Please don’t run again

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - Harold Mey­er­son is ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor of the Amer­i­can Prospect. He is a con­tribut­ing writer to Opin­ion. By Harold Mey­er­son

At age 84, Dianne Fe­in­stein is the old­est of the 100 United States sen­a­tors. And the word, both in Wash­ing­ton and around Cal­i­for­nia, is that she plans to run for re­elec­tion next year to a sixyear term that will end when she’s 91.

That would squeak her in un­der the ac­tu­ar­ial wire. By the cal­cu­la­tions of the So­cial Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion, the life ex­pectancy of an 84-year-old Amer­i­can woman is 7.7 years. If Fe­in­stein hews to the ac­tu­ar­ial norm, she’ll live to 92.

She could well hew to more than the norm, of course. Fe­in­stein, by all ap­pear­ances, is no less alert and ac­tive to­day than she’s been in re­cent years. On the other hand, that’s no guar­an­tee that she’d be that way as a nona­ge­nar­ian in 2024.

The prob­lem with yet an­other Fe­in­stein can­di­dacy is partly a mat­ter of im­age. Ever since the tea party land­slide of 2010 wiped out a gen­er­a­tion of Demo­cratic up-and-com­ers, many of the party’s cen­tral fig­ures — Barack Obama de­ci­sively ex­cepted — have been dis­pro­por­tion­ately older. Some of those Democrats have flour­ished with age: Sen. Bernie San­ders, tech­ni­cally an in­de­pen­dent, has led a re­birth of the Amer­i­can left; Rep. Nancy Pelosi re­mains the most ac­com­plished leg­isla­tive leader Congress has seen in many decades; Rep. Max­ine Wa­ters has be­come the bubbe of the an­tiTrump ac­tivists; and Jerry Brown, in his sec­ond go-round as Cal­i­for­nia gov­er­nor, has be­come the na­tion’s com­man­der in chief in the fight against cli­mate change.

Fe­in­stein can claim no such dis­tinc­tion: She’s been a re­li­able Demo­cratic vote, which is no small thing in an age when the dis­tance be­tween the two par­ties can be mea­sured in light-years. Given the pol­i­tics of Cal­i­for­ni­ans, how­ever, it’s in­con­ceiv­able that her suc­ces­sor, should she choose to stand down, would not be a Democrat too.

The cen­trism that bol­stered Fe­in­stein’s elec­toral prospects when she was on the bal­lot in the 1990s is no longer the sine qua non for vic­tory in Cal­i­for­nia, if it ever was. The state has clearly moved to the left in the en­su­ing decades. And while on some is­sues Fe­in­stein has em­braced the new pro­gres­sivism, she can’t be said to have led the way on such sig­na­ture lib­eral causes as univer­sal healthcare, the $15 min­i­mum wage, cam­paign fi­nance re­form, tu­ition­free higher ed­u­ca­tion, bat­tling cli­mate change or rein­ing in Wall Street.

That doesn’t mean she’s likely to get a Demo­cratic chal­lenger should she run: The list of con­tests Democrats be­lieve they must win in 2018 is al­ready plenty long, which makes it very un­likely that a Fe­in­stein op­po­nent could raise suf­fi­cient re­sources to wage a cred­i­ble cam­paign. If Fe­in­stein runs, Fe­in­stein wins.

Yet that’s pre­cisely why she shouldn’t run. Both Cal­i­for­nia and the Demo­cratic Party have all but rein­vented them­selves po­lit­i­cally since Fe­in­stein was first sworn in as se­na­tor; she has not. There are a host of younger Democrats more at­tuned than she to their party’s new pro­gres­sivism: Ro Khanna and Linda Sanchez in the U.S. House; Kevin de Leon in the state Se­nate; Con­troller Betty Yee in Sacra­mento; Eric Garcetti in City Hall; Tom Steyer on the Bay Area Bil­lion­aires’ Row. Rep. Adam B. Schiff is more a mod­er­ate in the Fe­in­stein mold, but, as his work in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Trump-Rus­sia con­nec­tions makes clear, he dis­plays an in­ten­sity of en­gage­ment that eludes Fe­in­stein.

With Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­cans in­creas­ingly un­able to win statewide of­fice or hold on to con­gres­sional and leg­isla­tive dis­tricts un­der­go­ing de­mo­graphic change, the Demo­cratic bench in Cal­i­for­nia grows steadily more pop­u­lous. Th­ese Democrats de­serve a greater pres­ence in D.C.

In it­self, of course, gen­er­a­tional change of­fers no guar­an­tee of im­prove­ment. No mem­ber of the state’s — or the na­tion’s — cur­rent con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion can match the leg­isla­tive ge­nius of Henry A. Wax­man, the West Los An­ge­les con­gress­man who man­aged to ex­pand Med­i­caid even dur­ing Ron­ald Rea­gan’s pres­i­dency and stepped down in 2014 af­ter 40 years in the House.

But pre­cisely be­cause Wax­mans are ex­cep­tions to the rule, gen­er­a­tional re­newal is one of the met­rics by which we can mea­sure the strength and po­ten­tial of a po­lit­i­cal party. Elected of­fi­cials are not in­dis­pens­able; even the great ones are mor­tal.

Dianne Fe­in­stein does her­self — and her state, and her party — no fa­vors by run­ning for of­fice one more time. Best to call it a day.

Cal­i­for­nia and the Democrats have rein­vented them­selves po­lit­i­cally since Fe­in­stein was first elected; she has not.

Bren­dan Smi­alowski AFP/Getty Im­ages

DIANNE FE­IN­STEIN, with re­porters in March, has served in the U.S. Se­nate since 1992.

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