Why is Kyrsten Sinema? Michelle Goldberg read her book so you don’t have to:
Why? An easy explanation would be money; she could just be protecting her campaign donors. But as Matthew Yglesias points out, in recent cycles small-dollar Democratic donors, who tend to be to the left of Democratic voters overall, have showered the party’s Senate candidates with cash. If Sinema tanks the Biden presidency, it’s unlikely to be great for her fund-raising.
So I think 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. To understand why, it’s worth reading Sinema’s one book-length explication of her political philosophy, her 2009 “Unite and Conquer: How to Build Coalitions That Win — and Last.”
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.
Sinema describes finding self-actualization in learning to “open up my own ways of thinking to embrace a much larger possibility than the strict party-line rhetoric I’d been using.” She figured out how to have meetings with lobbyists that were “relaxed and comfortable,” whether or not they agreed. Her “new ethos” helped her to get more done and, “perhaps most importantly,” be “much happier,” she 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.
“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.
Among the obvious things Sinema doesn’t understand about McCain is that 1)he was a very orthodox Republican, and 2)his departures from orthodoxy (favoring campaign finance reform, opposing Bush’s tax cuts, voting against ACA repeal) were in issues where public opinion favored his position. To the extent that Sinema has expressed any substantive opposition to the BBBA at all her positions have absolutely no mass constituency at all. McCain was therefore able to walk the tightrope of getting a “Maverick” reputation while retaining the support of his party. Sinema is already falling off, and if she torpedoes the BBBA she’ll be a one termer sharing a channel on the latest alt-right video service with Tulsi Gabbard and Glenn Greenwald.