“Toughness doesn’t have to come in a pinstripe suit.”
~ Dianne Feinstein
As a descendant of Jewish-Russian immigrants who fled the October Revolution, Dianne Feinstein made a career for herself that has turned her into one of the most respected elderly stateswomen in the US Senate. She has many “firsts” to her name: first female Senator of California (since 1992), first and only female Mayor of San Francisco (1978-1988) and the first female President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (1969-1978). In that last job, she also played a historic role which made it to all American television stations on November 27th, 1978, the day of the double assassination of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.
Feinstein was in City Hall when her former (and disgruntled) colleague Dan White mowed down Moscone and Milk. Later that day, Feinstein appeared at a press conference to announce their death: “Both Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed…” This one sentence and press conference (which was recycled again in the feature film Milk) would launch her political career: even though she had been writing a speech that day about wanting to leave her job to take care of her sick husband, as soon as Moscone died, she knew she’d be interim Mayor of San Francisco and with this bizarre twist of fate, she started her prominent political career.
During her short stint as Mayor of San Francisco, she has been especially praised for saving San Francisco’s cable cars which were in such bad shape that the city had contemplated doing away with them altogether. Now they have become part San Francisco’s tourist brand, together with the Golden Gate.
In the American Senate, Feinstein’s profile is that of a no nonsense Democrat, although nationally she’s seen as left of center. Feinstein voted for the war in Iraq but has been a strong proponent for closing Guantanamo Bay, the jail which was opened by Bush junior and where people have been detained for years without any trial or form of protection as stipulated by the Geneva Convention. To quote Feinstein: “Let me say this: I believe closing Guantanamo is in our nation’s national security interest. Guantanamo is not only used by al-Qaida but also by other nations, governments and individuals — people good and bad — as a symbol of America’s abuse of Muslims and it’s fanning the flames of anti-Americanism around the world.” She said these words before the rise of ISIS, and lo and behold, the orange jumpsuits that Guantanamo prisoners wear are used in every execution video that ISIS airs.
Feinstein has been an equally strong voice, which may have had to do with the traumatic murders of Moscone and Milk, in the outlawing of fire weapons, an idea that can’t seem to take root in the United States due to “the right to bear arms” (or “the right to arm bears” as my daughter consistently ridicules it) and the strong lobby of the National Rifle Association.
Feinstein’s face can also be seen on American television every time a new judge is chosen for the American Supreme Court. There, too, Feinstein has been the first woman to be part of the so-called Judiciary Committee which accommodates this process.
In California, Feinstein’s popularity is tremendous. Back in 2010, there were rumors when Arnold Schwarzenegger was leaving his governor’s seat, that Feinstein might run and polls showed that she would have won, even in a race against the popular Jerry Brown, the current governor. I still regret she didn’t run, as the state is seeing challenges (bankruptcy, drought etc.) and a growing gap between the very rich and the very poor that would have been met squarely by someone like Feinstein, and she might have done things very differently from Jerry Brown…