They had one public conversation. And it was … not much.
The joint appearance of U.S. Senate candidates Dianne Feinstein and Kevin de León at the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) on October 17, 2018 – their only joint appearance answering questions before the midterm elections – was nothing so much as a stack of missed opportunities. De León missed an opportunity to make news and bring some much-needed excitement and attention to his candidacy. Feinstein missed an opportunity to create a powerful call to action around flipping Congress and giving the Democrats back some real power in Washington. The PPIC missed an opportunity to expose new information about these candidates. The moderator missed an opportunity to ask creative, detailed, or, frankly, interesting questions. The audience was denied an opportunity to engage with their future senator. And everyone missed out on what could have been a productive and informative exchange of ideas.
The event was particularly disappointing compared to Feinstein’s most recent appearance at the PPIC in February 2017, when a lively audience called out questions and held up green/red agree/disagree signs — and Feinstein encouraged us. She responded to questions and engaged in back and forth with what she called the “red card geniuses.” It was a rare opportunity to make a real connection between constituents and representative and all were happy to stay late for additional discussion. This time, when de León half-heartedly declared that he would like to keep going, you could almost hear those in the room scream “please no!” in their heads.
The lack of interest was perhaps baked in to the event. It was not, everyone stressed, a debate. The public didn’t get to interact with the candidates: The main room with the speakers was only open to special invited guests and the media, with the general public seated in an annex area, watching the talk on a large screen. The audience was asked not to speak up or even clap. Index cards were provided upon request, but the organizers made no effort to collect audience questions and the moderator didn’t ask for them.
The candidates didn’t seem very energized, and the lack of enthusiasm was catching. People’s eyes glazed over, or they checked their phones as the candidates repeated bland talking points. De León complained about Washington’s inaction, but didn’t offer a real plan to change it. Feinstein explained that the reason for inaction was that the Democrats lack the votes to pass anything, but failed to use that effectively as a call for Californians to do the work to elect Democrats in three weeks.
Each candidate in their own way showed an all too familiar lack of respect or appreciation for the contributions grassroots activists like us have made to the huge political fights of the past few years. Feinstein remarked that “you can march, you can filibuster, you can talk all night — it doesn’t change anything,” while de León spoke of how he made a decision to help lead the resistance — not how he was chosen. Why should we, who are working so hard, vote for them?
Good question. Neither candidate so much as asked for our votes. They didn’t explicitly use those words; it didn’t even feel like they were trying to convince us. Rather, it seemed like they both felt entitled to our support: Feinstein due to her status and years of service, de León due to his palpable presence. And that dynamic added to the overall feeling that this “conversation” was a pointless charade and a missed opportunity for all involved. Indeed, it all felt, as Feinstein said in another context, rather like “hitting your head against a concrete wall.”
Still, It wasn’t a complete waste of an hour; there were a couple of tidbits of new information that came out of the conversation that will be of interest to Indivisible East Bay members:
- Feinstein committed to visit the California facilities where separated migrant children are being detained, something we have been asking her to do ever since Senator Merkley made his first visit in June.
- De León alluded vaguely to the need to cut military spending by ending so many of the US’s eternal undeclared wars, another IEB priority.
- Feinstein said clearly that she supports further investigation of Brett Kavanaugh even now that he has been confirmed to the Supreme Court.