The reaction to the endorsement of Kevin de Leon’s U.S. Senate candidacy has received almost universal criticism in the mainstream media and from older, supposedly wiser political observers.

The endorsement is seen as politically disloyal ()since De Leon is running against a Democratic incumbent Dianne Feinstein), unrealistic (since De Leon trails ) and, most of all, an example of left-wing excess. Former Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown compared it to jumping off the cliff.

None of that is true. To the contrary, the endorsement was one the party should have made – and really had to make.

And it wasn’t about left vs. center. It’s about being a team player.

It’s also about history.

Looking back at the last 25 years of California politics, and the heart of the story is not just the rise of Democrats, but a rise of greater inclusion, particularly in Democratic politics. Before the 2000s, Republicans won here by attacking constituencies like immigrants, the poor, those in neighborhoods where people are caught up in the criminal justice system.

The story of the past 20 years is the counterattack to those Republican attacks, as activists groups, coalitions and others worked together first to protect people from policies targeting immigrants and those with criminal records, and second to advance policies to deal directly with such problems.

During those fights, Feinstein, the U.S. Senator, was mostly a bystander. Sometimes she helped, and sometimes, to show herself as a moderate, she was an obstacle, making anti-immigrant and tough-on-crime noises herself.

At times, Feinstein reveled in being a lone wolf, sticking her finger in the eye of the party. And she has played up her ability to compromise with Republicans who attacked at-risk constituencies.
De Leon has his strengths and weaknesses. But he is closely aligned with a wide variety of groups on the left and in the center that have led the counter-attack against anti-immigrant and anti-crime policies. Indeed, he worked directly for some of those organizations. And in the legislature, he advanced legislation that protected their priorities.

In that context, the choice for Democrats and the many organizations that support them is straightforward. Vote for the U.S. Senator who wasn’t really with us, or for De Leon, who was with us every step of the way.

Politically, the calculation may be that even if Feinstein wins this time, an endorsement now means that De Leon will ultimately occupy the seat—either in another six years or before, if Feinstein doesn’t complete her term.

But at heart, this is not about far-left politics. This is about the old-fashioned value of team play.