Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Times "McCains" Feinstein

It seems the New York Times has found in California's senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, the Senate's current maverick.

In Jeremy W. Peters' article "Feinstein's Support for N.S.A. Defies Liberal Critics and Repute" (in passing, I must observe I've never seen "repute" used like this), Feinstein is painted in a way that is reminiscent of how John McCain was portrayed between five and ten years ago.

Although her political upbringing in the liberal bastion of San Francisco City Hall, where she served first as a city supervisor and then as mayor, suggests otherwise, her beliefs have always defied an easy caricature. She supports capital punishment, saying the Boston Marathon bombings should be prosecuted as a death penalty case. She cast votes to sustain the Iraq war until its later stages and voted to confirm Bush cabinet and judicial nominees from her position on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Ladies and gentlemen, the New York Times formally anoints Senator Dianne Feinstein the holder of the Senate's John McCain "Maverick" Chair! What will that wacky DiFi do next?

Feinstein the maverick: a convenient peg on which to hang a (filler) story. Convenient, but wrong.

Feinstein is no mystery to those who have followed her since her days as mayor. First, she never was a San Francisco progressive politician. Such a person could never have garnered support in the rest of the state. Rather, Feinstein is a solidly machine-made pol in the tradition of most of San Francisco's Democratic mayors. As such, she makes progressive noises (or used to) but acts conservatively for the most part. To the extent non-San Franciscans consider her "liberal", it reflects how far to the right the country has drifted since Reagan.

Feinstein, moreover, has a strong authoritarian streak. As mayor she never met a pro-law enforcement measure she didn't like. As a senator her taste for a firm hand has more scope, with the covert protection of national security interests falling within her ambit as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. She found in George W. Bush a kindred spirit, and became one of the highest-profile Democrats to give his administration political cover to pursue extralegal activities in the name of the "war on terror".

That she is well-known for seeking an assault-weapons ban is, I suspect, not due to any leftish-of-center sentiments on her part. Rather, I think she was shaken by the assassinations of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. She also may have been affected by the 101 California St. shooting in 1993 (twenty years ago yesterday, by the way), which took place just five years after she stepped down as mayor. Neither set of killings, though, involved assault weapons (the killers used handguns), so I could be wrong.

Feinstein confuses only those who assume she shares the values of the most progressive San Franciscans. She doesn't. She's a centrist with a troubling yen for order at any price.

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