Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., is unhappy that a group of progressive activists followed her into a bathroom over the weekend. In a statement Monday, she said what the activists did was “wholly inappropriate.”
“Yesterday’s behavior was not legitimate protest,” Sinema wrote. Leaving aside that Sinema doesn’t get to set the terms of how her constituents hold her accountable, you know who would have likely applauded those activists’ tactics? A young Kyrsten Sinema, the one who didn’t mind calling out Democrats who are more interested in obtaining power than in using it to advance their values.
During the last few weeks, a tidal wave of ink has been spilled as we all try to figure out, in brief, what Sinema’s deal is. Why is the first-term senator acting as a roadblock to passing President Joe Biden’s agenda? What’s driving her? Political donors’ priorities? A misreading of the Arizona electorate? Is she lining up a lobbying gig after her term ends? Does she have a raging case of McCain Maverick Syndrome?
But the here’s the biggest question of them all: What sparked Sinema’s transformation from a Green Party activist into a centrist who may derail one of the largest, most progressive bills we’re likely to see during Biden’s presidency?
As you might expect, the attempts to find the answer have ranged in quality and prescriptive usefulness. The best of them so far comes from Mother Jones reporter Tim Murphy, whose recent profile of Sinema charts her rise through the ranks of Arizona politics and explains how few of her former allies recognize her now.
In her youth, Sinema was part of the antiwar movement ahead of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. And at the time, she had no tolerance for Democrats who would support the coming war:
When hawkish and conservative-leaning Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman passed through Tucson during his presidential campaign in 2003, Sinema led a caravan of activists to protest outside his event. “He’s a shame to Democrats,” she told a reporter. “I don’t even know why he’s running. He seems to want to get Republicans voting for him—what kind of strategy is that?”
It’s a valid question, one that has grown only more important 18 years later. It’s also apparently the kind of strategy that would wind up appealing to Sinema just a few years later as she shed her activism for what she’d come to describe as “letting go of the bear and picking up the Buddha.” Translation: Don’t pick fights with people you disagree with; instead, be more chill and open-minded toward your opponents in the interest of enlightened peace.
As a result, it’s hard to imagine Sinema’s 2003 condemnation of Lieberman coming from her mouth today. In the years since then, she has moderated her stances and leaned into a fervid attempt to rebuild the interparty comity that Biden so fondly recalls. When she was in the state Legislature, that meant trying to sway Arizonans against a same-sex marriage ban by highlighting its impact on