Before his death in a British mental ward in 2017 at 79, Ian Brady, the sadistic serial killer best known—along with his accomplice-girlfriend Myra Hindley—as one of the “Moors murderers,” penned a self-serving book titled The Gates of Janus, in which he posited that laws and morality were for the common herd and that bloodthirsty psychopaths like himself were no worse than politicians, generals and captains of industry.
Brady was a despicable creature deserving of eternal torment, but he had a point. One can imagine an evil grin spreading across his visage if he were around to read any of the interviews U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s given lately as the Democrat-turned-Independent (apparently) prepares to run for re-election in 2024.
Sinema strives to come across as savvy, cooler-than-thou and as unique as a golden unicorn descended from on high to grace the little people with her ability to hug it out with Republicans and flip off the party that got her elected to the Senate in 2018 from the Arizona.
But in doing so, she opens a window onto the vast shallowness of her soul. Take this quote from a recent New York Times piece which Brady or perhaps Nietzsche would have admired: “I don’t waste emotions… I don’t have guilt or regret because those are useless emotions.”
But guilt could be “a constructive force for change,” reporter Robert Draper countered. Sinema, who’s always correct, tutted that remorse could be constructive, but not guilt.
“It’s a useless emotion that hurts you and nothing else.”
Sounds like something Trump would say. Sinema and Trump have this in common: they infuriate people because they reveal their true selves to the world and, seemingly, get away with it, at least until the next election rolls around.
Better politicians than Sinema or Trump can feign humility. Most successful politicians are self-serving narcissists, but they know this isn’t a trait that endears one to the masses, so like Dorian Gray’s portrait, they keep it quiet, because they want people to like them, to vote for them, to think they have their best interests in mind.
Like Trump saying that he could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Ave. with impunity, Sinema ain’t hiding anything. Hence the infamous curtsy when she gave the thumbs down on the Senate floor to a $15 minimum wage, or the color-coordinated Instagram shot of her sucking down sangria while flashing her “Fuck Off” ring.
Then there’s her snuggling up to the robber barons of our day, like her stint interning at a Sonoma, California winery (owned by the co-founder of a private equity colossus) where she later held a $5000 per person fundraiser.
She opposes closing the carried-interest loophole that benefits the rich who attend such functions. When confronted with the sleaziness of her position by Draper, her response was pure trickle-down, calling it “an important tool to incentivize investment.” Never mind the absurdity of “incentivizing investment” by perpetuating a tax loophole that benefits not the investors but the fund managers who rake in billions from investing other people’s money. Meanwhile, with a straight face, she tells the Times that her goal is “tax fairness.”
And high-fiving West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin onstage at the Davos World Economic Forum? She and Manchin were celebrating their successful blockage of filibuster reform in the Senate, the kind of reform needed to pass voting rights legislation or perhaps, given SCOTUS’s Dobbs decision, codify a woman’s right to choose.
One can disagree with ditching the filibuster rules without gloating over it. Even if you believe that a 60-vote rule to invoke cloture, with its attendant sacrifice of voting, privacy, and other fundamental rights, is a necessary check on a Senate majority, is it too much to recognize that people are harmed as a result? But guilt and regret are useless emotions. And gloating is fun, especially when done among the wealthy and powerful.
Sinema aspires to the casual opulence of the leisure class. A recent FEC complaint by the progressive Change for Arizona PAC alleges that Sinema illegally spent more than $180,000 in “campaign, PAC and Senate funds” on “expenditures for her personal use and benefit,” including “luxury hotels and resorts, car services,” European trips, “high end restaurants” and pricey “winery visits and purchases.”
Sinema’s spokesperson dismissed the complaint as a “desperate political attack.” But Sinema’s persona for many years has been one part Leona Helmsley, two parts Marie Antoinette. As far back as 2006, years before her first run for Congress, she mocked stay-at-home moms as “leeching off their husbands,” describing herself as a “Prada socialist,” though she has since dropped the “socialist” part.
She later claimed the quotes were meant in jest. But her demeanor over the years belies that spin. There are far too many examples of Sinema’s compulsion to “own the voters” in the same way that right-wingers like to “own the libs.”
One of the most notorious examples occurred when she was in the Arizona State Senate and told a group of fellow Democrats that she couldn’t get involved in the successful 2011 recall of racist Republican state Senate President Russell Pearce, calling Pearce “my boss,” a statement that infuriated progressives.
Her intentional tactlessness may seem counterintuitive, but only if you’re not Kyrsten Sinema. Sinema’s convinced of her superiority and belittling the people who put her where she is today proves her superiority, rubbing peoples’ faces in it.
In a recent interview with The Atlantic she seems to “own” the activist crowd she once, long ago, was a part of, but ends by owning herself. Sinema, writer McKay Coppins notes, “speaks in a matter-of- fact staccato, her tone set frequently to smug.”
From the article: “Well,” she says, with a derisive shrug. “You can make a poster and stand out on the street, but at the end of the day all you have is a sunburn. You didn’t move the needle. You didn’t make a difference… I set about real quick saying, ‘This doesn’t work.’”
Take that, John Lewis (a supposed personal hero of Sinema), MLK and Gandhi. Total losers. Sinema wants to make the case that all of this condescension and sneering is worth it because she gets the job done, or at least scores “the half-loaf” when the full loaf is unattainable.
But what she accomplishes better resembles a partly-eaten bagel. One of her great achievements is supposedly the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which indeed had some positive provisions regarding gun purchases. But it’ll do nothing to stop the mass shootings that now occur on a near daily basis in this country and are old news almost as soon as they happen. What about an assault weapons ban—like we had in the 1990s and actually worked?
“I don’t spend my time in the world of fantasy,” Sinema told Draper. “I spend my time in the world of the possible.” You don’t need to hear her voice to feel the smugness. The simpler explanation would’ve been that she couldn’t get bipartisan support for an assault weapon ban, so she did what was possible. But Sinema couldn’t resist telling those silly voters who believe a ban on AR-15-type guns is the only hope of stopping the slaughter of our schoolchildren that they’re delusional.
Sinema should know better. She discussed with Draper her childhood, which included three years living with her family in an abandoned gas station and wearing hand-me-down clothes.
Two years ago, however, the Intercept reported Sinema’s reaction to a House colleague’s expression of support after hearing that same story: “Yeah, voters love that stupid shit. They eat it up.” Any connection Sinema once had to struggling Arizonans, which may have motivated her early career choice of social work, quickly evolved into a cynical tool to manipulate them.
No wonder Sinema’s favorability rating in Arizona is hovering around 27 percent. She’s coy in her interviews about a reelection bid, but the interviews themselves demonstrate the need to explain herself, to make her case, as if she’s running. Pathetically, she tells Coppins that she feels misunderstood. And that curtsy when voting to deny workers a livable wage, well that, Sinema’s spokeswoman explained to Draper, was “out of gratitude for the Senate’s clerk’s later-hour labors.”
Even if she can’t win as an Independent in 2024, she may run anyway out of spite. Her coffers are full, including several thou from Harlan Crow, the billionaire benefactor of Justice Clarence Thomas. For Sinema, perhaps the best “last hurrah” would be to “own” the electorate, or at least the Dems, by playing the spoiler, throwing the race to a Republican and perhaps altering the balance of power in DC. Alternatively, her narcissism—and a Trump-like fear of being branded a “loser”—may keep her out of the race.
Either way, come 2025 Sinema may have plenty of time to collect what’s certain to be a multi-million-dollar reward for the multi-billion-dollar favors she’s done for the private equity industry.
—Stephen Lemons is an independent journalist in Phoenix, who has covered Sinema for decades, stephenlemons76.com.
—Bob Lord is a lifelong Democrat and former Arizona Congressional candidate, who lives in Phoenix