Old, Wise and Powerful: DiFi, RBG and Madame Speaker

By Jamie Stiehm

August 8, 2018 5 min read

Meet the oldest senator: California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, 85.

Meet the oldest Supreme Court justice, appointed by President Bill Clinton: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85.

Meet the only woman ever to be speaker of the House. The Democratic leader won't rest till she's speaker again: Nancy Pelosi, 78, of California.

Oh, the heights they climbed, the barriers they broke, in the generation before the women's movement. Yet these three wise women all hear rumblings that they should quit at the top of their game.

Pressure to displace older women often comes from much younger men, accustomed to treating "distinguished" men with deference.

In Congress and at the Supreme Court, this gets tiresome.

Feinstein, a Senate giant, is up for re-election. She's favored to win, despite a rebellion in her party. She won the primary, crushing every county, but state Democratic leaders endorsed her opponent, Kevin de Leon.

A charismatic state lawmaker, de Leon, 51, says he'll throw out "the worn-out Washington playbook."

Yet Feinstein is the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The strategy for blocking President Trump's nominee Brett Kavanaugh's hard right rise to the Supreme Court depends on her.

Another aging senator, John McCain, R-Ariz., is gravely ill but doesn't suffer the same calls for his exit.

No senator understands the labyrinths of the judiciary and the intelligence community better than Feinstein. She bravely revealed parts of the secret CIA "torture" report.

The South would cherish a senator with her seniority.

Who was the senator who shepherded an assault weapons ban, in place for 10 years? Who became mayor of a heartbroken San Francisco after murderous violence at city hall? Today, in a divided chamber, Feinstein is heard on both sides.

Feinstein was elected to the Senate in 1992, the "Year of the Woman," after the contentious Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. Then there were two women in the Senate. Now there are 23. She is one reason why.

Ginsburg has had health issues, including pancreatic cancer. She works out with a trainer twice a week, between the opera and symphony. She was appointed in 1993. Both Ginsburg and Feinstein lived through the Depression as children.

Aging is hard even for the most august women breaking history. Ginsburg, a.k.a. the "notorious RBG" with a "celebrity" following, felt slings and arrows from legal denizens. How wrong they were.

Life seasoning counts. Most of all, Ginsburg's intellectual heft is second to none on the high court. She was the second woman justice but a "first" in ways that matter more. Ginsburg was a leading advocate for women and famously argued cases before the Supreme Court before becoming a justice.

Focusing on workplace discrimination, she broke new ground on equal pay and pregnancy. Ginsburg's work as a lawyer advancing women's status followed Thurgood Marshall's historic steps on racial justice, notably school segregation, before becoming the first black Supreme Court Justice.

RBG's writings pass the bar of excellence, notably her dissents on a divisive bench. A school of liberals rudely urged her to step down while President Obama was in office, to give him a plum pick. They implied she would die any day.

Look how well that idea worked out for Merrick Garland, Obama's failed nomination.

Such a shabby suggestion — insult — never befalls the old men on the Supreme Court.

Pelosi, a deft campaigner, speaker and fundraiser, faces a serious challenge from within her caucus, anxious about how to surf a blue wave of activist candidates.

As speaker, Pelosi saved a rookie president on Obamacare. But that's history for Rep. Tim Ryan, 45, D-Ohio, likely to launch a second bid to unseat her in a "Dump Pelosi" campaign. He called her "toxic." Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb, a young Democrat elected in March, stayed far from Pelosi, tagged by critics as a San Francisco liberal.

But her backstory is this: Daughter of the Baltimore mayor, "Little Nancy" lived precinct politics and ethnic enclaves, growing up in Little Italy. She won't go easily. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is 76, as she points out.

The House-Senate-Supreme Court trifecta is the first to face the crossfire of ageism and sexism at the highest marble peak of power.

It's not fair, but these wise (old) women shall never surrender.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the website Creators.com.

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