Opinion: Are Feinstein and Boxer too old to serve California? No, but they pose another problem

Many Californians, and not just Republicans, would like to see fresh faces representing the state in the U.S. Senate. At ages 81 and 73, respectively, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer are not only some of the most senior among the senior citizens holding representative office in Washington, they also appear somewhat incongruous given California’s culture of youth worship.

Boxer’s term expires in 2016 and Feinstein’s in 2018. Polls that show Californians interested in replacing them with someone else may not mean much -- after all, in many cases that would mean persuading lifelong Democrats to vote Republican. But the possibility that one or both groundbreaking female legislators might retire has an array of boldface state political figures eyeing the possibility of a run in two or four years.

The Times’ Cathleen Decker reports:

“By the middle of October, according to the last full report available, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom had spent more than $544,000 on his campaign and had almost $3 million in the bank. And he was sending out none-too-subtle fundraising appeals with lines such as: ‘For us, it’s all about the day after Election Day, the day after that, and all the days ahead when we’ll make big decisions about California’s future.’ Since the lieutenant governorship is a vast, responsibility-less black hole, those big decisions presumably center on Newsom’s future.


“Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, meanwhile, had spent more than $2.2 million by mid-October, with almost $2.4 million in the bank. And she was blanketing the state with let-me-introduce-myself ads noting that she ‘aggressively prosecuted predators who victimize the vulnerable … cracked down on sex trafficking of women and children … took on the transnational gangs … prosecuted sexual assaults and enforced laws requiring equal pay for equal work.’ No pushover, in other words.”

Although I am in part persuaded by the seniority and experience argument in favor of returning Boxer and Feinstein to Washington -- their tenure has earned them positions on key committees that allow them to leverage more power to the Golden State -- I tilt more toward the belief that the term “career politician” ought to be considered an oxymoron.  Public service should not be a career, but rather a chance to briefly give back to society before resuming private life.

Power has a tendency to become so entrenched that it is often hard for people who hold it to relate to the concerns of ordinary people -- i.e. their constituents. In Feinstein’s case, for example, it was telling that after years of running interference for the National Security Agency and its massive infrastructure of illegal surveillance against the American people was revealed by Edward Snowden, she did not take issue with spooks until they tapped into her investigative committee’s computers.  After all, she is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is charged with policing the NSA, not justifying its actions. 

She clearly had spent too much time with people like Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who famously lied under oath by saying that the NSA didn’t “wittingly” collect data on millions of Americans, to keep her ear to the ground.


I don’t think that the two senators are too old to serve effectively. I think they’ve been in office too long to serve Californians. Not running for reelection to open up the field to a younger generation of public servants would be a classy move.

Follow Ted Rall on Twitter @tedrall

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