Let’s talk about that Dianne Feinstein video

As a left winger, I pride myself in calling out fake news from the right. As a supporter of County Executive Marc Elrich, I never hesitate to call out Greater Greater Washington or developer-funded detractors when they take his comments out of context. And yet… I have to say that the left is not innocent of this either.

You’ve seen the video. I even fell for it and reposted it. Children along with activists from the Sunrise Movement visited Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) begging her to support the Green New Deal, as-is, and she responds to them with a condescending tone, barking at them, “I’ve been doing this for 30 years.” The video presents her as old, stale, and out-of-touch.

The truth is, this was a doctored video. It was edited and spliced to show Sen. Feinstein’s worst responses and tone without any surrounding context. The full response was several minutes long and reveals that Feinstein did indeed engage with the students, and did so in a way that takes them seriously as future adults instead of telling them what they want to hear. I will say, the Sunrise Movement did itself no favors by releasing the doctored video, given that the full version is now circulating. You can watch the full video here.

The Atlantic published a lengthy defense of Feinstein, describing her response as mature and realistic while scolding the children for being rude and underinformed. The article makes a very fair and important point that accomplished “old women” like Feinstein, who have endured many battles to get where they are, need to be respected not merely for their age but for their experience, wisdom, and grit. I agree with this point – but I do think the Atlantic was much too forgiving of Feinstein and too dismissive of the children, the Sunrise Movement, and the idealism of the incoming young progressives in Congress.

In my opinion, the full version of her response does not exonerate Senator Feinstein. While I applaud her for being honest and tough in her response to the children – I much prefer this over smiling and telling them what they want to hear and making promises she has no intention of keeping – I still don’t think she is right. I can respect her for her wisdom and experience, but there is still the bad to be taken with the good, as far as her “doing this for 30 years.”

I do not think Feinstein is gleefully and maliciously out of touch with her constituency. I don’t envision her donning a Marie Antoinette wig and issuing a watered-down proposal as a “cake” version of the Green New Deal. I think she is being honest about how she feels about the viability and constraints of trying to get something like the GND passed. She may not be deliberately isolating herself from the masses, but she is acclimated to a certain Washington culture and mindset.
This is all the more reason to embrace people like AOC not only for their energy and urgency but for simply seeing things differently; for still being on the outside looking in, so to speak. She doesn’t come in with the assumption that something is not going to work; she instead asks, why not? For example, when Feinstein says that we don’t have a way to pay for the Green New Deal, she isn’t entertaining ideas that make certain entities accustomed to the status quo uncomfortable. Defense spending, lower marginal tax rates on the wealthy, and corporate subsidies are all a given, according to most people in Washington. It’s “just too complicated” to mess with.

It may be ironic to compare the AOC way of looking at things to what is usually attributed to a very capitalist mindset, but AOC is operating on the American Dream mentality. You know, everything that libertarian capitalist idealists want you to believe – that if you can work hard, anything is possible; the self-made entrepreneur who starts with $5 in his pocket, that sort of thing.

Yes, the Green New Deal looks impossible. It may very well be impossible. But AOC is saying that we should try. That if we clear out the usual Washington assumptions of how things have to get done and tap into the rest of our un-jaded potential, that we can at least get pretty damn close to these goals.

Senator and presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar, among others, has said that the Green New Deal is an “aspiration.” This is true. I wouldn’t use the term dismissively, however. Many notable achievements were at one time “aspirations.” Going to the moon. Running a 4 minute mile. Summiting Everest. The original New Deal.  The Green New Deal is a similar calibre aspiration. It is supposed to be HARD.

I’ll save this tangent for a future blog, but…depending on to what degree the UN scientists who give us twelve years to turn things around are correct, we may need to undergo a paradigm shift that is an order of magnitude greater than AOC to fight climate change. While I am no proponent of communism or any kind of forced collectivism, we may need to shift away from our individualism-based mentality to unleash a collectivized “excited delirium” (the alleged phenomenon where a mother can lift a car to save her child, etc) to achieve something currently deemed impossible in order to save the planet.

Until that happens, let’s give the idealism of AOC, the Sunrise Movement, and the children in Dianne Feinstein’s office a chance.

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