How Kyrsten Sinema went from progressive to Washington swamp dweller

How Kyrsten Sinema went from progressive to Washington swamp dweller

When Kyrsten Sinema was first elected from Arizona to the House of Representatives back in 2012 and later to the Senate in 2018, she broke through several barriers

Freshly elected to the Senate, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) represents a slew of “firsts.” She will be Arizona’s first female senator. She was the first openly bisexual person elected to Congress and carries that first with her to the Senate. And the former Mormon was the first person sent to Congress to claim no religion. After winning her congressional seat in 2012, she was sworn in on the Constitution, forgoing the Bible chosen by Christians – the dominant religion for members of Congress, especially those from Arizona.

She was also progressive in her politics. But David Sirota and Davird Perez write that once she went toWashington, she became a ‘monster’. Her grandstanding vote last week against the rise in the minimum is just one indication of how far she has strayed from her progressive origins.

Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema was once a Green Party member and a committed antiwar activist. Now she’s best known for a viral thumbs-down on a $15 minimum wage vote. It’s the timeless story of an earnest do-gooder turned Washington monster and what happens when we don’t hold politicians accountable.

Sinema has gone viral for not merely joining seven other Democratic senators in blocking an already doomed motion to debate a $15 minimum wage, but for making an NBA-dunk-contest-like spectacle of casting that unnecessary vote to crush millions of workers.

Unlike many corporatists in Washington, Sinema did not get her start as a standard-issue business-friendly cyborg created in a Westworld-style factory at the local chamber of commerce. She was a Green Party icon and social worker who had been elected to Arizona’s legislature as a proud, unabashed progressive. She even became a board member of our organization, which was designed to counter groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and champion a progressive economic agenda.

She explains that she got into politics because she saw underprivileged people in her community and became enraged that “they just weren’t able to get past that place of poverty and dependence to a place of self-sufficiency and interdependence.” She said that she has been focused on “making a difference for the communities that have historically been underserved and marginalized in Arizona.”

But as she got comfortable in the Washington swamp, Sinema began to change her tune.

She voted to help corporate lobbyists harm lots of the marginalized people she claimed she got into politics to protect. She broke with her party to help the financial industry roll back already weak regulations passed in the wake of the financial crisis. She became one of the top recipients of campaign cash from predatory lenders, and helped Republicans advance legislation to protect those lenders.

In all, Sinema cast votes with Trump priorities half the time, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight. Her elevation to the Senate Banking Committee was considered a big win for Wall Street. Last summer, the US Chamber of Commerce awarded Sinema its “inaugural Abraham Lincoln Leadership for America Award and Jefferson-Hamilton Award for Bipartisanship.”

In a different era, advancement in the Democratic Party often required politicians to stand with workers and the poor. Today, that’s changed. Everyone in Washington knows the most reliable path to advancement is to serve power with a hearty thumbs-down anytime a proposal asks the wealthy to sacrifice anything.

See this early interview with her.

Back in 2014, she even tweeted this.

And now see her utterly gratuitously gleeful thumbs down on the minimum wage vote.

(Pearls Before Swine)


  1. DrVanNostrand says

    That’s very interesting. I never realized she had a much more progressive history. I just assumed she was always a Manchin-esque Democrat.

  2. consciousness razor says

    From her wiki page:
    High school valedictorian at 16, BA at 18. Then lots more degrees: MSW, MBA, J.D., PhD. Also a Harvard (JFK school) “leaders fellowship.”

    That looks like a quick and easy way to cultivate arrogance and selfishness in a person…. Not just a desire for some kind of success for herself but an overriding demand which must be satisfied. However, that isn’t consistent with early (perceived) failures with the 2000 Nader campaign or a losing campaign for state representative in 2002, for example. What do you do with your self-image then? As a smart person who expects/demands more, you think that maybe something that you’re doing needs to change. But what will it be?

    That video (from 2008) seems to shed some light: in order to get more money for campaigns, you should adjust “the message” somehow. What that really means, if it’s not actually changing what you’re fighting for, is pretty much anybody’s guess. (Lying and bullshitting is definitely not off the table though.) Anyway, that’s more or less what progressives elsewhere were supposed to learn, according to her. It’s clear enough, although it might not sink in, if you weren’t really listening or if you were distracted by the fact that the discussion related specifically to a gay marriage ban. Maybe it sounds fairly innocent in that context.

    But more generally, what it often boils down to is looking to be bribed in exchange for taking more “moderate” positions. Nobody needed to coax her into it by dangling bags of cash, because she was actively seeking opportunities to do exactly that, because it’s thought of as a recipe for “success.” The new goal is “gain power (for myself, because I deserve it),” not necessarily doing any of the work she may have originally wanted to do. Before you know it, you’re voting with the opposing party half of the time.

  3. Reginald Selkirk says

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    A conversation with Danish businessman Djaffar Shalchi about why he wants to make rich people like himself pay more in taxes…
    ANAND: You live in Denmark. Many Americans, especially people who aspire to business success like you’ve had, believe that if we were to adopt policies like Denmark’s, capitalism would die, and gulags would sprout across the land. Are they correct?
    DJAFFAR: They could not be more wrong. In real life, contrary to the Hollywood tale, kids are more likely to achieve the American dream in Denmark than in America. America is not a beacon to the world on how to run an economy. Scandinavia has a much more impressive economic record than the US and is much more innovative. Sorry, my American friends — we’re not just fairer than you. We’re doing better by being so.
    ANAND: In America, wealthy individuals and businesses lobby for a threadbare safety net to pay less in taxes. But this creates a complication. It puts the onus on companies to figure out healthcare for their employees, to make these awful life-or-death decisions about pensions and maternity leave and the like. And what I often hear from friends who are in business in Europe is how much easier it is to do business when you’re not making all these societal decisions about your employees’ well-being and health and life and children as part of your operation.
    DJAFFAR: Absolutely. And that’s just part of it. Social stability, low crime, a well-educated population, and great infrastructure are good for business. As we put it, the right thing to do is also the smart thing to do. We could also put it this way: the mean way to run an economy is also the dumb way to run an economy.

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