More Sinema

Continuing and expanding on thoughts from the previous post.

I started to comment on James Joyner’s post on Senator Krysten Sinema’s (D-AZ) fashion choice for when she presided over the Senate this week. This post is not about that, but I will make two comments. The first is that much of the ire about her clothing choice is really about her voting record, not her fashion sense. Most of her left-leaning critics of her fashion choice would be praising her courage for being unconventional if she was voting the way they wanted her to vote. And second is a turn to the frivolous and to note that when I saw the photos on Twitter of her outfit, I immediately thought of the denim vest guy from the Festivus episode of Seinfeld (but James is correct, the Aaron Neville comparison was remarkably spot-on).

On one level, I find it highly unfortunate that we, as a country, find ourselves talking about a female’s clothing choices. Moreover, when she was elected, I thought her quirkiness was refreshing, given the staid nature of the Senate. And even now, her violation of decorum itself does not bother me as an issue in and of itself.

What bothers me (as James’ headline correctly notes) is that this is all the trolling. It is “Hey! Look at me!!” for no other purpose than personal attention. I think she just like attention, which is all well and good to a point, I suppose, but that seems to be her endgame. “Look at me” is an irresponsible way to behave in such an important job.

I keep coming back to this in my mind:

Sinema

And especially this in the aftermath of the above:

Kyrsten Sinema's 'Fuck Off' Ring Is the New 'I Really Don't Care, Do U?'

The permformativeness of all of this, especially the Instagram photo, is just glaring. Look, is Sinema allowed to oppose a $15 minimum wage? Sure, but there is a certain weirdness for a Democratic Senator to take such relish is shooting it down. One could argue that she is trying to channel John McCain here, but McCain gave a thumbs down to save health care for poor people. Sinema gave a curtsy and thumbs down to stop poor people from getting a few more bucks. That is a bit of a contrast.

The second photo is post-curtsy. The pose and clothing are again performative, and the ring says “Fuck Off.” It is hard to play all of this off as whimsy given her public rejection of minimum wage policy.

Some may argue (indeed, have argued in the comment section of this blog) that her behavior is at least in part because she is from a purple state and she feels the need to placate moderates. I fully expect Senators to take into consideration re-election calculations in their voting behavior. But a minimum wage hike does is not something that was likely to be the kind of issue that she would need to protect herself over.

Consider that in 2016 the citizens of the state of Arizona voted 58.33% to 41.67% to increase the state’s minimum wage to $12.00, to include automatic cost of living increases. The current minimum wage in the state is $12.80. Given that the $15 minimum wage proposal was slated to be phased in over a number of years to hit $15 by 2025, it seems impossible that Sinema was facing backlash from Arizona voters if she had voted yes on the minimum wage hike. Indeed, by 2025 the AZ state minimum wage may be near, or over $15/hour.

As such, I cannot imagine there is a core of swing voters who might vote for Sinema because of the minimum wage vote. It makes no sense (unless the goal was to maximize attention on Sinema, at which point it makes perfect sense). To be blunt: five years ago a solid majority of the state voted to move the minimum wage to $12 with a provision in the law that guarantees at some point it will hit, and surpass $15. That same state has gotten slightly more Democratic since 2016 and appears to be trending in that direction. What logical assessment of that state’s electorate would suggest that voting for a federal minimum wage of $15/hour would be a problem for Sinema’s re-election?

Keep in mind, the Senate colleague who faces re-election next year is not behaving the way Sinema is, which suggests that he is not seeing some pathway to success by being a maverick or a moderate in some sense (granted, his calculations may be off).

Another part of her behavior that is a problem if we are assuming that electoral considerations are driving her behavior is that she does have to be re-nominated. Since her “Fuck Off” message is clearly aimed at Democratic critics, it is worth underscoring that those are the people who are going to vote in the 2024 primary.

Yesterday’s installment of The Daily podcast was entitled The Story of Senator Kyrsten Sinema. It is worth a listen, as it does provide some background and suggests some answers, although I don’t think anybody save Sinema herself knows the full story.

I think, as the conclusion of James’ post notes, this is about the attention itself. And, hence, none of it is about re-election. It is about some post-politics career and, quite simply, that she likes the attention in ways that are, unfortunately, consequential to the lives of a lot of people. Look, politicians are egotistical by definition. Anyone who says “I should be one of two US Senators from my state,” thinks highly of themselves and likes public adoration to some significant degree. But raging narcissists who either don’t understand how to be reelected or don’t care if they are can be quite dangerous.

If I could discern a re-elected related motivation for her behavior, I would be less disturbed by it. I understand why Joe Machin behaves as he does (at least to a point) given his own political record and the state from which he hails. Sinema’s own history, and details about her state, do not line up with her current political choices.

(Side note: this connects to anti-term limit arguments, as politicians who have no re-election pressures can behave however they want, which can be unpredictable and certainly can be consequential).

FILED UNDER: Podcasts, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Scott F. says:

    As I noted on James’ post, what was most hurtful about Sinema’s thumbs-down-curtsy was the focus went immediately to her Clueless routine and away from any rational debate about the merits of or arguments against a $15 minimum wage. Differences of opinion can be argued in negotiations. There is no common ground to be found with a slapstick act.

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  2. Kingdaddy says:

    Wow, I had not seen that Instagram photo before. It’s worse than the curtsy, since there’s no doubt about the deliberate effort to act like an attention-seeking teenager. It reminds me of the 60-ish man of my acquaintance who regularly uses expressions like “Awesomesauce!” You’re free to do it, but all you’re doing is making you seem like an overgrown juvenile. Oh, and Senator Sinema, we don’t need further coarsening of public discourse, or trivializing of critical institutions that are already losing esteem.

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  3. Kingdaddy says:

    I did enjoy the unexpected Kevin McDonald picture (from Seinfeld). I love Kids in the Hall (of which he was part).

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  4. @Kingdaddy: Not only is the Instagram photo worse, it retroactively makes the curtsy worse.

    It is decidedly not awesomesauce.

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  5. CSK says:

    What’s on those earrings? Tweety Bird?

    I hate it when adults think it’s cute to play adolescent.

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  6. Gustopher says:

    The curtsy photo makes it look like she is balancing a stack of papers on her head. It’s on a desk behind her, but it lines up pretty well, and every time I see the photo, I am briefly delighted and then disappointed.

    I’m going to claim that’s a metaphor for her entire Senate career.

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  7. Mister Bluster says:

    Even Elvis toned it down when Nixon gave him a Narco Badge.

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  8. Jen says:

    I’d somehow missed Curtsy-gate. That’s annoying if for no other reason than the scene in Clueless where the wonderful Alicia Silverstone deploys her curtsy is when she is applauded for helping the entire student body see an improvement in their grades.

    Basically it’s pretty much the opposite of what Sinema does.

    If we collectively agree to ignore Sinema, will she go away?

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  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    I don’t think Sinema is as good at this as others seem to think. Basically her net effect so far is to bring back the word, ‘Bimbo.’ Like so many ‘Instagram influencers’ she only has an opening routine. No second act. Nothing grows tedious faster than a middle-aged person trying to play young. She won’t impress the young or the old.

    Sarah Jessica Parker was one of the original Manic Pixie Dream Girls in a movie with Steve Martin when she was 26. Sinema is 45. She’s making a fool of herself, and it’s a hard road back from being ridiculous.

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  10. Jc says:

    This is our legislative body. Attention whores, septua and octogenarians and rich people with no ideas. Can I get some 40-60 year old serious people? Are they extinct?

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  11. Jen says:

    @Jc: They aren’t extinct, they just don’t want to be associated with this nonsense. I can’t say as I blame them.

    I used to work in politics and knew plenty of people who were thoughtful and serious and considered running for office. Most changed their minds, and the few that did go into government went to the administrative side rather than the legislative route.

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  12. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    I don’t think we here at OTB think she’s good at it. The consensus appears to be that she’s making a horse’s ass of herself trying to be adorable.

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  13. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “Basically her net effect so far is to bring back the word, ‘Bimbo.’”

    Yeah, I go with Manic Pixie Dream Senator.

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  14. Jay L Gischer says:

    Let me first note that I don’t like this any more than most of you.

    AND, we live in a time where the #1 YouTube channel is a guy named “Mr. Beast”, who does totally bonkers crap (these days while giving away lots of the money he’s earned, so good on him for that), and acting juvenile.

    This stuff sells. It sells like hotcakes. We had a guy get elected president based on “Build The Wall”, and dumbass performative cruelty that didn’t actually accomplish any of the stated goals.

    This is what is happening in America right now. The problem is much, much bigger than Kyrsten Sinema, who is smart enough to do things that work, that appear to “humanize” her to a public that is tired of suits and ties and droning seriousness. The notion that you should find your Senator “relatable” is really a bit odd, but it makes her seem less like a corporate tool.

    Honestly, all of Manchin’s antics do the same thing and he sort of *is* a corporate tool.

    You have to tell your own story, or other people will tell it for you, and they aren’t likely to be friendly. This is a lesson pushed forward by none other than Monica Lewinsky, and she spent a painful 10 years learning it.

    I agree with Stephen that I am utterly uninterested in discussing her fashion choices, but the thing is, they are much more understandable to the general public than her policy choices. She’s very smart, so if she has decided this breaks in her favor, she’s probably right.

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  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    @wr:
    I believe I may have invented that phrase. But bon mots open content.

    ETA: Further Googling requires me to retract that claim. Edit function!

  16. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    I’m not at all sure it’s working for Sinema. There’s a poll with October 10 numbers, supposedly of Democratic likelies in AZ. I have no idea whether the poll is worth anything, but it purports to show that her rating in that group is at just about 25%.

    If her end game is a job in media, maybe this works. But right now she’s on every progressive’s radar for a 2024 challenge.

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  17. @Jay L Gischer:

    She’s very smart, so if she has decided this breaks in her favor, she’s probably right.

    I am less convinced of this than you are, at least if the goal is re-election. That she has a gameplan of some sort seems clear. Once we know the endgame, I expect a lot of this nonsense will make more sense.

  18. @Michael Reynolds:

    Basically her net effect so far is to bring back the word, ‘Bimbo.’

    I have to admit, that characterization seems inappropriate. First, it falls into the trap of making this into gender-based slams (I think an over-focus on her clothing is a similar trap). Second, it suggests intellectual vacuity, which I don’t think is in evidence.

    She clearly wants attention and she also clearly isn’t all that interested in governing (and I say that because she doesn’t seem to have a real legislative goal). Whatever she is, I don’t think she is dumb.

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  19. BTW: let me underscore what I wrote in the OP about the minimum wage in AZ. There is essentially zero reason why voting down the minimum wage would be a political boon to her in 2024.

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  20. dazedandconfused says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    The curtsy was a display of irreverence. An indication she views her political career as a stepping stone.

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  21. KM says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    (I think an over-focus on her clothing is a similar trap).

    I’ve said this before on other threads and I’ll say it here: it is not sexist or gender-based slam to criticize deliberate clothing choices intended to make a statement or point. If a woman chooses to dress in a specific way with a connotation she’s aware of on purpose, then it’s her intention for you to notice and talk about it. From there, you really don’t get to control what that talk is but it’s not insulting to discuss the chosen message.

    As a woman, it drives me up the wall to see Sinema playacting kawaii and going all “feelin’ cute, might delete later” while in office in such a calculated fashion. It’s all for the likes and the looks and it’s meant for you to have an opinion on. It’s absolutely gender-based because that’s the tropes she invoked with it – it’s all Manic Pixie Dream Girl down to the its core. Much like with the Karen phenomenon, you can’t really divorce it from gender because it relies heavily on gender to work; Karens must invoke a higher power (manager, police, “your father!”) as retaliatory foundation for their authority and Manic Pixie Dream Girls are unabashed weird and quirky as a direct result of being deeply “girly”. Neither derive power from themselves but what they represent therefore if someone’s intentionally going that route, you have to talk about their gender in order to explain their motives.

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  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    @KM:

    it is not sexist or gender-based slam to criticize deliberate clothing choices intended to make a statement or point.

    I agree. It’s not ‘clothing’ it’s ‘costume.’

    Meanwhile I remain baffled by the idea that ‘bimbo’ is sexist but ‘manic pixie dream Senator,’ isn’t. But whatever.

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  23. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I have to admit, that characterization seems inappropriate. First, it falls into the trap of making this into gender-based slams (I think an over-focus on her clothing is a similar trap).

    If John McCain had dressed like a 14 year old girl and curtsied when giving his thumbs down for killing ObamaCare, I think people would have focused on his clothing and demeanor.

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  24. Blue Galangal says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: She seems to be increasingly isolated and in some kind of epistemic closure loop. Apparently she’s cut off old friends who have told her she’s not making sense. She seems to be getting her advice from Instagram influencers and lobbyists. She doesn’t really have a core to adhere to, the way McCain did (like him or not) but she’s playing pretend-maverick and not getting how it’s turning off … well, everyone. Her asks in the negotiations are apparently coming directly from lobbyists texting her very specific odd types of things.

    I think she’s more shallow than she appears, and altogether not very bright. Her single thought seems to be what’s in it for her/$$$.

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  25. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    IF (big if) Sinema wishes to remain in politics, she has not helped herself by guaranteeing that she’ll be primaried. She won’t be governor of AZ, and she won’t be President, because she has beclowned herself and unlike Republicans, we don’t elect clowns. So she’s topped out at Senator.

    I’m sure she did well on her SAT’s, but I don’t see the smart in making herself look absurd while losing the support of her voters.

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  26. @Michael Reynolds: We are in basic agreement, to a point. I think that she is being deliberate, but her end goal is not re-election.

    If she actually thinks any of this helps her win the 2024 primary, she’s nuts.

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  27. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Where I grew up, “bimbo” carried a cachet of moral turpitude during an era when women were not yet allowed to make their own choices sexually based on their own value judgements. TL/DR: calling someone a bimbo is slut shaming in a way that calling them a manic pixie may not be.

    (Of course, if by “manic pixie dream Senator” you actually mean “slut”…)

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  28. @Gustopher:

    If John McCain had dressed like a 14 year old girl

    Two thoughts:

    1. Surely the better analogy is McCain dressing like a teenage boy.
    2. If Sinema was voting for the BBB bill, to end the filibuster, and/or for expanded voting rights, we wouldn’t be talking about her clothing in the same way.

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  29. @Just nutha ignint cracker: This is my understanding of the connotation of the term as well.

  30. @KM:

    If a woman chooses to dress in a specific way with a connotation she’s aware of on purpose, then it’s her intention for you to notice and talk about it.

    That is not unfair, and yes, I think she wants to be talked about.

    Nevertheless, how relevant to the policy issues here are the clothes, and doesn’t a shift to clothing talk invite some level of gendered attacks on her that are not helpful?

  31. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Sinema is just more evidence for the theory that the Green Party are really right wing agent provocateurs who exist solely to (wittingly or unwittingly) thwart liberal abilities to advance their policy goals.

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  32. Matt says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Well Kyrsten has burned bridges with basically everyone in Arizona except those that give her money. She has spent her free time meeting said donors while ignoring her constituents. To me it’s pretty clear she’s looking to cash out with as much money as possible. Probably trying to line up a sweet media or consulting gig after she leaves office.

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  33. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Hmmm, I never saw bimbo as having a moral connotation, more a suggestion of happy imbecility. Same with himbo. Also, fun fact Mondo Bimbo is (or maybe was, they’re running out of children in Italy) a sort of low-rent Chuck-E-Cheese in Italy. We used to take our kids there when we were desperate.

  34. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I thought the male version was “mimbo.”

    BTW, Bimbo is the name of the largest manufacturer of sliced bread and other baked goods in Mexico.

  35. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Surely the better analogy is McCain dressing like a teenage boy.

    Either, really, depending on the teen boy.

    Men’s clothing is generally simpler and more forgiving of medium-level inappropriateness for the occasion, but Sinema goes way beyond a fashion faux pas into a performance to get attention and show a deliberate lack of decorum.

    I think there’s a big difference in criticizing Hillary Clinton for her pantsuits, or Kamala Harris for her mom jeans, and criticizing someone for dressing like a clown.

    The former would be sexist, the latter is way less so.

    Meanwhile, Obama wearing a tan suit was the moment he was treated like a woman. It was a perfectly fine suit, and the death of the Republic. You would have thought he was dressed like Rodney Dangerfiend in Caddyshack from all the outrage.

    If Sinema was voting for the BBB bill, to end the filibuster, and/or for expanded voting rights, we wouldn’t be talking about her clothing in the same way.

    Are you sure? If she was became a progressive woman Senator, and the darling of the right wing outrage machine, we would be hearing about her clothes all the time, as it would be driven into the narrative from the far right and leak everywhere.

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  36. @Gustopher:

    If she was became a progressive woman Senator, and the darling of the right wing outrage machine, we would be hearing about her clothes all the time, as it would be driven into the narrative from the far right and leak everywhere.

    Yeah, by right-wing media. This kind of underscores my point.

    Is that behavior one wants to emulate/excuse/rationalize?

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  37. Moosebreath says:

    @Kathy:

    “Bimbo is the name of the largest manufacturer of sliced bread and other baked goods in Mexico.”

    They are also the primary sponsor of Philadelphia’s soccer team. It’s a wonder they can get female fans, if by wearing their team’s uniform, you put the word “Bimbo” on your chest.

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  38. Hal_10000 says:

    Sinema’s role in the Senate is the same as Manchin’s: to provide covering fire for the Congressmen who aren’t on board with the progressive agenda but don’t want to get primaried for saying so. The flamboyance helps with that.

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  39. Ken_L says:

    I had a look at Sinema’s victory speech in 2018. In retrospect, it was revealing. She opened with some fulsome praise of the military, which seemed a bit odd. Then she spent a few minutes lauding the virtues of bipartisanship, compromise, trying to see others’ point of view etc, which was also somewhat misplaced after two years of Trump Republicanism. She closed with a long homage to John McCain, promising to serve Arizona with the same principled independence.

    Not once did she mention anything concrete she hoped to achieve in the Senate by way of legislation. Not even a passing mention of Democratic policies she looked forward to being able to support.

    I imagine she’s inordinately proud of her “bipartisan” roads’n’bridges bill and furious at any suggestion it might not pass the House. She wants to take credit for it; I imagine she also wants to take credit for preventing the “extreme leftist” bill backed by … Joe Biden? If this means doing another little smirking thunbs-down dance, so be it.

    Progressives have clearly seen through her, and don’t trust her one bit. Nor should they, in the absence of a public, unqualified, unambiguous commitment to vote for the BBB bill. So far, there’s no indication she intends to give one.

    The interesting question is what she would do if the House ends up killing the BIF bill and starts afresh with a single reconciliation bill (as should have been the process in the first place, instead of letting the Senate prima donnas take the lead). I expect Sinema will throw a tantrum and oppose it in toto. She may even switch parties. Whatever happens, it’s hard to see how she is going to avoid being this decade’s Joe Lieberman.

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