Back before the Earth cooled, Senator Dianne Feinstein served her apprenticeship at San Francisco City Hall, where political foes tagged her with the nickname “Goody Two-Shoes.”
The sobriquet stuck for years, in part because of the macho culture she confronted as a pioneering female pol, but largely because of her own starchy, straight-laced, and terminally earnest style. A one-liner that circulated about her for years in the gay community captured the popular view: “Dianne doesn’t care who you sleep with, as long as you’re in bed by 11 o’clock.”
A child of privilege who grew up in the city’s exclusive Presidio Terrace neighborhood, Feinstein learned abiding lessons of white glove decorum from the good sisters at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, the elite high school ensconced in the fabulous James Leary Flood mansion (“a house of marble on a hill of granite”) that she attended in the early 1950s. After Stanford and marriage to a prominent surgeon, she brought her Junior League ways to City Hall as a supervisor in 1967 and soon launched a high-profile crusade against dirty bookstores, X-rated theaters, and all other manner of smut, an effort that earned her the nickname (as well as a quick exit from the office of a newspaper publisher she visited to demand a ban on raunchy advertising).
In recent weeks, Feinstein’s prim and proper political pedigree has been on full display for the nation to see. Most notably, she pitched a major hissy fit at a perceived breach of protocol by President-elect Obama; he offended her well-developed sense of politesse by not calling her, in her role as the new chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, before the name of his new CIA director became public. (She quickly backed off her critical stance on CIA nominee Leon Panetta after Obama made a groveling apology to her.)
With less fanfare, but no less enthusiasm, she’s also worked hard to impose good deportment and gentility on the several million of the hoi polloi expected to gather in Washington to celebrate Obama’s swearing in next week. As chair of the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC), Feinstein strongly urged the leaders of Washington, D.C., to rescind a measure they’ve approved to allow many bars and restaurants in the district to stay open-and to serve alcohol-until 4 a.m. during the festivities. DiFi tut-tutted that it might overtax law enforcement should too many of the wrong kind of people get too drunk. “Butt out Senator Feinstein-mind your own business,” one District of Columbia resident responded on a Washington Post blog recounting her concern. “Man, what a bunch of killjoys!” another commented. “People will be drinking and, yes, there will be revelry, but it’s a positive thing.”
The proper politician who made her bones as a do-gooder was equally aghast at the thought that ticket scalpers might make bank on the inauguration. So Feinstein introduced a bill in the Senate last month to make it a federal crime to scalp any of the 240,000 tickets to the swearing-in ceremony, the bulk of which are provided free to members of Congress to dispense as favors to supporters. Scalpers would face a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison under the measure, which the Senate failed to pass last month. Undeterred, Feinstein convinced eBay and StubHub not to allow ticket sales on their sites, and reintroduced her bill this week.
Her position on the tickets caught the attention of the hypocrisy police among the net roots, who duly noted that while sniffing out scalpers, the PIC also is peddling a scheme that offers high rollers a package of four inaugural tickets for $50,000 (takers include Halle Berry and Steven Spielberg among other Hollywood luminaries) while also pushing all manner of inaugural tsotchkes for sale.
“So a quick review: Private citizens selling tickets, bad. PIC selling official beer steins and coloring books for the kids, good. PIC selling tickets for $12,500, doubleplusgood,” wrote liberal blogger Chris Weigant. “This doesn’t sound a whole lot like ‘change we can believe in.’ This sounds more like same-old-same-old cronyism and pay-to-play.”
For the record, Goody Two-Shoes is a character in an 18th-century story written by Oliver Goldsmith, whose real name is Margery Meanwell. She is described as “the village’s finest student as well as its nicest person by far.” When one of Feinstein’s political foes sneered at her in print with the epithet back in 1975, by which time she’d paid her City Hall dues for eight years, she snapped back this response: “Goody Two-Shoes is long since gone.” Well, yes and no.