Columnist unpacks the mystery of what Kyrsten Sinema is thinking — and warns her against 'being a narcissist'
A recent poll by OH Predictive Insights found that while Sen. Mark Kelly enjoys 80% approval among Arizona Democrats, the state's other centrist Democratic U.S. senator, Kyrsten Sinema, only enjoys 56% approval among Democratic voters in her state. That poll isn't especially surprising, as Sinema — not unlike Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia — has often been a source of frustration among liberals, progressives and fellow Democrats. Some of that frustration is expressed by liberal New York Times opinion writer Michelle Goldberg this week in her column.
Goldberg notes that when Sinema ran for the U.S. Senate in 2018, she "reportedly told her advisers that she hoped to be the next John McCain." But Sinema, Goldberg argues, often seems like she is going out of her way to antagonize fellow Democrats — whereas McCain was a conservative who sometimes bucked his party.
"People admired McCain because they felt he embodied a consistent set of values, a straight-talking Captain America kind of patriotism," Goldberg writes. "Despite his iconoclastic image, he was mostly a deeply conservative Republican; as CNN's Harry Enten points out, on votes where the parties were split, he sided with his party about 90% of the time. Sinema, by contrast, breaks with her fellow Democrats much more often…. What really makes her different from McCain is that nobody seems to know what she stands for."
Nonetheless, Goldberg writes that "it's entirely possible that Sinema's motives are sincere, because she's come to believe in bipartisanship for its own sake, divorced from any underlying policy goals."
Goldberg adds that to get some possible insights into what makes Sinema tick, one could read her 2009 book "Unite and Conquer: How to Build Coalitions That Win — and Last."
Goldberg explains, "In 'Unite and Conquer,' Sinema describes entering the Republican-controlled Arizona State House as a strident progressive, accomplishing nothing, being miserable and then recalibrating so that she could collaborate with her Republican colleagues. The book is vaguely new agey. It places a lot of emphasis on deep breathing and extols what Sinema calls 'Enso politics,' after a Zen term for a circle symbolizing enlightenment."
The liberal columnist argues, however, that Sinema has become dogmatic in her centrism.
Goldberg writes, "'Unite and Conquer' was about operating in the minority, not exercising power. Now that she's part of a governing majority, Sinema is, ironically, recapitulating some of the pathologies she boasted about transcending. Rather than being part of a productive coalition, she's once again operating as a defiantly contrary outsider. The bipartisanship that was once a source of liberation for her seems to have become a rigid identity."
Goldberg also threw cold water on the idea that Sinema really is a "maverick" in the style of McCain:
"I think she's just really invested in that self-image, personally, as someone who stands up to her party, and I think she has really lost track of what is actually politically prudent, even to put aside the impact on the lives of millions of people," said Emily Kirkland, executive director of Progress Arizona, a progressive group that worked to elect Sinema to the Senate. There's a difference, it turns out, between being a maverick and being a narcissist.
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