Feinstein: Symbol of A Bush-Enabling Beltway Democrat
In the wake of the series of profound failures that define the 2007 Democratic Congress, there is much debate over what accounts for this behavior. There are almost 300 "Congressional Democrats" and they are not a monolithic group. Some of them are unrelenting defenders of their core liberal political values and some are committed to providing meaningful opposition to the radicalism and corruption of the Bush administration. But as the sorry record of the 2007 Congress conclusively proves, they are easily outnumbered in the House and Senate -- especially the Senate -- by Bush-enabling and Bush-supporting Democrats.
The standard excuse offered by many apologists for Bush-enabling Democrats -- that they support the Bush agenda and capitulate to the right-wing noise machine due to political fear of being depicted as too liberal or "soft on terror" -- is clearly inapplicable to many, if not most, of the enablers. California's Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein provides a perfect case study for understanding why the Congress has done virtually nothing to oppose the most extreme Bush policies, while doing much actively to support it.
Feinstein represents a deep blue state and was just easily re-elected to her third term last year. She won't run for re-election, if she ever does, until 2012, when she will be 80 years old. Her state easily re-elected a Senator, Barbara Boxer, with a much more liberal voting record than Feinstein's. Political fear cannot possibly explain her loyal support for the Bush agenda on the most critical issues decided by the Senate.
Additionally, Feinstein is a 74-year-old divorced Jewish woman currently on her third husband, and it is thus extremely unlikely that she harbors any hopes of running in the future on a national ticket. She has as secure a political position as any politician in the country. Whatever explains what she does, it has nothing to do with "spinelessness" or fear. What would she possibly fear?
And yet, her votes over the last several years, and especially this year after she was safely re-elected, are infinitely closer to the Bush White House and her right-wing Senate colleagues than they are to the base of her party or to the constituents she allegedly represents. Just look at what she has done this year on the most critical and revealing votes:
* Voted in FAVOR of funding the Iraq War without conditions;
* Voted in FAVOR of the Bush White House's FISA bill to drastically expand warrantless eavesdropping powers;
* Voted in FAVOR of condemning MoveOn.org;
In 2006, Feinstein not only voted in favor of extending the Patriot Act without any of the critical safeguards sought by Sen. Feingold, among others, but she was one of the most outspoken Democratic proponents arguing for its extension ("I have never been in favor of allowing any provisions of the Patriot Act to expire."). Also in 2006, she not only voted in favor of amending the Constitution to outlaw flag burning, but was, as she proudly described herself, "the main Democratic sponsor of this amendment."
In October of 2002, she (naturally) voted to authorize President Bush to use military force to invade Iraq. She now self-servingly claims that she "regrets" the vote and was tricked by the Bush administration into believing Saddam had WMDs, yet Scott Ritter has disclosed: "This is far different from the statement Feinstein made to me in the summer of 2002, when she acknowledged that the Bush administration had not provided any convincing intelligence to back up its claims about Iraqi WMD." And when it was revealed in August of this year that Awad Allawi had hired the most influential GOP lobbying firm to help oust Prime Minister Maliki, there was Sen. Feinstein leading the way in demanding Maliki's ouster.
Time and again, not only does she vote in favor of the most right-wing aspects of the Bush agenda, she uses her alleged expertise in areas of intelligence to pressure or give comfort to other Democrats wanting to do the same. Several of the 16 Democratic Senators who voted in favor of Bush's FISA bill in August, such as Jim Webb, cited assurances by Feinstein that she had obtained Secret Information as a member of the Intelligence Committee which proved how necessary this bill was. Similarly, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, she was one of the Democratic leaders urging the confirmation of Gen. Michael Hayden as CIA Director notwithstanding the central role he played as NSA Director in Bush's illegal surveillance programs.
Her primary allegiance is to the Beltway power system and her overwhelming affection is reversed for Beltway power brokers who are her true colleagues and constituents. That is particularly true of right-wing members of the defense and intelligence communities. Here, for instance, is the praise she oozed for the illegal-surveillance-implementing Gen. Hayden when urging his confirmation as CIA Director:
"I think the most important thing is that the individual be a competent, qualified, intelligent professional, and Mike Hayden is all of those things." She said that while she supports a civilian leader of the CIA, "I don't know a civilian that's really as well-connected and competent in the present stage of intelligence in America, and I think that's relevant."
And to explain her vote in support of Bush's FISA bill, she cited the Absolute Integrity of Mike McConnell as her reason:
I spoke with Admiral Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, at length this evening. He believes the United States is vulnerable, and that we need to move quickly to change the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The intelligence community is deeply concerned that chatter among suspected terrorist networks is up. I am concerned as well. We are living in a period of heightened vulnerability, and must give the intelligence community the tools they need to protect America. . . .
I voted for both bills because one needed 60 votes to pass. It is vital that we act now. We cannot leave the nation unprotected in this post-9/11 period.
What is so notable -- and most revealing -- about this is that Feinstein is a Democratic Senator from one of the most liberal states in the country. Conventional wisdom holds that she is a "liberal" or at least a moderate. She came onto the national scene in the 1980s as the Mayor of San Francisco, one of the most liberal large cities in the nation, and was twice re-elected by San Francisco residents. In fairness, she casts some (usually futile) votes in favor of the standard Democratic agenda on issues such as the environment, gun control and the Military Commissions Act. And she'll listlessly participate in investigations that go nowhere, even when the White House defies or outright ignores subpoenas. But what she does with the greatest conviction is supports right-wing Bush measures and, above all else, is an ardent defender of the Beltway power establishment.
In this regard, she really symbolizes a major imbalance in the Washington political system. The right-wing Republicans in Congress have an affinity with their base and share the same basic values. One saw that quite vividly in the recent immigration debate, where most Congressional Republicans -- particularly the "conservative" ones -- embraced rather than ran away from their angry, impassioned base by blocking enactment of the immigration bill which the GOP establishment favored but which the right-wing base hated. Most conservative Senators sided with their base over the GOP establishment, as they usually do when there is a split (Harriet Miers, Dubai Port Deal, even steadfast support for the Iraq War). And they rarely repudiate the political value system of their base because they respect it and share it.
By very stark contrast, most (though certainly not all) Democrats in Congress -- particularly the most influential and longest-serving ones in the Senate like Feinstein -- have contempt for their base and share virtually none of their values. In March of last year, I had an e-mail exchange with the spokesperson for a key Democratic Senator on the Intelligence Committee regarding how bloggers and their readers could work more closely with Democratic Senators to highlight the need for the NSA lawbreaking scandal to be investigated and taken more seriously. Ultimately, they made clear that they wanted nothing to do with actual citizens who were eager to bring that situation about, as I was told:
I think there is an opportunity for us to figure out a better way to work together. But, you have to understand, my ultimate goal is to help [the] Senator  achieve his objective of real oversight on national security matters by the Intelligence Committee. Even with the best of intentions, I'm not convinced that bloggers can help us meet that goal. In fact, I worry about it hurting our efforts given the increasingly partisan environment.
As Digby said yesterday of Senate Democrats: "it surely seems true that they loathe the Democratic base as much as the Republicans do." Hence, Dianne Feinstein funds Bush's war with no limits while condemning MoveOn. She votes to vest vast new surveillance powers in the President. She defends and vouches for and places blind faith in the whole litany of Bush intelligence officials who have spent the last six years radicalizing this country and breaking the law. Plainly, Feinstein does not do this out of political fear or "spinelessness," but because it is who she now is and what she believes. She and those like her are the reason why there is such a gaping disconnect between the Beltway political class and the political views of most Americans.
Most of these political officials who feed off of Washington year after year become appedenages of it and vigorous defenders of nothing other than the Beltway system. They are drained of all belief, conviction and passion. And in Feinstein's case, it is particularly easy to understand why this is so. Her current husband, Richard Blum, is an extremely rich defense contractor whose companies have endless relationships with the work Feinstein does in the Senate. It is entirely unsurprising that Feinstein's affection is reserved for officials in the intelligence and defense communities because those are her social peers, the individuals with whom her husband interacts professionally and socially and with whom she most identifies.
More than anything else, Feinstein worships at the altar of the Beltway power system and its most revered members. Conversely, she has contempt for the liberal base which elects her and the constituents she represents. She long ago ceased being driven by the political values which serve as props for her campaigns, if she was ever driven by them. And that is the story of so many of the Beltway Democrats.
It really is one of the most extraordinary -- and downright embarrassing -- political facts that more Republicans than Democrats approve of the 2007 Democratic Congress. And why wouldn't they? The Democratic Congress has not restrained the Leader at all, but has done much to support and empower him. The Democratic Congress -- especially the Senate -- is controlled by the likes of Dianne Feinstein, and what Bush supporter wouldn't be satisfied with the role she is playing?
There are absolutely members of Congress who are ardent defenders of our basic Constitutional liberties and who are genuine opponents of the Bush administration. But the record of Congress leaves no doubt that they are wildly outnumbered.
It isn't only -- or even principally -- the "Blue Dogs" which make the "Democratic Congress" nothing but an enabling instrument of the Bush White House and its right-wing policies. Far worse are the establishment-defending, soul-less, belief-less, self-perpetuating "liberal Senators" like Feinstein who render the concept of "opposition party" nothing more than a deceitful illusion. Dianne Feinstein is the drained and Bush-enabling face of the 2007 Democratic Congress.
© 2007 Salon.com