Susan Estrich: Feinstein takes a stand

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 “I feel I have an obligation to do everything I can to keep this country safe. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

That’s how Sen. Dianne Feinstein explained her view, which is winning her buckets of liberal criticism, as a defender of the NSA program. Edward Snowden’s leaks? “An act of treason.”

She is 80 years old, and she is not pulling her punches.

This is what politics should be about. She is not doing what most of her friends want her to do. She isn’t even playing around with some kind of middle ground — some yes, I’m for security, and yes, I’m for privacy, and of course there doesn’t have to be a tradeoff between the two. Actually, there does.

I can’t really say I agree with Feinstein. How could I? She is the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. She knows as much about this program — how it works, what we’ve learned, plots that have been thwarted — as anyone.

I don’t. I know there are tradeoffs. I know the threats are real. But as for evaluating the effectiveness of this program, how can anyone who doesn’t know the details do that? As for specific abuses of privacy, we don’t know about that, either, with the exception of the most egregious, which is of course Snowden’s abuse.

What I find so admirable about Feinstein’s stand is just how nonpolitical it is. It isn’t based on a poll. A poll would never tell her to go so hard on this one. And why would she need a poll, anyway?

It has nothing to do with who has given her money in past campaigns. Liberals give her money. I’m sure she’s hearing from them. But so what?

It isn’t intended to win friends. She’ll still be reviled for her ardent support of gun control by many of those who agree with her on this. She’s a longtime supporter of gay marriage. Feinstein is never going to be the darling of the right, and I don’t think she cares two whits about that.

She is doing what she thinks is right. She is standing up because she thinks it’s what’s needed to protect our country. Agree with her or disagree with her, remember that standing on principle for what a leader believes is right — throwing the usual rules of “politics” to the wind — is the essence of the miracle we call America.

That’s why we want “great” men and women in public office and on the bench. Most of the time, in the run-of-the-mill vote or decision or dispute, you may not need “greatness” to pick a side. “Greatness” is not a very good predictor of how someone will do at fundraising or whether they can endure months or years of canned speeches and town halls without making a ridiculous mistake. “Greatness” is not necessarily the same thing as never having done anything in your life that you wouldn’t want to go viral.

We need great men and women for important moments, when what counts is courage and conviction, when you need to risk the wrath of your friends in order to seek what you believe to be the larger good.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has always been known for a streak of independence. It’s what makes a great senator.

SUSAN ESTRICH’S column is distributed by Creators Syndicate Inc.

 


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