Tap here to turn on desktop notifications to get the news sent straight to you. It is far from the first time that Barbara Boxer has faced open hostility -- including angry protesters in Florida during the visceral days of the recount. But this episode, as she described it to me, was "uncontrollable and vicious. In truth, the stakes at the convention were small -- a handful of delegates chosen under complex rules, decried by Sander supporters, in a state where Clinton had already won the caucuses.
But it suggests an increasingly bitter rift which, unless composed, enhances the electoral prospects not of Bernie Sanders, but of Donald Trump. The images on television were memorable -- angry Sanders partisans charging the stage and cursing at speakers, including California's very liberal senator. Next came a torrent of obscene and threatening text messages directed at another woman, the Nevada State Democratic chairperson, as well as at her family. All this is evidence of an outrage which, at its worst, transcends disagreements over process and issues, trampling reason in the process.
Seasoned though she is, Senator Boxer found the chaos deeply troubling. While at times she worried for her safety, she stood her ground, as always. The worst part for her, she says, was that for the first time in her career she could not break through the anger to be heard.
Nonetheless, she remains optimistic that the party will ultimately unify. The protesters, she notes, were a minority of Sanders supporters. After several attempts to reach him, she had a "warm conversation" with her friend and fellow progressive Bernie Sanders who, she says, seemed "genuinely disturbed " by what had happened.
In the fall, she believes, Senator Sanders will do precisely what he has promised -- work hard to ensure that Donald Trump never becomes president. But I am not writing this piece because of the tumult in Nevada, or even because today happens to be the publication date of Barbara Boxer's zesty and candid political memoir, The Art Of Tough. I had planned to write about her anyway -- after 34 years as one of the most gutsy and consistent liberals in Congress, Barbara Boxer is retiring from the Senate.
In this year, of all years, her life in politics holds important lessons for Democrats and progressives. An admission of bias: Barbara Boxer is my spiritual leader -- by which I mean that she officiated when I married Nancy.
More important, she's the Jewish big sister I never had: Family really matters to her -- her family, and mine. Friends don't come any better. She's also candid, passionate and pretty much an open book -- not many people in public life are as bad at concealing their feelings. Caution is not Barbara's first language, or even her second. So after two decades of friendship I know very well what a warm and large-spirited person she is.
None of which keeps her from being as determined as she needs to be in pursuing what she thinks is right -- even when her chosen course is unpopular or risky. Her career defines political toughness in the service of principle and progressive politics. Politics is a hard business. Too often we stereotype our politicians as spoiled, timid, and mendacious sellouts mortgaged to special interests and concerned with their own survival.
But the good ones -- like Barbara Boxer -- are something else entirely: Because, in truth, the life is a grind. Members of Congress are trapped in an endless round trip to Washington, Groundhog Day in midair. They are caught in a demeaning marathon of fundraising -- our fault, not theirs. They are forced to listen to idiots -- not just donors or constituents, but colleagues. In public, they are never off the job -- not at a restaurant, or grocery shopping, or even a kid's dance recital.
They are fair game for insult -- often in person, incessantly in the media. The intoxication of office is way overrated; far more important is a level of toughness which is close to supernatural. But from the outset Barbara Boxer had to be tougher than most -- in ways which are good to remember at a time when the participation of women in politics is, all too often, taken for granted.
In , when she ran for Supervisor in the supposedly liberal bastion of Marin County, her most formidable opponent was her own gender. Though her male opponent had kids and a full-time job, voters berated her for neglecting her family.
In one memorable highlight her opponent showed up at her home, unannounced, to inform her that running against him would set women back because "men have to free you. She lost that race, but won the next. Indispensable to her resolve was her husband's determination to support her whatever it took. This wasn't the original plan: As Barbara wryly remarks: Their son and daughter can't imagine them any other way. But things could have been very different had not both of them decided to break the mold.
Together, they epitomize how feminism has changed us for the better. But 34 years in Congress have confirmed for Senator Barbara Boxer that sexism is like weeds, preternaturally hardy and tough to kill.
The battle for women's rights -- including the right to claim a place in our politics -- has been a long slog up a very steep hill. Barbara Boxer took it on, whether the issue was reproductive rights, women's health, equal pay, child care, family leave, violence against women, or rape and abuse in the military.
This accounts for her most painful moment in Congress -- the isolation of Anita Hill. When then-Representative Boxer learned of Hill's charges against Clarence Thomas, she and six female colleagues marched to the Senate with cameras in tow, demanding of Majority Leader George Mitchell that Hill be given a fair and thorough hearing.
When Hill was called to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, she thought they had succeeded. Only later did Barbara learn that other women were prepared to testify about sexual harassment by Thomas, but never called as witnesses. To this day she blames herself for having turned too soon to other matters. But she achieved many more successes on behalf of other women, and her own career is one of them.
When she decided to run for the Senate in , she was an asterisk in the polls, unknown outside her district and given no shot in a state as large and diverse as California. She ran as an uncompromising advocate for reproductive choice, equal rights, environmental protection, healthcare, gun control, and cutting military spending -- issues which have defined her public life.
When she was elected, the number of woman Senators quintupled -- from 1 to 5. Now there are The two leading candidates to succeed her as a senator are women. And a former colleague, Hillary Clinton, is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. Here, an ironic coda. After Barbara clobbered two male opponents in races for reelection, in the GOP cleverly decided to oppose her with a woman -- Carly Fiorina.
Regrettably, Fiorina prefigured Donald Trump's sexist crack about her own appearance by getting caught on tape mocking Barbara's hairstyle. That November, Senator Boxer performed a national service by trouncing Fiorina, a decisive setback for same-sex sexism. But then progress is the point of Barbara Boxer's career.
Her accomplishments have a common theme -- improving people's lives. The first ever comprehensive casually care center in California, so that physically and mentally wounded veterans can receive the care they need.
Setting clean water standards to assure the health and safety of pregnant women and kids. Protecting women in the military from sex offenders. Looking out for society's most embattled members -- minorities, the poor, immigrants, and those our economy leaves behind.
At times that was a pretty solitary job. In , she was one of only 14 votes against the Defense Of Marriage Act. In , she tried to stop "don't ask, don't tell. In she was the only senator who protested the blatant irregularities which skewed Ohio's electoral votes. She was one of 23 votes against the Iraq war resolution. And in she stood with a minority in the Senate to support the Iran nuclear deal.
In every instance she chose principle over expedience -- and was prescient in the bargain. One should contemplate how rare this combination of smarts and conscience really is. Her vote against the Iraq war captures this. She was mocked, vilified and inundated with calls for her resignation. Instead, she doubled down. My children are too old and my grandchild is too young.
You're not going to pay a personal price So who pays the price? The American military and their families -- not me, not you. The war has produced a tsunami of veterans wounded in body and spirit -- maimed, traumatized, brain-damaged, and ridden by alcoholism, addiction and suicide. Not to mention the dead. One wishes that Barbara Boxer could have asked this question of Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, unable as they were to ask it of themselves.
Now she lists the lessons of that experience. War must be the last resort, not the first. Don't enter a war of choice with faulty information. Don't go it alone unless there is no other option. Don't stick American troops in the middle of a civil or religious war. Don't want something more for another country than it wants for itself.
Don't get our soldiers killed for oil.