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Is Kyrsten Sinema a Self-Indulgent Dilettante, or a Trojan Horse?

I have been thinking about this, and about Sinema, who may turn out to be the person who sinks the entire Build Back Better plan. As we know, there are the votes in the Senate to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill. But the House “Progressives” do not want to vote for it until they are guaranteed that the rest of the plan, the Reconciliation package containing many important things, including legislation to help deal with climate change, will pass the Senate.

But Biden and Pelosi and Schumer cannot guarantee that the package will pass the Senate. We have 50 Democrats in the Senate, but do we have 50 votes? Probably not, with Manchin and Sinema being the barriers to that number.

I wanted to see a little bit about the negotiation yesterday, so I turned on Chris Hayes’ show, and coincidentally, he had a segment on Sinema, with former Democratic Congressperson Donna Edwards, who used to get on TV a good deal years ago, because she was a bit of a maverick Democrat, and then after leaving Congress, managed to parlay that into a regular guesting spot on panels.

Hayes did say something I had also felt, that while Manchin can be frustrating, at least he talks about what differences and objections he has regarding the bill, and he seems as if he is at least trying to get something done. Sinema has not voiced any specific objection or demand, so how does anyone know how to negotiate with her? He also mentioned that after meeting with President Biden today, she also held a meeting with several representatives of a business lobby which wants to defeat the bill. They have given money to her campaigns as well.

I wonder if there is anyone well versed in Arizona politics who can actually figure Sinema out? I read her Wikipedia page (not at all my preferred reference site, but useful for a quick review), and it is hard to know what to think. She started her political career as a member of the Green Party, and she decried capitalism. But later she turned into a Democratic candidate, who won elections that way, and yet now is considered one of the most “moderate,” pro-business, Democratic senators.

She recently very visibly voted against raising the minimum wage to $15, Manchin was the other Democrat voting against it. She did a little pirouette step before she put her finger down to signal a no vote. While doing it, she was carrying a cake in a bag which she was going to present to House staff. When asked recently about the possibility of getting rid of the filibuster, she laughed dismissively.

She had sided with the bogus “Problem Solvers Caucus” and the “Blue Dog Democrats” group when she was in the House. A very conservative rating group gave her something like a 35% rating there, which is almost certainly a good deal higher than most House Democrats

She has cast some positive votes; she voted for impeachment of Trump, and against Kavanaugh and Barrett on the Supreme Court. But those votes were guaranteed not to actually accomplish anything, since Republicans had enough votes to get their way; so was all this for show, like the movies where the corrupt cop in the pay of the mob, makes a few meaningless arrests? Maybe that is unfair, but it would fit into a possible theory. She does seem to be rather favorable toward corporate America, vastly different from her earlier statements when she was in the Green Party, and could not win elections.

None of us can read minds or psyches with certainty. But that doesn’t stop anyone from making an educated guess. I would agree with Hayes and Edwards that Sinema is the major impediment. I don’t know what her goal is here. If she wants reductions in some aspects of the Reconciliation bill, why doesn’t she voice them? She wants to keep it private? Possibly, but since she is a major focus on the vote, it would be helpful to everybody, to explain what it is she wants and doesn’t want.

Does she want to do what she did with the minimum wage bill, wait until the last minute to do a little dance to make her vote? People’s livelihoods, and the fate of the planet are at stake. Also, a defeat for the Democrats, or anything resembling one, would be spun by the Republicans and their media friends so as to seriously damage the Biden Presidency. Oh, I should note that in 2016, Sinema voted against Nancy Pelosi to be Speaker; and more recently, was against Charles Schumer being Majority Leader.

So that inclines one to perhaps not see Sinema as a serious-minded senator interested in helping the lives of her constituents, who are by a large majority in favor of the bill. Nor perhaps is she just a self-indulgent dilettante who likes to be the center of attention, and to be politically wined and dined by both sides.

Maybe she is a metaphorical Trojan Horse. We all know that term, and most know the story, which comes from Virgil’s Aeneid. The Greeks were being defeated in the Trojan War. (I rooted for the Trojans when I read that saga, even though I and my parents were UCLA fans). So they came up with a last-ditch plan to trick the Trojans, by appearing to leave by their boats. They had constructed a large wooden horse, which they left outside the gates. The Trojans thought it was an offering to them, the victors. But hidden inside the horse were Greek warriors.

The Trojan priest Laocoon warned against the Trojans letting the horse into the gates. He said, essentially, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” But he was killed by serpents who came out of the sea, and the Trojans took this as a sign that the gods were displeased with him, and they let the horse inside. That night, the soldiers came out of the horse, and along with the Greeks who sailed back, killed the Trojans, and won the war,

So the term “Trojan Horse” stands for that image and story. We all have seen movies or shows where somehow the idealistic people running the state or city government, or the police force, keep getting thwarted; and we start to realize that there might be a defector, a traitor, or a Trojan Horse, in their midst, who is working with the enemy. And the story gradually unearths who that person is.

Is it unfair to wonder if Sinema has been bought, or at least effectively appealed to, by the corporate elements who want to defeat the legislation? I read somewhere a few weeks ago that Sinema’s major goal is to move into a very remunerative lobbying position. That was just somebody’s opinion, but it is not inconceivable. Does she want to stay in the Senate? Her term ends in 2025. Is this stop just part of her saga, where she becomes a lobbyist, or a TV political talk host, well funded by the grateful corporations which manage to somehow always get their way?

Hayes and Edwards agreed that since the bill is very popular in Arizona, the voters of that state will react very negatively toward Sinema killing it. But they somehow did not realize that Sinema may not care, she has a much more lucrative career coming up. What good does it do us to defeat her in a primary in 2024, or if she does not run then; with this crucial bill, maybe the last chance to make such major accomplishments, having been defeated in 2021?

This whole story is becoming stranger, and more frustrating, as Bernie Sanders urges the House Progressive Caucus, headed by Pramilla Jayapal, to vote against the original infrastructure bill, until and if the Senate passes the Reconciliation bill. It is possible that Sanders, who cost the Democrats the election in 2016, with all the resultant and still occurring calamities, is going to ruin the Biden Administration, with the assistance of the Progressive Caucus, which wants to show that they are tired of being pushed around, as they see it.

And of course with the significant help of Sinema, whose political career is rather strange, who didn’t want Pelosi or Schumer in charge, who regularly meets with business lobbyists whose major goal is to defeat any Democratic bill which raises taxes on corporations or does anything to keep them from complete laissez-faire, “do whatever you want to do, we won’t stop you.” Is that why Sinema is in office, because some powerful interests put her there? Why won’t she speak up and state her positions on the bill? Today, I saw a quote from Congressman Ro Khanna: “The President keeps begging her, ‘tell us what you want. Put a proposal forward.’ One Senator, Kyrsten Sinema, is holding up the will of the entire Democratic Party.”

And would it be unlikely, that the Republicans, who plot out everything, who carefully construct barriers and land mines to keep themselves from losing power, would not have created, at least at some point, a Trojan Horse, someone who says they are a Democrat, and yet will seek to destroy the entire Democratic Administration, in a way that Republicans escape blame for it? Is that too fanciful a thought about what is going on here? One hopes so, but it increasingly seems possible that it is what we are seeing play out, just as planned by the villains of this particular non-fiction piece.

If that is not what is going on, then all this pressure from Sanders and the Progressive Caucus may not be helping. Somebody may be bluffing, but bluffers sometimes get called, and lose all their money. And moving away from the poker metaphor, people in powerful positions do not like to feel that they are being intimidated or forced into a vote, which is what it appears that Sanders and Jayapal seem to be trying to do.

If this all falls apart, Sinema and Manchin can blame the Progressives, and Sanders and Jayapal can blame Sinema and Manchin, and we all lose, as the Republicans take over the country, and the Democratic Left and Right endlessly complain about each other.

Over the 230 years or so of the America republic, there have usually been enough sober-minded and concerned people in office to keep the proverbial train from going off the tracks. But do we have enough of those now, when the margins are so slim, that a few self-indulgent, or doctrinaire, or bought, people have the power to wreck it all by themselves?