Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has come to leadership in the largest state in the union during a time that, as he told McGeorge law graduates on May 15, challenges representative democracy, our ability to protect the vulnerable, beliefs in the efficacy of government itself.
He believes we have careened into a period of "false theology" of absolutely certainty that changes public debate to, "I am good and you are bad." Yet he remains an idealist at heart:
"Despite all the difficulties, divisions, and distrust, I decided to embrace our collective human frailty, our flawed system, and our unrelenting desire to be better" -- and he urged the law graduates to do the same.
Difficult times tend to bring out the worst in people, and the best. It is heartening to see a political leader who in his public rhetoric appeals to progress over stalemate and larger public goods over narrow self-interest.
But, as Steinberg well knows, appeals to timeless ideals only get you so far. In paradigm-shifting times, hard-headed realism and a willingness to challenge the orthodoxies of one's own soulmates are key challenges of leadership, too -- and will be the test of his leadership in the California Senate.