On September 28, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, U.S. Representative from Arizona’s 9th congressional district in Phoenix since 2012, announced her intent to seek retiring Republican Senator Jeff Flake’s seat in the 2018 election. Media outlets are calling this good news for Democrats, hailing Ms. Sinema as a “top-tier” candidate due to her fundraising prowess and “her moderate, even GOP-friendly politics [that match] the state’s red-to-purple-ish profile.” And while Ms. Sinema will have to beat at least one other Democrat in the primary – Phoenix attorney Deedra Abboud – social media is already ringing with calls for Democrats to unify behind and vote for Ms. Sinema in the general election next November, because “she’s the only real candidate” and “she’s better than (Republican).”
The problem with these pleas is that Ms. Sinema embodies everything that is wrong with the Democratic Party. Her candidacy, even or perhaps especially if successful, will remind Americans once again just how little Democrats seem to care about electing real, inspiring leaders to public office who will change our state and our country for the better.
“I actually did vote for it before I voted against it.” – John Kerry
Ms. Sinema began her political career as a progressive, working on Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential campaign and joining “Women in Black,” an anti-war organization which held vigils and protests against the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s “till there’s no more war,” as Ms. Sinema herself stated. When she ran unsuccessfully for the State Legislature as an independent in 2002 with the support of the local Green Party, for which she once served as a spokeswoman, she was dubbed “too extreme” by the Arizona Democratic Party.
Later electoral success saw Ms. Sinema race away from her past, and the more elections she won the further she “evolved” away from her progressive roots. In 2011, while serving in the Arizona State House of Representatives, Ms. Sinema went on television and expressed her adoration for Russell Pearce, Godfather of SB1070, the breathtakingly racist anti-immigrant bill that made Arizona the rightful focus of international scorn.
I’d love to see him run for congress…Actually, I love Russell. We get along very well, not always on policy matters, but on personal matters we do.”
Yet it was in 2012, after Ms. Sinema was first elected to Congress from Arizona’s 9th congressional district, when she shed all qualms about throwing disabled people, sick people, war refugees, consumers and immigrants under the bus for the sake of her naked political ambition. What follows is a list of some of her more egregious congressional votes.
- Co-sponsor with Matt Salmon of H.R.4122 “Visa Waiver Program:” suspends the waiver program for individuals who in the last five years have traveled to Iran, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Nigeria. Allows the U.S. Secretary of State to add additional countries to the threat list at any time.
- Co-sponsor of H.R.620 “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017:” removes incentives for businesses to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Co-sponsor of H.J.R.81: balanced budget constitutional amendment.
- Yes on H.R.3004 “Kate’s Law:” toughens penalties for people repeatedly caught crossing the border without proper documentation.
- Yes on H.R.3219 “Make America Secure Appropriations Act:” appropriates $1.6 billion for a border wall.
- Yes on H.R.3697 “Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act:” increases federal agents’ ability to detain and deport non-citizens solely because they live in an immigrant neighborhood considered to be “gang-affiliated.”
- Yes on H.R.3003 “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act:” strips federal grant money from sanctuary cities.
- Yes on H.R.411: opposes the nuclear peace deal with Iran.
- Yes on H.R.567: establishes a committee to investigate the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, widely seen as a political stunt to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects.
- Yes on H.R.238 “Commodity End-User Relief Act:” weakens Dodd-Frank financial reforms and cuts $32 million from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau budget.
- Yes on H.R.30 “Save American Workers Act:” guts the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act by defining full-time work at 40 hours a week, from the current 30 hour standard.
- Yes on H.R.2997 “21st Century AIRR Act:” privatizes the United States Air Traffic Control system by removing it from the control of the Federal Aviation Administration and handing it over to private, for-profit industry.
- Yes on H.R.2581 “Verify First Act:” prevents people from accessing health care through the Affordable Care Act until their citizenship status has been verified.
- Yes on H.R.3350 “Keep Your Health Plan Act:” allows insurers to keep offering health plans that do not meet certain minimum requirements of the Affordable Care Act.
- Yes on H.R.2936 “Resilient Federal Forests Act:” weakens conservation laws and expedites logging and tree thinning in national forests, potentially putting communities at higher risk of fire, flooding and degraded drinking water quality.
- No on H.C.R.71: House Democratic Caucus substitute for the 2018 Republican budget proposal.
- Yes on H.R.510: Extends section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows the NSA to warrantlessly target people in other countries who are communicating with Americans, and collect the personal communications of those Americans without their knowledge.
There is one more vote that is particularly galling. Ms. Sinema voted yes on H.R.4038, the “American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act,” which prevents Syrian and Iraqi refugees from being resettled in the United States until “tighter vetting processes” can be put in place. Never mind that the current process is already regarded as the “world’s most successful and secure.” Ms. Sinema’s vote demonstrates how thoroughly she has abandoned whatever moral compass she built through her Master of Social Work degree, her Ph.D. in Justice Studies, and her tenure as a former president of the non-profit group Community Outreach & Advocacy for Refugees. That compass seemed fine-tuned to righteous moral indignation in Ms. Sinema’s April 16, 2003, letter to the Arizona Republic, in which she denounced President Bush for trying to involve the U.S. in a war against Syria.
I wonder how long it will take us to invade Syria, kill their civilians, deprive the survivors of food and shelter, destroy their water and electricity systems, plant American flags all over the place and install a U.S. military government — all in the name of freedom?”
Apparently the idea of war-ravaged Syrian refugees is good enough to exploit in a letter to the editor, but their actual existence does not justify giving actual refuge to. Given her political and moral metamorphosis, Ms. Sinema’s Statute of Liberty might now read:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
As long as they don’t cost, an election, to me.”
Keep in mind that Ms. Sinema’s votes are not akin to clicking “like” on Facebook. They are intended to irrevocably alter the lives of millions of flesh-and-blood people around the world. Nobody is forcing her to make life exponentially more difficult for immigrants, disabled Americans, and consumers; she is freely choosing to do so.
At what price the U.S. Senate?
How far are we willing to go? Where do we draw the line separating policies the Democratic Party is willing to abandon, from policies it insists on preserving? Many will draw it at abortion rights, and claim that Ms. Sinema will protect them while (Republican) will imperil them. Yet this argument invites some questions:
- How many people is it okay to shit on in order to protect a candidate who claims to favor abortion rights? (Which only the Supreme Court or a constitutional amendment – not the U.S. Senate – can ultimately imperil at the national level.)
- Considering Ms. Sinema’s track record, which rivals a San Diego beach BBQ for flip-flopping, why would anyone, especially a Democrat, doubleplus a progressive, trust any position she purports to hold?
- How long will Ms. Sinema’s pro-choice bona fides survive at a time when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman states that the DCCC will not necessarily withhold financial support from Democratic candidates who oppose abortion rights?
The Democratic Party hinging its support for Ms. Sinema on the basis of her current position on abortion is the Democratic equivalent of a Gorsuch Paradox. Many of us know Republicans who find Donald Trump repugnant in almost every way, but are still glad he won the presidency because he elevated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. How frustrated we get when we try to explain to our Reaganite friends that Gorsuch’s yuge winning-ness will inevitably diminish in the face of Chinese trade wars that will crater our economy, and North Korean missiles that will crater Tokyo and Seoul! We cannot understand how Republicans excuse and forgive so much misogyny, white supremacy, and unbridled stupidity just to pick up one Supreme Court seat. Yet Democrats are supposed to sit still and be quiet when our party asks us to help throw the disabled, immigrants, and refugees under the bus, just to pick up one Senate seat? That’s bullshit. Hypocritical bullshit – the smelliest kind.
(Editor’s note – We need to guard against the creeping influence of Zarzycki’s law, to wit; “As an online progressive criticism of a Democrat grows longer, the probability of a facile comparison involving Jill Stein supporters and/or Bernie Bros approaches 1.”
“In politics, nothing is contemptible.” – Benjamin Disraeli
These are treacherous waters. Ms. Sinema is a smart, aggressive, exceptionally ambitious woman. In American men these traits are lauded, and the White House, Capitol Hill, and the Fortune 500 have always been filled with men who possess them. Yet women who follow this well-worn path are labeled shrill and bitchy, excoriated as unfit for public office, and threatened with politico-sexual assault. This kind of sexism is contemptible, and has erected a very real barrier to women succeeding to their rightfully prominent place in American life.
But a jerk is a jerk, regardless of gender. I ran for local office, am a very active Democrat, and have spent countless hours in the company of dozens of candidates and elected officials from the Democratic, Republican, and Green parties. I was less than impressed by many of them. None of them were anywhere near as big a jerk as Ms. Sinema.
I spent five weekends with her. She was one of the lead instructors at a multi-month political training and leadership seminar I attended in 2013-2014. I spent hours listening to Ms. Sinema pontificate on politics, political messaging and — I kid you not — how much she likes Russell Pearce. She was consistently rude and close-minded. During one break I approached her while she was playing a game on her cell phone, and very politely asked her why she voted to undermine the ACA when she voted yes on H.R. 3350, which would have allowed insurers to keep offering health plans that did not meet certain minimum requirements of the ACA. She snapped at me that she didn’t vote to undermine the ACA, said she would talk about her congressional votes when the entire seminar group reconvened, then turned back to her video game, dismissing me. After the break she never said a word about her vote. Ms. Sinema never discussed any of her votes with us. Her focus was readily apparent; win at all costs, climb the political ladder at all costs. Her single, all-encompassing motivation is personal advancement. She could not care less that our democratic republic demands she represent us, advocate for us, and explain her votes to us. She doesn’t give a shit about us. Yet somehow we are supposed to believe that she cares deeply about gun control, poor people, and the environment? We are supposed to take it on faith that this assiduous fundraiser will go to the U.S. Senate and act in the best interests of the disenfranchised and the dispossessed, who will never be able to donate one penny to her next campaign? We are supposed to ignore her execrable voting record and her contemptuous personality, just because she has a (D) next to her name? Remind me again why us Democrats are so upset that the Republican Party lined up behind a self-involved, money-obsessed reality TV star who doesn’t know the difference between the Chicago School and a preschool, just because he put an (R) next to his name?
“At least they are better than the Republican candidate!”
– no passionate, dedicated Democratic Party convert, ever.
Democracy is not a “marketplace of ideas.” Modern cognitive science teaches us that voters do not decide which party or candidate to support based on which side lays out the most compelling and comprehensive data set. Reason and knowledge — the head — play a very small role in voting behavior. It is emotion and feeling — the heart and the gut — that rule the day. Drew Westen and George Lakoff have be telling Democrats this for decades, yet we are shockingly — and self-destructively — unwilling to accept it. We rattle off facts and figures about degrees centigrade the oceans will warm in the next century, number of bullets contained in a high-capacity magazine, and dollar amount that working class citizens pay in health insurance premiums that do not cover pre-existing conditions. Meanwhile, Republicans talk about “guns, God, and country,” and go on to dominate every branch of the federal government and two-thirds of the states.
If we are serious about digging ourselves out of our electoral pit of despair, we need to field Democratic candidates who understand what people are feeling. Our candidates need to speak to voters’ concerns at an emotional level, and our party needs to support those candidates even at the expense of incumbents and establishment candidates who are less-capable but have “paid their dues.”
Democrats used to speak from the heart and to the heart. Consider President Johnson’s March 15, 1965, address to Congress, one week after police brutally assaulted Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights advocates during their march in Selma, Alabama:
I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy.
I urge every member of both parties, Americans of all religions and of all colors, from every section of this country, to join me in that cause.
At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama.
There, long-suffering men and women peacefully protested the denial of their rights as Americans. Many were brutally assaulted. One good man, a man of God, was killed.
There is no cause for pride in what has happened in Selma. There is no cause for self-satisfaction in the long denial of equal rights of millions of Americans. But there is cause for hope and for faith in our democracy in what is happening here tonight.
For the cries of pain and the hymns and protests of oppressed people have summoned into convocation all the majesty of this great government – the government of the greatest nation on earth.
Our mission is at once the oldest and the most basic of this country: to right wrong, to do justice, to serve man.”
Consider also Hillary Rodham Clinton’s remarks to the U.N.’s “4th World Conference on Women” plenary session in Beijing on September 5, 1995:
It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls.
It is a violation of human rights when women and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution for human greed – and the kinds of reasons that are used to justify this practice should no longer be tolerated.
It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire, and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small.
It is a violation of human rights when individual women are raped in their own communities and when thousands of women are subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war.
It is a violation of human rights when a leading cause of death worldwide among women ages 14 to 44 is the violence they are subjected to in their own homes by their own relatives.
It is a violation of human rights when young girls are brutalized by the painful and degrading practice of genital mutilation.
It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to plan their own families, and that includes being forced to have abortions or being sterilized against their will.
If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.”
Now compare Ms. Sinema’s September 28, 2017 video announcing her candidacy for the U.S. Senate. Ms. Sinema makes it clear from the very beginning that this election will be about her. In her three minute and twenty second video she says “I” twenty-four times, “my” six times, and “me” four times.
When talking about why she is running for Senate, Ms. Sinema’s answer is the worst kind of emotionless, non-controversial, professional political consultant-speak.
I want to do more for my country. I have the chance to change things, and help Arizonans every day. Whether it’s a veteran who can’t get his benefits, a widow who needs social security, a businessman who is struggling with red tape, or parents worried their kids won’t have a better life than they have, I get to help people solve their problems. What a privilege.”
That is not inspirational leadership. That is not speaking to the hearts of Americans, or connecting with them on an emotional level. Ms. Sinema says not a word about our hopes and dreams, other than paying lip-service to the “American dream” of success through “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” which is itself a profound lie and an insult to the millions of American still suffering from the devastation of the Great Recession.
Ms. Sinema is studiously silent on human rights, civil rights, and advancing the causes of liberty and justice for all. She makes no mention of gun violence, foreign wars, chronic unemployment, or environmental peril. She shows no interest in the challenges faced by people of color, the LGBTQ community, or the millions of Americans subject to mass incarceration.
Per the only text featured in the entire video, the themes of her campaign are, “Real Life Experience,” “Personal Responsibility,” “Duty to Country,” and “Change Washington.” This is cookie-cutter pablum of the first order, meaningless phraseology that has been exhaustively focus-grouped to ensure it is not the least bit controversial or objectionable to anyone. It means nothing and stands for nothing, and has zero emotional impact. It is the polar opposite of:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
~ Martin Luther King Jr.
True patriotism springs from a belief in the dignity of the individual, freedom and equality not only for Americans but for all people on earth, universal brotherhood and good will, and a constant and earnest striving toward the principles and ideals on which this country was founded.”
Ms. Sinema speaks to no values, “hard work” being not a value but a habit. She goes out of her way not to emotionally engage her audience, save for an attempt to make herself relatable by speaking about her impoverished childhood. However, she doesn’t dare talk about poverty, let alone poor people. Ms. Sinema has no ideas, no bold plans, and does not seem to be bothered by our current existential political crisis, other than the vague statement, “Our nation is facing a lot of problems right now, but we can fix these problems if we work together.”
Before we forgive Ms. Sinema her many political and psychological trespasses on the grounds that it is only a three minute and twenty second announcement video in which she must be brief, we need to remember that brevity does not necessarily demand vapidness. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was 272 words long, and took under three minutes to deliver. Even more importantly, Ms. Sinema is her own person, and her own candidate. No one forced her to spend two-thirds of her announcement talking only about herself. No one forced her to remain silent about the endless array of social, economic, and political issues facing our country. She made those choices.
In her defense, they were honest choices. Ms. Sinema, and far too many Democratic candidates like her, have no interest in speaking to and channeling the hopes and dreams of the American people. They do not want to propose clear, inspirational policies that might help solve our country’s problems, such as universal background checks, single payer health care, or a new New Deal, because that would cost them votes and maybe ultimately their jobs. Thus comes the crux of the matter. At the end of the day Ms. Sinema’s political, personal, and psychological choices reveal her to be nothing more than a careerist. She will change any view, take any vote, and sacrifice any cause upon the altar of her own advancement.
“But she’s still better than (Republican)!”
Okay. Sure. For now. However even if, despite her myriad shortcomings, Ms. Sinema is and will always be “better” than the Republican candidate, the Democratic Party still faces two foundational questions:
- Does our party exist to elect self-identified Democrats to office, or does it exist to elect people who hold and act upon democratic values to office?
- Does our party really expect to regain political control of the state and the country with the message, “Vote for Democrats, because they are not Republicans?”
That is our party’s message to the American people every time it runs a Kyrsten Sinema for public office. Cognitive science proves that this an absolutely terrible message, and does not win elections. If it did, you would not be reading this in Trump’s America. How different would our country and our party be if we spoke to the hearts and souls of the American people? How much brighter would our party’s future be if Democrats talked to the American people like this;
The hour has come to remind ourselves, and the rest of the world, that we are Americans. The hour has come to remind ourselves, and the rest of the world, that America is the land of the free, and the home of the brave. We will not do this by barring refugees from our shores, or imprisoning and beating and murdering our African-American citizens, or launching unending foreign wars. We will not do this by using taxes to line the pockets of the rich at the expense of the poor, or allowing our factories and roads and bridges to crumble into dust to appease Wall Street.
The hour has come to proclaim that we have no need to make America great again, because the greatness of our people has never waned. It has always beat in the hearts of immigrants, who brave scorching deserts to labor in our fields and our homes while our culture demeans and vilifies them. It has always flowed through the veins of waitresses and carpenters and janitors, who break their backs to support their children at minimum wage and without health care.
The hour has come to reinvigorate the American Dream. This is not a false promise that all will be well if you just try harder, but a solemn vow that we are all in this together. We are only as free and only as rich as the least fortunate among us, and whatsoever we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to ourselves.
The hour has come to make peace with other nations, protect our children from guns, and clean up our planet. The hour has come to wrestle our government away from professional politicians, and give it back to the people. The hour has come to resume our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, and rejoice in the fact that regardless of color or creed or class, we are all Americans.”
“Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains ’round
the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare.” – Percy Shelley
Everyday seems to bring news that is worse than the day before. Mass shootings, war, unemployment, government-sanctioned white supremacy, environmental degradation. No person of reason can argue with a straight face that the social, economic, political, or environmental trend lines are positive. If the Democratic Party keeps excusing and supporting candidates like Ms. Sinema, in the hope that their election will somehow lead to a progressive political revolution the next election, or the next next election, we will proceed head-first into the abyss. If we do not today revolutionize our party and our politics, then one day soon the next election will be our last.
– Joel Feinman