Health and Fitness

The Double Standard of Reactions to Dianne Feinstein’s Age


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Washington is a spot stuffed with secrets and techniques that nobody retains. One is that the Senate is a gerontocracy, the place age is forex and longevity is power; when the 116th Congress started final yr, the common age of the Senators was simply shy of 63. There are seven members on the far facet of 80, together with its oldest member, 88-year-old Dianne Feinstein.

Which brings us to a second secret that seldom stays quiet: as soon as a dam breaks, the flood in Washington comes shortly and with little mercy. And yesterday, the Hoover Dam of Senate decorum got here crashing down the Colorado River, sweeping away the civilized silence round Feinstein.

Feinstein’s hometown newspaper, The San Francisco Chronicle, revealed on Thursday a damning report about her status and perceived shortcomings in her job, which she has held since 1992. Primarily based on public occasions and nameless sources, together with three of Feinstein’s Democratic colleagues in Congress, the newspaper describes a collection of incidents that counsel the veteran politician is, at finest, a beat slower than she was in her youthful, trailblazing years. At its worst, the story casts Feinstein as an aged lady nicely previous her prime, a lot in order that Senators now preemptively introduce themselves to Feinstein to spare her the awkward second of getting to ask their identities.

As soon as it turns into open season on a narrative like this one, everybody appears desperate to chime in, speeding out from their silence or whisper campaigns onto the general public sq. to shout tales that verify the preliminary crack. It’s exhausting to think about now that it was a non-story when Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois—age 77—took over the Judiciary Committee in 2020 as a substitute of Feinstein; nobody then wished to insult its prime Democrat when she was quietly deposed. However D.C. can develop into a vicious den.

Feinstein declined to be interviewed for the story, however she couldn’t cease it from ricocheting across the Beltway. On Thursday, different information organizations had been both repeating The Chronicle’s anecdotes or including their very own. By dusk, Feinstein had known as The Chronicle’s editorial board, defended herself, and declared that she would serve no less than till her time period ends in 2025, at which level, she can be 91 years outdated. She has already filed the paperwork to run once more in 2024, a principally performative act that lets her to proceed meager fundraising.

However Washington, in its personal perverse method, usually rewards longevity. Because the mid-twentieth century, the Senate’s professional temp position has been handed to probably the most senior member of the bulk social gathering. If Democrats can defend their majority this fall, that position would cross to Feinstein subsequent yr after 82-year-old Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont retires. Or, if Republicans are in a position to choose up a seat, whereas defending their incumbent ones, the position as third-in-line-to-the-presidency would fall to 89-year-old Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa. He would come behind Vice President Kamala Harris and 82-year-old Home Speaker Nancy Pelosi within the line of succession. (Although Pelosi might lose the gavel after this fall’s elections.)

Put merely: the longer somebody stays in Washington, the harder it’s for them to go away. In the event that they wait lengthy sufficient, they’re actually heartbeats away from the White Home. Some merely refuse to exit. Nobody can credibly argue that Sen. Robert Byrd, Sen. Strom Thurmond or Sen. Thad Cochran had been writing their finest chapters by the tip of their providers. (For an absolute scorcher on Cochran’s potential, learn Molly Ball’s legendary profile written at The Atlantic earlier than she joined TIME.) Few are speeding to rent these once-high-octane octogenarians as lobbyists. The lawmakers who didn’t money out of their prime for jobs on Ok Road face uneasy retirements out of public life.

Which brings up one last Washington secret that everybody is aware of: ladies are held to a unique commonplace. Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat and the Senate professional temp, died in workplace at age 100; by the tip, he was voting with easy hand indicators. Thurmond, too, retired only a yr earlier than his loss of life, at 100k. Whereas not at all times on the best facet of historical past, he principally bought a cross for his evidently declining capability on the finish of his time period. As The New Yorker quoted a former Senate aide in 2020: “For his final ten years, Strom Thurmond didn’t know if he was on foot or on horseback.” He, too, died within the professional temp position however acquired a hero’s funeral.

And a 2007 Politico story on Cochran, below the headline “Frail and Disoriented, Cochran Says He’s Not Retiring,” had this because the second paragraph: “The 79-year-old Cochran appeared frail and at instances disoriented throughout a quick hallway interview on Wednesday. He was unable to reply whether or not he would stay chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and at one level, wanted a staffer to remind him the place the Senate chamber is situated.” Cochran retired mid-term at age 80, and died a yr later.

However Feinstein? If the scenes as reported by The Chronicle and others are correct—and never even Feinstein’s fiercest defenders are denying them—they arrive at an uncomfortable time. There have been sufficient public moments of her making errors to advantage the reporting, reminiscent of repeating the identical query verbatim at a listening to, delivering a eulogy for a decades-long buddy with out mentioning the deceased’s title, and praising the Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a Republican, for working “among the finest set of hearings that I’ve participated in” for Justice Amy Coney Barrett—an evaluation that despatched Democrats groaning.

The Chronicle story concludes that “it seems she will be able to not fulfill her job duties with out her workers doing a lot of the work required to characterize the almost 40 million individuals of California.” In an accompanying editorial, the paper urges her Democratic colleagues to power the dialog. That could be acceptable, whereas not essentially feeling truthful. It’s price remembering that Feinstein’s growing older male colleagues had been principally allowed to go away the Senate on their phrases.

As an illustration, Sen. Johnny Isakson had been serving within the Senate with Parkinson’s Illness, and nobody significantly pushed him to go away in opposition to his will. The Georgia Republican’s well being remained his information to debate when he was prepared. He didn’t disclose his analysis for 2 and a half years, in 2015.

Arizona Sen. John McCain’s extra public struggle with mind most cancers introduced a nationwide dialog concerning the illness. The identical when Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts died a decade earlier from the identical hellish mind most cancers. However when Supreme Court docket Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in 2020 at age 87, it didn’t take lengthy for liberals to rage that she ought to have retired when a Democrat held the White Home in order that they didn’t lose the seat to a conservative.

Nobody on the Hill has to this point denied that Feinstein has slowed down. She is not among the many fiercest legislators on her facet of the Capitol. So legendary is her tenacity that Annette Bening portrayed her in a movie about Feinstein’s persistence in investigating the CIA’s enhanced interrogation packages and producing what’s extensively known as “The Torture Report.” However uncommon is the 80-something right now who has the identical edge they’d within the mid-2000s.

However it’s additionally true that seniority stays, for probably the most half, the unwritten legislation of the Senate; longevity begets privilege. However a juicy story opens the door for the pile-on, and nobody on this facet of the Atlantic understands schadenfreude higher than Washington’s insiders. But those self same clucking beaks would do nicely to do not forget that displaying an excessive amount of glee lands can land you one ill-worded statement away from appearing like a sexist. In that, Feinstein and her backers nonetheless have energy, even when the Senator herself doesn’t at all times bear in mind to deploy it.

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Write to Philip Elliott at philip.elliott@time.com.



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