San Francisco Mayor Diane Feinstein discusses women in power.
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GUEST: Diane Feinstein
Title: “Anatomy as Destiny…A Political Perspective”
I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND. It would have been just plain foolish to come to San Francisco to record some programs here at KQED, the bay area’s pioneering public broadcasting station, without at least trying to recruit as our guest this extraordinary city’s extraordinary mayor, Diane Feinstein. Well, we won. And I want to ask the mayor about winning and losing, whether we as a people have won anything substantial with the rise to power of women in politics and statecraft. It’s true that she and other impressive women, Geraldine Ferraro, Nancy Casselbaum, Sandra Day O’Connor, and many others have won and held high office. They’re better off, to be sure. But are we, as a nation, as a civilization? Do they make a difference? Do they bring skills and instincts and attitudes to bear on national problems that are themselves different and better? When equal rights and equal power are sought and won, are women’s contributions to human progress, to peace rather than war, to plenty rather than poverty? Are they, after all is said and done, only equal to the contributions of their male partners? If anatomy is destiny, is our destiny better and brighter for the increasing presence of women in power?
Mayor Feinstein, I guess that’s the basic question that I’d like to ask you. Are we better off for this phenomenon?
FEINSTEIN: Oh, my goodness. You said that so poetically that it’s difficult to respond to it. Let me try it this way: I don’t know whether the nation overall is better off or worse off in terms of policy, because that’s dependent on brain cells and wisdom and common sense and judgment. And that’s not necessarily a sexual attribute, that’s based on one’s conditioning, training, education. I think the nation is very much better off with the sharing of power. And everything that this democracy purports to be and is is an open system, that people can share power. Women have to do their apprenticeship just as everyone else. They have to be effective, because effectiveness is the ultimate test of leadership. They’ve got to have drive and staying power and motivation over a long period of time. I believe they can be effective, and I believe they carry with them certain attributes which have their upsides and their downsides, depending upon how those attributes are utilized.
HEFFNER: What are the downsides? That’s not an unfair question, is it?
FEINSTEIN: No. The downsides are, I believe, when you become the first of anything, the first black, the first Hispanic, the first woman, the first Jew, the first Catholic, to cross a line and occupy a new position, there’s a great deal of curiosity. With the curiosity comes testing. Some of that testing may be fair; some of it may be unfair. But it’s testing. The press are going to press the question to see how much does he or she really know. The electorate are going to question as well. The public policies of the individual are going to be looked at and debunked and tested, if you will. And I think the testing is a little bit beyond that which someone that isn’t the first. After that period, I think it evens out. And after that period I think that it’s performance, it’s effectiveness, it’s delivering the bacon that makes the difference.
HEFFNER: Well, you know, I was reading the speech you gave at Mills College in May 1985. And you said that “The balance, the compassion, the common sense, and the morality of women are needed. Women are needed who will do things not because they are smart, but because they are right”. Why are women righter than men if indeed they are?
FEINSTEIN: Well, what I also say is that I don’t think women have necessarily, you know, the God-given right as opposed to wrong. Women are right or women are wrong, just like everybody else. What I’m trying to talk about in that situation is the compassion in a given situation to really understand right from wrong. And by that I mean it generically. I think women, because they are mothers, because they have run homes, because they are concerned, a lot with the nitty-gritty, very often make very good local public officials, on boards of supervisors, as country treasurers, as mayors, if you will. They’re concerned and they’re not bothered by handling the detail that it takes to run and enterprise successfully. I think women can therefore become very good managers.
HEFFNER: Well, it’s interesting that you say “generically”. There is something, one might almost say genetically in that sense. Do they lose that to any degree at all when they then become involved in what has traditionally been the world of men? Politics, for instance?
FEINSTEIN: I don’t believe they do lose it. I think to be good at anything, in my view, you also have to be a team player. You also have to be willing to enlist other people in your effort, have them share if it works well, be willing to take the blame if it doesn’t work well. And you have to have some of these qualities of team working and what women have often called “networking”. What’s very hard is to be, to do what’s right for a community isn’t always necessarily in conformance with special interest groups. And sometimes as a woman you run counter to your own women’s organizations.
HEFFNER: Well, about women’s organizations, what’s your own feeling about the National Organization for Women and its adoption now seemingly in the election of Eleanor Spiel, its new president, of a perhaps a more aggressive, more forward looking position than they had accepted for the last couple of years?
FEINSTEIN: Well, I don’t know what the definition of “aggressive” means. I think that in terms of passage of the ERA, the only time that that is going to be achieved is when the women’s movement is able really to encompass a broad spectrum of women in that pursuit. When they do it, I think it will be ratified. I think as long as there are just single-interest constituencies represented by it, in other words, the feminist woman, that it’s going to be difficult to gain ratification. If “aggressive” means the enlistment of many different types of women, including the woman that is proud to be the housewife, is proud to be the mother, stays in the background but understands what the ERA is all about, because that’s the great bulk of women in America.
HEFFNER: Do you want to see the, an equal rights amendment introduced again?
FEINSTEIN: Oh, absolutely.
FEINSTEIN: Absolutely. It’s long overdue. We were very close to that victory. I think equality under the law, which varies for women state to state, is a very, very important concept in a democracy. Women had to fight for the vote in this country for many years. They had to fight for higher education. They were able to achieve both of these. And I think it’s appropriate that they also have what is rather simple; and that is equality under the law shall not be abridged on the basis of sex.
HEFFNER: Why was ERA defeated then?
FEINSTEIN: I think ERA was defeated because it was misunderstood. I think it was defeated because it was looked at as being something overtly feminist, overtly, if you will, white collar instead of blue collar, encompassing as well a broad base of minority women, broad base of housewives throughout the nation.
HEFFNER: Do you think if it’s introduced again there’ll be an opportunity to correct that perception of it?
FEINSTEIN: I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that those people who are in the vanguard listen to others instead of just themselves.
HEFFNER: May I go back, Mayor Feinstein, just for a moment to this other question of the particular attributes that women bring to the world? There was so much talk years ago, and continues to be, about the qualities that women will bring to political life, do bring to political life. Again, I repeat the notion that peace will be easier to come by rather than war if the qualities of mercy and the qualities of concern that women share are brought to bear upon our problems. Again, prosperity rather than poverty. Is there anything to that, or should we focus merely – strike “merely” – primarily on what you consider to be the appropriateness of equal action, the appropriateness and the fairness of women entering the world of politics? Again the question is: can they make a real difference?
FEINSTEIN: I think it’s both of those. I think it’s the appropriateness. I think there is this compassion. Women historically have been the great losers in war. They lose their husbands, their sweethearts, their sons. They lose their families. Therefore I think there’s a great potential in women to want to avoid war. Now, we all want to avoid war. The question is: Do you have the talent and the ability then to put together the right forces to bring about a disarmament treaty that is meaningful in a world that’s over burdened with nuclear missiles? I also, see, I’m one that believes that human beings make decisions. We have state departments, we have cabinets, we have staff, all of us. But basically numero uno makes that decision. If there is a basic ability to communicate between the heads of state, a basic respect for the individual’s integrity, and a willingness to sit down and spend a good deal of time understanding the others’ position, I think it is possible to have major nuclear arms control on this nation, on this world. I believe that right now the breach is so wide that the Soviet Union doesn’t really believe that we want it, and we don’t really believe that they want it; that the rhetoric has become so exacerbated and so strident, I can never remember any time in my presence on this planet when we have had more rhetoric that’s really aimed to divide rather than to bring together.
HEFFNER: Well, if you would put your emphasis upon numero uno and the individual, then surely you’ve been thinking about what individuals you would like to see in that place of power in this country. And naturally I would ask the question about women. What women do you think would be appropriate for that number now spot given the concern that you’ve just expressed?
FEINSTEIN: Well, I think there are any number of women who have served in the cabinet, who have served in the United States Senate, who have served as mayors of cities, who have served in the Congress. I think all of these women are appropriate, are, quote, “appropriate”. Now, the acceptance that these women are going to gain or not gain from the American electorate is based on their competence, their viewpoint, the ability to which they’re able to reassure the American people that they can, in fact, lead.
HEFFNER: In those terms of those qualities, there must be those you would single out.
FEINSTEIN: Oh, I think there are some that I would single out. If you’re asking me to name a woman…
HEFFNER: Sure, I’m asking you to name them.
FEINSTEIN: Who I would support or who would make very credible candidates?
HEFFNER: I hope they would be the same.
FEINSTEIN: Not necessarily.
HEFFNER: Well, let’s go to the second. Who would be the very credible candidates?
FEINSTEIN: Let me just talk, because I don’t know who I would support, so let’s leave that out, and I don’t want to play games over it. I think there are many women who are very credible candidates. I think Geraldine Ferraro was a very credible candidate. I think Elizabeth Dole is a credible candidate. I think Jean Kirkpatrick is a credible candidate. There are three that I have named right there. They are women who have achieved. I think Pat Harris was a credible candidate. Unfortunately, she isn’t with us. Ella Grasso would have been a credible candidate. And there are many that are coming up the ladder.
HEFFNER: And you feel that along with the credible candidate must go a kind of quality that would enable them to be the number one person you want.
FEINSTEIN: Somebody has to capture the people. And that’s where it all is at. See, I don’t believe, and we were talking about this a little earlier, that elections are won by endorsements or this group or that group. Elections are won because somebody captivates what is being thought out in the heartland of America, and inspires a sense of confidence and belief in national and individual. I think there are some qualities that come through. Ronald Reagan did that very, very well. He captured the believability of Americans who wanted a sense of patriotism, a sense of optimism, a sense of can-do. And in that sense the people responded.
HEFFNER: Yet I’ve come to understand about your terms as mayor of San Francisco that it was not just a matter of putting your finger on the pulse, the public pulse, but of understanding what you thought was right for your city. And there is a difference between sort of sensing what they want…
FEINSTEIN: That’s right.
HEFFNER: …and doing what you think the people need.
FEINSTEIN: Oh, that’s right. And that’s what creates the controversy that revolves around anybody that is in office. That’s why many American mayors have said, you know, “Being mayor of a big city is a dead-end street”. And in fact it can be. You’ve got to do what’s right. And I also happen to believe that the electorate respects somebody who does what’s right, and has to at times say no to special interests and put those interests aside to do what is right. Now, that means that they then carry with them what’s traditionally called baggage.
HEFFNER: Well, you, talking about what’s right, again it relates to that quotation. “Women are needed who will do things not because they are smart, but because they are right”. But what’s right in some of the many problems facing us as a nation? What’s right in terms of our support of Israel in the Middle East? What’s right in terms of what we do about AIDS and AIDS victims in the public schools? Do you have a whole agenda in which you can very clearly identify right from wrong?
FEINSTEIN: Well, I think just taking the agenda that you indicated, it’s right to support Israel from an American perspective. Israel is the only democracy in the area, and as such she’s a very important ally of this country. It is right to support Israel. Now, with respect to AIDS, probably the number one health emergency that this nation has faced in modern time…It is obviously right to do everything we can to see that AIDS victims are taken care of, hospitalization, hospice care, counseling, public education programs of how to prevent it, and at the same time to encourage the federal government to put forth massive research in this area to try to effect a cure to the problem. I think that, those are right things. I think it is right in various areas to be very touch on crime in cities, because cities are wracked apart. To call for discipline in education, that youngsters must be able to complete a course completely before they graduate, to be able to read, write, multiply, add, divide, those things. And sometimes that puts you at odds with other groups who see education in a different way. But see, and I think those are some of the values that cross party lines that are important for the maintenance of a city and important for the maintenance of a society. And if anything troubles this nation it is the deterioration of education in the public school system.
HEFFNER: Do they cross gender lines, too?
FEINSTEIN: Absolutely they cross gender lines. Women have no monopoly on what’s right.
HEFFNER: Let’s go back then to the question of AIDS. My city of New York, and your city of San Francisco, we seem to be dramatically involved with the question. And here in San Francisco you seem to have done more as a community. New York may begin to catch up with you. What is the position that you take on the matter of keeping children with AIDS out of your schools?
FEINSTEIN: Well, y own personal position is that there is no information whatsoever from any source that the presence of a youngster in a classroom is going to communicate AIDS. And that is the medical opinion, and we have not had the same problem here, and I’m very thankful for that, that existed in New York City.
HEFFNER: Why didn’t you?
FEINSTEIN: Well, we haven’t been faced with the problem at this time. To my knowledge there are no youngsters who have AIDS in the San Francisco public school system.
HEFFNER: Are there school districts though, where the question would come up as it did in New York?
FEINSTEIN: The question might come up. I think that in this city where the information level about AIDS, I think, is very high, I don’t think it would be a problem.
HEFFNER: What about concern for protecting the rest of the community? You say there’s no information now about the transmission of AIDS that would lead one to be that much involved in quarantining, keeping children out of school. If as we go along, obviously the research in this area becomes more and more intense and we learn more, if there should be some indication that there is a transmission facility that makes children in school with AIDS a little tricky, a little dicier for us, would you want to keep them out?
FEINSTEIN: Well, now let me be very specific in how I answer this question. Obviously any elected public official, in particular a mayor’s major charge is to protect the health and welfare of his or her people. And I take that public trust very seriously. At present there is no medical information that having children in school presents a problem. If that should change, then yes, obviously one must re-evaluate the situation.
HEFFNER: How would you feel about the situation if your child were younger and there was a question, there were questions raised about the possibility of transmission of AIDS in a school connection?
FEINSTEIN: At this point, to my knowledge, no questions have been raised. So I don’t believe it’s necessary to face that question. When the questions are faced, and one of the things that I have done is I have a medical AIDS task force of really those people that are most familiar with the disease, doctors in this city who give me advice. And that’s where I would turn to for advice; from the university, from San Francisco General Hospital, those professionals. And I’ll be very frank with you. I would be guided by medical, professional advice, but by political advice.
HEFFNER: You make that sound though, as if doctors are in agreement at all times, as if researchers were. In New York right now there certainly seems to be some indication that there are medical men on both sides of the public issue.
FEINSTEIN: That’s not been the case here. We haven’t been faced with it. But we’ll certainly watch carefully and if the situation changes we’ll take the necessary action.
HEFFNER: What are the other areas of urban life that are particularly troublesome now that you think we as a people have to address ourselves to?
FEINSTEIN: Well, right now a very troublesome part of urban life quite frankly is federal domestic policy, which seems to say cities be damned, you’re on your own. In San Francisco and in California we pay many more federal tax dollars than we get back in terms of services. And yet we’re taking cutback after cutback in virtually every program. Revenue sharing earlier was not to be impacted in this federal year. Now we’re taking a 12 percent cut. Next year the program is eliminated. Well, revenue sharing for us supports to the tune of $5 million in each of these department salaries. Police officer salaries, firefighter salaries, our railway driver salaries, as well as parks and recreation. So the elimination of that program puts a tremendous hazard on us, because in California you can’t raise property taxes to be able to get those revenues back.
HEFFNER: Do you think that the administration has made these cuts because it doesn’t want that much public money spent on these governmental functions, or because of the very simple fact that we as a people cannot afford to be perhaps as profligate as we have been?
FEINSTEIN: I think on whatever basis it’s made it’s made on a misunderstanding of the facts.
HEFFNER: What do you mean?
FEINSTEIN: The part of the pie, of the budget that goes to cities is very small. And therefore you can cut that and beat your breast and say we’re doing a lot. You’re nowhere close to balancing the budget. And you can’t balance the budget on the backs of the cities or the poor of America. You can only balance that budget if you’re willing to take the total of it, and you’re willing to say, “All right, defense is going to have to be impacted. Other elements of the budget are going to have to be impacted as well, and we’re going to have to look at certain traditional mandated programs and make some changes in them”.
HEFFNER: Would you make changes in…
FEINSTEIN: And do that across the board. I think the way you balance a budget is on a fair-share basis. Everybody does their fair share. Then you understand that. But it’s very hard when you’re dealing with programs that benefit poor people. And I don’t know whether you know this or not, but San Francisco has the lowest per-household income of any city in the nine bay area counties. Now, that means we have a lot of elderly people, we have a lot of very poor people. Our population is 50 percent non-white. We have a very heavy refugee, newcomer population to our city. So we’re a city that depends on certain social services very heavily.
HEFFNER: But Mayor Feinstein, you’re talking about social services, you’re talking about social justice. From an overall perspective, do you think this country can afford, literally afford the level of social justice that you and I might want us to achieve?
FEINSTEIN: Oh, I absolutely do.
HEFFNER: Where does the money come from?
FEINSTEIN: I absolutely do. I think the money comes in a way that’s prudent and should be basically spent without the massive bureaucracy. The massive bureaucracy in my opinion isn’t on the local level; it’s on a federal level where you have huge departments. One of the things about the revenue sharing program was that it went by formula to communities, that it was used wisely in budgets. Nobody beat their breast and announced a grant for their constituency. Very low overhead. So it wasn’t a popular program in terms of the Congress.
HEFFNER: Does that mean that you really think that savings in efficiency would really make up the kinds of dollars we need to achieve social justice?
FEINSTEIN: Let me tell you something. I often go out and I make a speech and I’ll say to people, “Do you want more police officers?” And they’ll go, “Yes”. “Do you want more firefighters?” “Yes”. “Do you want better libraries and parks?” “Yes”. Do you want to pay for them?” “No!”
HEFFNER: But that’s what I mean.
FEINSTEIN: Now, there’s a basic dichotomy that all of us have to face. People in America want the local service. If a bus doesn’t show up on a corner and somebody here waits 45 minutes, I get a letter. People want transportation. We’ve got a huge, first-rate trauma hospital, four operating rooms staffed 24 hours a day, around the clock. People want that service. The problem comes in how you pay for the eservices. And that’s where you have to be able to show the American taxpayer that you are efficient. When there’s a $900 wrench in a defense contract, it provides an inordinate amount of concern for some of us on the local level who see our budgets cut.
HEFFNER: We just have a few seconds left. Does that mean that you feel that if we were efficient we have the resources at our disposal without substantial tax increased to warrant the social justice you look for?
FEINSTEIN: I believe so, yes.
HEFFNER: And no taxes needed?
FEINSTEIN: I think that, well, under the present program the reason we have the deficit was because of the tax cut and the lessening of revenue that’s coming in. And that’s one of the problems. Plus the massive increases in defense. You know, this is a deficit, and I’ll stand by this, I believe created by the present administration based on tax policy which I find is not good tax policy.
HEFFNER: I don’t know whether that’s a good or bad way to end the program, but we have ended it, and Mayor Diane Feinstein, thank you so much for joining me today.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much.
HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope that you’ll join us again next time here on THE OPEN MIND. Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night, and good luck”.