Dianne Feinstein Fades Away

November 18, 1978: Congressman Leo Ryan was murdered after visiting Jonestown. Jim Jones and his minions committed mass murder after Ryan’s visit.

November 27, 1978: San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were murdered by former Supervisor Dan White. Dianne Feinstein made the shocking announcement after being one of the first on the crime scene. The entire Bay Area reeled after these two tragedies.

These are not just historical events to me. They’re deeply personal: I knew Leo Ryan and Harvey Milk quite well. I met George Moscone and Dianne Feinstein on several occasions with my father who seemed to know every politician in San Francisco.

Dianne Feinstein was magnificent in the aftermath of these two tragedies. She held the City together by force of will. That’s why I will always have a soft spot for her.

I greet the announcement that she’s not running for reelection with relief. I wish she had retired in 2018. It’s beyond sad that her mental decline had to play out in public. My mother suffered from dementia at the end of her life, but the rest of my family ignored it and wished it away. I was the youngest and living in New Orleans, so I didn’t have much say in the matter. I mention this because my mother was a fervent Feinstein fan.

When I began blogging, I noticed how few people outside my home region understood it. Many were shocked that the former Mayor of San Francisco was not a hardcore leftist but instead a moderate. Feinstein grew up in a San Francisco dominated by the Irish, Italians, and her co-religionists who were mostly center-left Democrats or center-right Republicans. Moderation was the name of the game.

Dianne Feinstein is authentic. She knows who she is and what she believes in, but she’s always been open to persuasion.

While Mayor she was teased by many pundits as being humorless. In his splendid book Season of the Witch, Salon founder David Talbot compared her to Groucho’s foil Margaret Dumont. But unlike Dumont, Feinstein was a good listener dedicated to reason and logic. That made her a fine senator until the Kaiser of Chaos came to Washington.

Dianne Feinstein detests chaos, disorder, and people who cannot be reasoned with. She was an expert at finding common ground with those who disagreed with her. She was usually the sanest person in the room, but sanity was out of fashion after 2017.

The New York Times has a fine retrospective of her career. In the senate, her finest hours were the assault weapons ban and her strenuous opposition to torture. She was even able to convince a famous Californian to support the former: Ronald Reagan. Unfortunately, the bill only had the votes for passage if there was a sunset provision. The pro-torture president George W. Bush allowed it to expire.

Feinstein’s sixth and final term let down the side and led to her removal as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. Sad but necessary. Senator Feinstein stayed too long at the dance.

Like most pioneers, Dianne Feinstein was a tough woman. She had her flaws but the good outweighed the bad. Until her mind betrayed her, she was one of the smartest senators of her era. She just stayed too long at the dance.

I used the dance imagery because I recall attending an event at the Fairmont Hotel with my parents. Mayor Feinstein was there and danced with my father. They engaged in animated conversation while dancing. I asked Lou what they talked about. He said: “I told her she danced well for a Democrat, and she told me I was surprisingly graceful for a Republican.”

A rare flash of humor from Dianne Feinstein.

For me, Dianne Feinstein will always be the woman who rose to the occasion after her colleagues George Moscone and Harvey Milk were murdered. In those days, she was a lioness. I only wish her end as a national figure was as glorious as the beginning.

I used the term fades away in the post title but the last Saturday Odds & Sods was full of fadey songs. I’m going in another direction with a song I’ve had in my head while writing this post.

The last word goes to Willie Nelson followed by Al Green & Lyle Lovett:

3 thoughts on “Dianne Feinstein Fades Away

    1. Thanks. I was going for wistful. It’s awkward to pay tribute to someone who’s still in office and intends to serve out her term. I wish she’d leave early but she’s mentored too many California Dems for there to be a big push.

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