This is not the ironclad argument you think it is, dude.
Time to Log Off is a weekly series documenting the many ways our political figures show their whole asses online.
On Thursday morning, the San Francisco Chronicle published a lengthy investigation into longtime California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, alleging that a number of her colleagues have growing concerns about the 88-year-old’s mental competency. The details of the report, salacious as they are, aren’t all that important; Feinstein has been dogged by rumors of serious cognitive decline for years now. But the fact that the Chronicle spoke with, by their own account, “four U.S. senators, including three Democrats, as well as three former Feinstein staffers” and a “California Democratic member of Congress” has pushed the issue of Feinstein’s age and mental acuity back into the limelight in a big way.
Coming to Feinstein’s ostensible defense, then, was none other than former Senate staffer, former Senate Finance Committee staff director, and current MSNBC anchor Lawrence O’Donnell, who apparently thought he was helping this immeasurably powerful politician believed to be worth around $100 million by poitnting out that, actually, Feinstein’s alleged mental decline isn’t really all that newsworthy to begin with.
“I understand concerns about Dianne Feinstein but read whispers about her in this Senate context,” O’Donnell tweeted in response to the Chronicle piece: “[A]t least 50 senators are 100% dependent on staff, most senators are over 90% dependent on staff, and Strom Thurmond died in office in 2003 at age 100 long after obvious mental decline.”
Ummmmm. Yay? What, exactly, is the point O’Donnell is trying to make here? That Feinstein’s alleged decline is actually perfectly fine because in fact fully half of U.S. senators are essentially empty shirts? That noted racist Strom Thurmond should be held as the standard by which all other excessively geriatric lawmakers should be measured by? That the lofty deliberative body that is the upper chamber of the Congress is actually a broken institution run by the unelected employees of an aging class of deteriorating figureheads?
O’Donnell is not a dumb man. Or, at least, he is a very accomplished man, and the sort of person whose accomplishments have required some measure of intelligence and understanding. He is, however, prey to the same inclination that keeps the American political machine from actually getting anything of substance done: the belief that an obviously dysfunctional Senate is somehow operating perfectly normally, and within some form of guardrails that everyone understands and respects implicitly. Of course that’s not true, but it is the prevailing sense, fed by Washington’s own self-satisfaction and resistance to change, that keeps the loci of power relatively unchanged in this country.
In other words, Lawrence O’Donnell: If you don’t have anything helpful or worthwhile to say about the Senate, perhaps instead of tweeting nonsense like this, it’s time you simply log off.