By Eric Green / Arlington, Va.
Kyrsten Sinema’s announcement on Friday (Dec. 9) that she is leaving the Democratic Party and registering as an independent smacked of self-serving cynicism, a preemptive strike to advance her own political interests. The Arizona Senator is employing what I term the “George Costanza Principle.”
That refers to an episode on the TV sitcom Seinfeld, where the character named Kramer tells obsessed George Costanza to break up with his pianist girlfriend Noel, since George feels scared Noel is about to break up with him and that by his move, she’ll want him like never before. Kramer is a genius, George declares, when after he tells Noel the bad news, she begs George not to leave her.
In the same way, Sinema figured she better break up with the Democrats before the Party, tired of her shenanigans of stifling progressive legislation, decides they’ve had enough of her already.
Of course, Sinema might be warned that Kramer’s plan doesn’t seem as brilliant when Noel regains her courage and self-respect, and tells George to go take a hike.
That’s comedy TV, but in Washington and Phoenix, it caused anger and consternation among Democrats. For a nanosecond, following Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock’s hard-fought runoff election victory on Tuesday (Dec.6), Democrats thought they would at last have a 51-49 majority in the U.S. Senate. But after Sinema’s dramatic pronouncement, they were back to the same frustrating 50-49 split between Democrats and Republicans, plus the burden of the newly declared Arizona independent.
Sinema, in a ploy truly Nixonian or Trumpian in its devious, tricky machinations, clearly figures that becoming independent will allow her and her Democratic partner in power-tripping, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, to continue holding the Democrats hostage on crucial votes in Congress.
Sinema has drawn national attention when she stymied President Biden’s agenda in the Congress on such matters as increasing the corporate tax rate and raising the federal minimum wage. And rankling their Democratic colleagues, she and Manchin blocked the Democrats from changing the filibuster rules in the Senate to protect voting rights.
Sinema, in leaving the Democrats, called to mind our narcissistic former President’s “It’s not about you--it’s all about me” maneuvers for political gain.
Besides the fact that she has an unerring sense of how to put the spotlight on herself, part of Sinema’s decision to become an independent might stem from her sneaking suspicion that the Democrats disrespect her. For good reason–Democrats are upset with her for the way she abandoned the Party when it was crunch time on important votes.
When she self-righteously announced her decision to become independent, Sinema proclaimed that “like a lot of Arizonans, I have never fit perfectly in either national party” and that her approach is “rare in Washington and has upset partisans in both parties.”
She also suggested that changing to independent would prove advantageous for the citizens of Arizona, and that it wasn’t for personal political gain. Her Senate seat, she said generously, “doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to Arizona.”
Her statement that it’s all about her self-sacrifice for Arizonans and that her independent streak has “delivered lasting results” sounds both like typical Washington “political speak” and good public relations, which is expected from an ambitious politician. But it also sounds laughable when considering Sinema’s dismal ratings in public opinion polls.
Surveys showed Sinema getting clobbered in a Democratic Senatorial primary in 2024, with rumored challenger Rep. Ruben Gallego getting 74 percent of the vote compared to 16 percent for her. Another potential Arizona challenger, Rep. Greg Stanton, says his own polling showed him getting 58 percent in the primary versus Sinema’s 17 percent.
In short, Sinema’s prospects at home looked bleak. The progressive polling firm Data for Progress reported last January that her favorability rating with likely Arizona Democratic primary voters to be just 19 percent. That compared to 78 percent for Mark Kelly, Sinema’s Arizona Democratic counterpart in the U.S. Senate.
The only way she could have any hope of getting re-elected in 2024, political observers say, was to become an independent. Skeptics astutely said that Sinema’s decision wasn’t a “post-partisan epiphany,” but rather about “political preservation.”
As Elvia Diaz, an editorial columnist at the Arizona Republic daily newspaper, put it: “Ditching the Democratic Party has nothing to do with ugly partisan games but everything to do with Sinema’s opportunism.”
Arizonians still recall when in April 2021 Sinema posted on social media pictures of herself sipping sangria in a pink newsboy cap and wearing a ring on her right index finger that cheekily said (keeping it clean here because The Insider is a respectable publication) “F**k Off.”
West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III might well be feeling exhilarated about the Sinema stunt. Just when it seemed everything had fizzled for Manchin with an increased Democratic majority in the Senate following Raphael Warnock’s win, it’s status quo ante with Sinema wrecking that whole equation.
With the present 50-49-1 divide in Congress, we might be forced to continue calling Manchin “King Joe the Third” for his deciding-vote power over on whether the Biden progressive agenda will move forward. Even if Manchin rejects that title, he might not object privately to that other moniker D.C. pundits and policy wonks give him as “The Real President” for being the actual power behind the throne in Washington.
However Sinema’s path forward takes shape, her wardrobe might start featuring the color purple more often to prove her independence from either political party--the same color she flashily wore during her first run for the Senate in 2018 to highlight the fact that Arizona is a purple swing state voting-wise, neither majority Republican nor Democratic.
As she begins her reign as the Independent Senator from Arizona, her purple outfit probably won’t be as flamboyant as the late pop singer Prince’s Purple Rain costumes. But following Sinema’s attention-grabbing move to upset the balance of power in Congress, it will leave a lot of people in Arizona and across America seeing red.
Eric Green has had many former incarnations. Topping the list is news writer for the U.S. State Department and U.S. Information Agency, newspaper reporter in Maryland, press aide to a U.S. Senator on Capitol Hill, and ESL teacher in Washington, D.C. Presently a freelance writer, his articles have appeared in such places as the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, and Highbrow Magazine. In an attempt to be a latter-day Art Buchwald or Erma Bombeck, he writes satirical pieces about political figures and celebrities that appear on various humor websites. He is the author of several books, including Temporary Insanity: Costa Rica: My Way and My Penciled-in-Life, A Hoosier Pens a New Story in D.C.