Why Sinema’s Departure is an Opportunity

Kyrsten Sinema is one of the most unpopular senators in the country. At best, this is a sentiment shared across her constituency. Among numerous demographics (men, women, Whites, Hispanics, college graduates, high school graduates, Democrats, Independents, Republicans, etc.), Sinema is disapproved of by over 50% of respondents.

As Slate reports, her entire brand has been about working “across the aisle” to bring both sides together, as evidenced by recent social media posts–but the only unity she seems to bring is universal dislike. To be fair, her latest ratings are a significant improvement from the 8% favorability rating she received from Democrats back in January 2022.

Her story is a tragic one: a Green Party member’s descent into corporate neoliberalism, and a love for the status quo so maddening that it drove this noble legislator to tank the Build Back Better program of her party, watering it down substantially until it had barely any bite. There was too much at stake for the corporate donors that funded her campaign: Build Back Better would have raised the corporate tax rate to 28%, cracked down on corporate tax avoidances and loopholes, ended subsidies to fossil fuel companies, and increased protections for labor unions.

In its original form, the bill would have delivered social democratic reform to millions of Americans in desperate need of help. More importantly, it would have challenged the neoliberal system that, day after day, threatens the security of working people as the ultra-wealthy fight a bitter class war in pursuit of their interests: extreme wealth, privilege, and immense sway over policy programs.

The reality that two senators (both Sinema and Manchin, D-WV) could hold a legislative program hostage revealed the inability of the Democratic Party leadership to corral its members: a kind of control that Republican leadership exerts with relative ease. Despite having a “government trifecta,” commandeering the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, the Democratic Party leadership did not employ the necessary resources to compel Manchin and Sinema’s support for President Biden’s legislation.

Noble Departure

Last month, Sinema bent over backward for the establishment that sustained her career by announcing that she was leaving the Democratic Party and registering as an independent. In an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN, she positions herself as a maverick on a quest for enlightened statesmanship without the partisan brain rot. “I’ve never fit neatly into any party box. I’ve never really tried. I don’t want to,” she said. “Removing myself from the partisan structure—not only is it true to who I am and how I operate, I also think it’ll provide a place of belonging for many folks across the state and the country, who also are tired of the partisanship.”

But as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed out, the “soliloquy” she delivered elucidated zero policy proposals. “Not once [did] Sinema offer a single concrete value or policy she believes in. She lays out no goals for Arizonans, no vision, no commitments.” This is a crucial point. If the Democratic Party is going to be the party of working people, as it was from the 1930s to the 1960s (until neoliberalism took root in the 1970s), getting corrupt actors like Sinema out of the party is a benefit. It’s also an opportunity for staunchly anti-corporate forces to win.

Sinema’s departure opens up the Democratic primary to a principled anti-corporate candidate supportive of the kind of social democratic reforms that Build Back Better would have brought. No one understands the damage that Sinema delivered more than her constituents, and not only is it strategically advantageous to run a candidate outflanking her to her left under the Democratic ticket but it could, frankly, be a layup from a substantive perspective. 

First, the first-past-the-post voting system forces strategic voting: Democratic voters understand that voting for an Independent instead would lend power to the Republican challenger, so your one vote has to go for the strategic option (this kind of plurality voting system is in serious need of reform: it guts any chances that third party candidates have of winning).

Second, Sinema will have to work hard to restore any semblance of approval among her constituents after her endless displays of corruption: legalized bribery; neoliberal policy-making; voting against reforms such as the $15 minimum wage; voting against climate legislation that would address the epistemic crisis threatening civilization; voting against the Iran Nuclear Deal and supporting hawkish military action in the abandonment of her anti-interventionist past; opposing universal healthcare, which would bring us up to par with the rest of the developed world and save us money; opposing pricing reform for prescription drugs; and countless other displays of sheer service to the Establishment.

Sinema’s departure should be viewed as a window of opportunity to elect a principled, progressive, anti-neoliberal Democrat who will fight for the needs of working people as they live and suffer under the current economic regime–an economic order that deprives them of guaranteed healthcare, threatens their ability to unionize, stunts their wages, blocks student debt reform, blocks prescription drug reform, and constantly threatens the various social programs that working people fought for: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and others. Their demise looms closer with the new Republican majority in the House.

We need somebody to challenge the military-industrial complex, the pharmaceutical industry, the gun lobby, the super PACs, foreign lobbies like Saudi Arabia, and other enemies of working people. Sinema is subservient to the owners, not the people–this is a chance to prevent her, once and for all, from striking more blows to working people and hopefully mitigate some of the damage she’s already done.

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