On Friday afternoon, a group of young protesters with the Youth vs. Apocalypse Movement confronted California Senator Dianne Feinstein over her lack of support for the Green New Deal. By now, you’ve probably seen the interaction: Feinstein showed up with the most condescending, dismissive possible response, focused on the political impracticality of the bill, and refused to engage with the fact that if something like it doesn’t get passed all the kids she was lecturing will inherit a drowning world choking slowly on ash caused by rampant wildfires. To put it mildly.
The altercation, if you want to call it that, inspired widespread outrage on the part of the (mostly young) contingent of Americans who do not want to die in a freak storm caused by rising global temperatures. It also inspired, inevitably, an entire wave of “ExCUSE Me, Feinstein is a BAWSE” takes from people who seem convinced that living to the age of 85 gives you a supernatural ability to never be wrong about shit.
Here’s one, from the Atlantic’s Caitlan Flanagan (emphasis mine, but also hers if you think about it, because who actually writes that phrase):
A group of jackbooted tots and aggrieved teenagers showed up at the local office of Dianne Feinstein—85 years old and holding—with the intention of teaching her about climate change and demanding that she vote for the Green New Deal.
The resulting encounter was so gonzo that it made Gran Torino look like ThePajama Game. At the 13th hour of a long career, Feinstein did something that the kids weren’t expecting. She took them seriously, and she patiently explained some truths about American political life that they didn’t understand. And then she did the one thing that an old woman isn’t supposed to do. She said that she wasn’t good at her job in spite of being old, but because of it.
Let’s take a moment to sit with “jackbooted tots,” and then move on. Great.
Flanagan is using a classic defense of comfortable centrists who aren’t willing to support a political position that hasn’t had every shred of idealism stripped from it. I understand this. Is the current incarnation of the Green New Deal going to realistically pass the House and Senate and be signed by President Trump? Of course not. Does it have provisions that would be costly and potentially impractical to implement? Sure. But 5 or 10 or (hopefully not) 20 years from now the U.S. is going to pass some version of a Green New Deal (or else we’ll die), and the people that make it happen are not going to be the ones who aggressively shot down the first iterations of the bill.
Flanagan spends a large amount of the piece praising moments of Feinstein’s “bravery” earlier in her career, such as her personal proximity to Harvey Milk’s assassination, while pointing out absolutely nothing that refutes the fact that Feinstein’s spent a large amount of her career supporting Bush’s Tax Cuts and helping repeal Glass-Steagall; she even flew a Confederate flag in front of San Francisco’s City Hall when she was mayor, then arrested and charged the protestors who tore it down and burned it.
Then there’s this, in which Flanagan responds to an earlier Sunrise Movement protest outside Nancy Pelosi’s office that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez praised, telling the kids she was proud of them for “putting their bodies on the line.”
Putting their bodies on the line? The kids were sitting on the floor of the Longworth Building, one of the most heavily fortified structures on the planet. What was she worried about—that Mitch McConnell was going to show up and kickbox them? But questions about inflated diction were irrelevant. In the fierce urgency of now, there is no difference between a fact, an exaggeration, hyperbole, and an outright fantasy.
This is actually a fascinating window into Flanagan’s worldview. The kids were risking nothing, she thinks, because they were inside one of the most “heavily fortified structures on the planet.” She’s just assuming that those fortifications and the children are on the same side, which uh... let’s check:
Sure looks like they were putting their bodies on the line to me. Too bad Feinstein isn’t willing to take a similar risk in the final years of her political career.
Correction, 2/26/19, 4:20 p.m. ET: This post initially said that the protesters were from the Sunrise Movement. In fact, they were from the Youth vs. Apocalypse Movement. A spokesperson for the group told Splinter that “while we collaborate with each other, we are two separate organizations.”