called on her to retire in 2017. Now the worst-case scenario is coming to pass. But it also reminds me that when I worked for Sen. Alan Cranston, staff did much of the work. Certainly, the senator provided the leadership and made the ultimate decisions, but staff did much of the heavy lifting. To that end, we are fortunate to have Sen. Feinstein’s staff continuing to do the work necessary, especially under such difficult circumstances.
That said, it’s not in the best interest of democracy for the senator’s staff to be forced to circumvent her decision making with their own, as clearly appears to be the case.
Senatorial and congressional courtesy prevents many from “forcing” the issue. That mentality is misguided. A role model for standing aside is Speaker Emeritus Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi could have retained power, and many wanted her to remain. But she not only stepped aside, she kept a promise and provided a smooth transition for the next generation of leadership.
Pelosi is still competent and still around to counsel and guide a new generation of Democratic leadership. She is a model for all leaders.
Which brings us to President Joe Biden. Some have expressed concern about his age. But the difference between Sen. Feinstein and President Biden couldn’t be more clear. Feinstein ran for reelection and served competently through 2018, when she was 86. Biden, 80, who I worked with in 1986 and 2008, is still sharp and navigating this nation through a difficult period.
Biden is clearly competent. There is simply no one in the nation who has the chops to replace him. Moreover, the president’s administration has been superior in almost every area, save the Justice Department where Merrick Garland’s timidity in failing to hold the leaders of the Jan. 6 insurrection accountable has been a disappointment.
Moreover, Biden is mentoring Vice President Kamala Harris, who has grown tremendously during the president’s tenure in office. She is well prepared to take his place four years from now. In the final analysis, it’s not age that matters, but competence. Clearly, President Biden is competent, while Sen. Feinstein sadly is not.
But we in California need not worry. Feinstein’s staff is on the job—and by all accounts they, collectively, make a terrific senator.
San José Spotlight columnist Rich Robinson is a political consultant, attorney and author of “The Shadow Candidate.” His columns appear every fourth Wednesday of the month.
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