This story about Diane Feinstein makes me sad. She’s exhibiting signs of severe cognitive decline, and is hindering progress by Democrats in the Senate with her inability to function.
In a hearing on November 17th, Dianne Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who, at eighty-seven, is the oldest member of the Senate, grilled a witness. Reading from a sheath of prepared papers, she asked Jack Dorsey, the C.E.O. of Twitter, whether his company was doing enough to stem the spread of disinformation. Elaborating, she read in full a tweet that President Trump had disseminated on November 7th, falsely claiming to have won the Presidential election. She then asked Dorsey if Twitter’s labelling of the tweet as disputed had adequately alerted readers that it was a bald lie.
It was a good question. Feinstein seemed sharp and focussed. For decades, she has been the epitome of a female trailblazer in Washington, always hyper-prepared. But this time, after Dorsey responded, Feinstein asked him the same question again, reading it word for word, along with the Trump tweet. Her inflection was eerily identical. Feinstein looked and sounded just as authoritative, seemingly registering no awareness that she was repeating herself verbatim. Dorsey graciously answered the question all over again.
She’s a symptom. The whole Senate is sclerotic with these ancient, decrepit geezer. It’s how we ended up with a 78 year old Democratic president, and a senate full of old people shaking their canes at each other.
Meanwhile, the Feinstein situation has triggered the latest round in a larger generational fight in the Democratic Senate caucus. Unlike the Republican leadership in the Senate, which rotates committee chairmanships, the Democrats have stuck with the seniority system. Some frustrated younger members argue that this has undermined the Democrats’ effectiveness by giving too much power to elderly and sometimes out-of-touch chairs, resulting in uncoördinated strategy and too little opportunity for members in their prime.
A glimpse of the discontent became visible last month, when Sheldon Whitehouse, of Rhode Island, who at sixty-five is considered a younger member, challenged the claim of Richard Durbin, the seventy-six-year-old senator from Illinois, a long-serving member of the Party’s leadership, to be next in line to fill Feinstein’s seat as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
That’s depressing. I’m 63 and I’d be a young babe in that place, and that just isn’t right.
I am not suffering any kind of cognitive decline (I think, but then I wouldn’t know, would I?) but I am suddenly thinking that I should be considering retirement. I’ve never seriously thought about it before, just assuming I’d keep going and going until I dropped dead in front of a class (also not something I think is imminent), and retirement was not something that would ever be an option for me. But now, I’m contemplating it, not just because Feinstein is setting a bad example, but because this stupid pandemic has been traumatic, and I wouldn’t want to keep teaching this way. It would probably serve the students better if I were replaced with a younger, more up-to-date person (not much hope of that, either, with university finances being hit hard recently, so if I left, I’d probably be replaced with nobody).
Anyway, I’m putting my retirement on the agenda. At some point. I should start squinting at the calendar. And my finances. All I’m saying is that if I’m still at UMM when I’m 70, you all have the job of yelling at me to stop being selfish.
Oh, and if I do take the option of dropping dead before retiring, yell at my corpse even harder that I was so selfish.