Rebecca Traister’s profile of Dianne Feinstein is long and nuanced, but the bottom line is someone who fell in love with a particular way of doing things in the Senate and is determined to continue to live in the past rather than adapting to new realities or quitting and letting someone who can do the job:
From her youth, Feinstein has been an institutionalist, with an institutionalist’s respect for structure, management, and hierarchy as means to manage the rabble of activism and protest. She seems unable to appreciate the possibility that partisan insurgents have overrun those institutions themselves. The crowds who came through the door with battering rams in January 2021 looking to kill a vice-president surely had chilling echoes for Feinstein, but days later, in the name of the Senate, she was defending Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley — a man who had offered up a sign of solidarity to the insurrectionists — in their attempts to delegitimize the election of Joe Biden.
“I think the Senate is a place of freedom,” she told reporters. “And people come here to speak their piece, and they do, and they provide a kind of leadership. In some cases, it’s positive; in some cases, maybe not. A lot of that depends on who’s looking and what party they are.”
“She’s like Charlie Brown and the football,” said Dahlia Lithwick, Slate’s senior legal analyst, describing Feinstein’s unstinting belief that her institution is still functional. “But she doesn’t see that the whole football field is on fire.”
Long before Feinstein sealed the deal with her embrace of Graham, she and her senior colleagues on the Judiciary Committee were criticized for being passive as Mitch McConnell stole a Supreme Court seat from the Democrats. When Republicans crisscrossed the country bragging about holding on to Antonin Scalia’s seat after his death, Democrats did nothing. When Trump appointed the staunch conservative Neil Gorsuch, Lithwick said there was “a little chatter about boycotting the hearings,” but then Democrats “went ahead and had the hearing and confirmed him.”
Feinstein’s belief in the Senate’s sanctity may mean that the enduring moment of her career will not be the assault-weapons ban or her grilling of CIA torturers but that awkward, notorious embrace of Graham. In seeking refuge in government institutions as the shield against instability and insurrection, Feinstein has been unable to discern that it was her peers in government — in their suits, on the dais, in the Senate, on the Judiciary Committee — who were laying siege to democracy, rolling back protections, packing the court with right-wingers, and building a legal infrastructure designed to erase the progress that facilitated the rise of her generation of politicians. But this is who she has always been.
The design of the Senate is perfectly designed to produce narcissists who think that byzantine counter-majoritarian rules are actually a point of pride, like mastering a secret handshake. But Feinstein is a particularly egregious case.