Maybe civility, tact and graciousness have become so untrendy in politics that when a U.S. senator plays nice to an American president she just naturally gets booed. Even in her hometown, a supposed bastion of sophistication and enlightenment.
And she quickly draws a strong rebuke from an ambitious young legislative leader of her own party. So much for good manners! Sen. Dianne Feinstein is glaringly behind the times, her detractors say. She’s not polarized enough.
The pragmatic, centrist Democrat doesn’t fit into the contemporary activist mode of constantly attacking President Trump. Those are the so-called resistors, who really are achieving very little, if anything.
Yes, there’s plenty about this president to resist. He’s the classless polarizer-in-chief and hasn’t a clue about how to get anything done in Congress. But using his executive powers, he’s wreaking havoc with the environment and law-abiding immigrants without documentation.
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Let’s face it, Feinstein’s controversial comments about Trump at the civic-minded Commonwealth Club in San Francisco last week were less than artful, even if honest.
“Look, this man is going to be president, most likely, for the rest of this term,” she said. “I think we have to have some patience. It’s eight months into the tenure of the presidency.”
Patience? The time for that is long past.
And: “I just hope he has the ability to learn and to change. And if he does, he can be a good president. And that is my hope.”
Boos. “Oh, come on!” some shouted.
Trump has never shown a capacity for change. Good president? He’s on a path to be the worst in history.
The next day, Feinstein tried to explain.
“I’ve been strongly critical of President Trump when I disagree on policy and with his behavior,” she said. “While I’m under no illusion that it’s likely to happen and will continue to oppose his policies, I want President Trump to change for the good of the country.”
It is true she has been strongly critical of Trump. His pardon of bigoted former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio was “a stupid thing,” she told the San Francisco crowd. And the president “shouldn’t have tried to placate both sides” in the deadly protesting in Charlottesville, Va. “You cannot placate American Nazis. You cannot placate white supremacists.”
There’s a long list. She has denounced Trump’s “hateful deportation program.” She’s trying to protect national monuments from the president’s plan to shrink them.
But none of that caused state Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) to hesitate. He jumped right on it.
“It is the responsibility of Congress to hold [the president] accountable – especially Democrats – not be complicit in his reckless behavior,” the legislator said.
He later told The Times: “We don’t owe Trump patience. We owe Californians resistance.”
Bill Carrick, Feinstein’s longtime political consultant, replied: “Here we all go again with another term-limited politician looking for a gig, the worst kind of exhibitionism.”
De León, 50, is termed-out of the Legislature next year and will need another job. His only clear opening is a bid for state treasurer. But he’d love to run for a higher office, such as U.S. senator.
Feinstein, 84, has not formally announced whether she’ll seek a sixth term. But she has been raising campaign money and is, in fact, already running.
The former San Francisco mayor is an important, effective player in Congress with lots of achievements. For no other reason than maintaining her ability to deliver for California, she’s wise not to hammer Trump just for the sake of hammering him and making leftists cheer.
She explained it best to the San Francisco crowd, or at least tried to: “I have to be able to get things done. I don’t know that you would want somebody who can’t get a bill passed and signed. So for those of us who put things together, you have to work with people. And a punch in the nose isn’t going to do it.”
It’s the difference between consistently producing and just pandering to Berniecrats.
I called some Democratic strategists.
“Democrats need to stop talking about Trump and start talking about what they’re going to do for the American people if they want to take back the House and the Senate,” said David Townsend, who advises moderates.
“Every day Trump makes a fool of himself, and people don’t need Democrats to point it out.”
But many Democratic politicians feel they need to energize nonvoters and prod them to the polls.
Steve Maviglio, a veteran consultant: “In this partisan atmosphere, any Democrat who utters anything positive about Trump gets flogged.” Feinstein’s comments fed the argument that “she’s out of touch and been in Washington too long,” he said.
But Maviglio added: “Democrats still need an agenda and Dianne Feinstein has a long record of having made positive contributions to things Democrats care about. Just being anti-Trump is not good enough.”
Garry South, who was former Gov. Gray Davis’ chief consultant: “The Democratic base has moved far to the left since she was first elected…. Trump makes George [W.] Bush look like Winston Churchill. I don’t see why Democrats have to be quiet and pretend he’s like a normal president.”
Then there’s the ageism. Critics, although they’d deny discriminating, quickly point out she’s the oldest active senator and will be 85 at the next election.
So? She’s outperforming many half her age – and with old-fashioned civility.
George Skelton is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @LATimesSkelton on Twitter.