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The Democrats space Too Old

A grim report around Dianne Feinstein’s cognitive decline underlines a larger problem with the management of the party.


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In the lead-up come Amy Coney Barrett’s supreme Court check hearings in October, democrats fretted that the party’s ranking member top top the Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein, wasn’t as much as the task. Fear among congressional Democrats to be “widespread,” according to Politico. The 87-year-old Feinstein “gets perplexed by reporters’ questions, or will offer various answers come the same question relying on where or as soon as she’s asked,” and appears “frail.”

Those fears, in retrospect, were fine founded. Republicans were stealing yet one more seat, rushing to fill the vacancy that opened up after ~ Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September. Through the November presidential elections coming up, the hearings were doubly important—an possibility to to mark a norm-busting, anti-democratic Republican Party. Yet Feinstein conducted the hearings together if they were arising in a common political environment. She concluded lock by saying, “This has been among the best collection of hearings the I’ve participated in” and also then hugging Republican Judiciary Committee Chair lindsay Graham, a gift to the Republican who was then involved in a hard reelection campaign. The picture of Feinstein embracing Graham just underlined exactly how out that touch the party’s leadership was through its grassroots—and through reality.

Troubling reporting from The new Yorker’s jane Mayer argues that Democrats—and Feinstein’s very own staff—have to be concerned around her mental sharpness for part time. “They say her temporary memory has grown so negative that she frequently forgets she has actually been briefed top top a topic, accusing her employee of failing to do so simply after they have,” Mayer writes. “They explain Feinstein together forgetting what she has actually said and also getting upset.” Senate decimal Leader lining Schumer, self a spry (by congressional terms) 70 years old, recently had “serious and also painful talks” through Feinstein and encouraged she to action aside “with she dignity intact.” however Schumer had to repeat the conversation a second time ~ Feinstein forgot it.


Feinstein’s decreasing health points come a larger problem. The democratic Party is rule by a gerontocracy. Much has actually been made of Joe Biden gift the earliest first-term chairman in history, but he is younger than Feinstein and House speak Nancy Pelosi. Democrats continue to victory young voter by huge margins however look nothing prefer them. Rather of to organize younger talent, House and Senate leadership is complete of members in their seventies and eighties that seem hell-bent ~ above retaining your plum positions. This is a party that desperately needs to get younger, or else it will proceed to bungle an easy governance and also alienate both that is future leaders and also the base.

Mayer’s piece is grim. Feinstein, “a stickler because that detail,” tho insists on micromanaging her office’s work. However she no longer has actually the volume to manage the work-related her place demands that her. “It’s been a disaster,” a former Senate staffer called Mayer. The senator’s staff are forced to “defend her and make her seem normal” together she struggles. Ordinarily, Feinstein’s place would average that she need to be directing the party’s strategy, particularly when it comes to the judiciary, a primary focus of Mitch McConnell and also Donald Trump. However Feinstein has actually not been as much as the task. “Other members to be constantly trying come go around her because, as chair, she didn’t desire to carry out anything, and also she also didn’t desire them act anything,” the former staffer said. Feinstein’s duties are being propelled to her staff. The larger work the planning and strategizing appears to be barely happening in ~ all.


It’s a boring portrait the cognitive decrease but additionally of a party whose management is failing to adequately respond come the interlocking crises of the moment. Feinstein is the oldest congressional Democrat, in ~ 87. And also Democratic management is closer in age to Feinstein than it is to Schumer. Pelosi’s crucial lieutenants Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn room 81 and also 80, respectively. Seventeen Senate Democrats space over the age of 70. And, when Senate majority Leader Mitch McConnell is 78, conference Republican management is considerably younger than democratic leadership—despite the fact that Republican voter are, top top average, older 보다 Democrats.

love to be represented in the Youth Party https://t.co/vCpwJceIsj pic.twitter.com/o8Xp65Zh77

— ryan cooper (
ryanlcooper) December 10, 2020

Democratic leadership, moreover, is fighting efforts to do it simply a tiny bit younger. Mayer recounts that Sheldon Whitehouse—himself a spring chicken in ~ 65—attempted to difficulty Dick Durbin’s position as Feinstein’s deputy in the Judiciary Committee. (Durbin is 76.) That relocate was blocked in a mystery ballot.

The fail to replace Feinstein as Judiciary Committee chair in 2018 has actually had far-ranging consequences, culminating in the disaster the was the Barrett confirmation. Similar to the fail to elevate Whitehouse, it points to a larger problem. Autonomous leadership has failed to promote younger leaders in ~ the party. Worse 보다 that, it has disparaged the brightest young stars and blamed them for losses in moderate locations of the country. And also when those elderly leaders are struck for being old and also out that touch, castle close ranks, more blocking the development of younger Democrats. Much more importantly, together we see with Feinstein, lock may organize on come power, yet they do tiny with it.




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The Senate has, the course, constantly been overcame by geriatrics. “Some former Feinstein aides firmly insist that rumors of she cognitive decline have been exaggerated and also that video clips taken the end of context can make virtually anyone look foolish. They likewise bridle in ~ singling the end her condition, since declining male senators, consisting of Strom Thurmond, of southern Carolina, and also Robert Byrd, of West Virginia, were widely well-known by the finish of your careers to be non–compos mentis,” Mayer writes. A former aide, moreover, called Mayer that “she’s quiet smarter and also quicker than at least a third of the other members,” even if she isn’t as sharp together she when was.


This is fixed a defense. In fact, it just underlines the problem. If a far-reaching portion of the democratic caucus is not fully mentally competent, that’s an indictment that the entire body. Raised media scrutiny, linked with society media and a resurgent young left, may make it harder for the gerontocracy to host on to strength in the future. But for the moment, nothing is changing. Democratic voters may be young, but the party’s management is ancient.