Ben Goad reported at the Press Enterprise that California’s senior Senator Dianne Feinstein declined an invitation from her Republican opponent to debate. That’s unsurprising for more than one reason. Strategically, Feinstein has nothing to gain by debating, and plenty to lose. Most incumbents would probably do the same.
But, however little I probably agree with anything that Feinstein’s Republican challenger has to say, it’s particularly galling in this case. Feinstein represents the worst of California’s Democratic Party. Not only is she a neoconservative with a national security record that would have been envied by the most bloodthirsty hawks in the Bush administration (a record which conveniently made her husband big bucks); she also helped to water down healthcare reform, and is a staunch defender of the currently-indefensible social and economic status quo.
But for me, that’s not the worst of it. Feinstein is the embodiment of the extraordinarily arrogant entitled incumbent, backed by a party which has decided that it’s better to win at any cost than to stand for anything in particular. She relies on the financial advantages of incumbency combined with those which stem from having exchanged all of your principles for backing from vested interests. Feinstein’s top contributors are PG&E, General Atomics, Edison International, and BAE Systems, and the industries which have fattened her wallet most fulsomely (according to Open Secrets) are “lawyers/law firms; lobbyists; securities and investments; and electric utilities).
These are all industries and companies which hedge their bets by buying as many politicians from both parties as are willing to be bought, reassuring themselves that there will be friendly faces at the other end of each election cycle once the incumbent has used their donations to thump his or her opponent. Feinstein’s party’s leadership, far from encouraging debate, dissent, and a democratic primary, did its best—as it did with Barbara Boxer (for whom I have a certain amount of respect) and Jerry Brown (a truly disastrous Governor) in 2010—to ensure that Feinstein would waltz away with the race without ever having to face the party’s grassroots.
Now, by refusing to participate in a debate (and as unenlightening as these usually are, they might still be the best way of allowing the public some insight into the candidates and their positions), Feinstein is trying to pull off the same stunt in November.
I initially thought that there was nothing that would make me even entertain a vote for Feinstein, but, however improbable, there is one thing which might make me think twice: some concrete achievements relating to defence spending, like a serious commitment to downsizing (eradicating would be better still, of course) the U.S. nuclear arsenal and cutting deeply into the Defence Department’s budget, guarded by the administration and the chicken hawks in the Republican Party against anything resembling a monetary or moral audit. This is an area in which (provided Democrats retain control of the Senate) Feinstein could wield real power, something the senior Senator from California has been maddeningly reluctant to do in her 18 years in the Senate, satisfying herself with rubber stamping and then whitewashing neoconservative misadventures and the security state they’ve engendered at great cost to her constituents and the country.