How Kyrsten Sinema brought Gen X to the Senate

17 November 2021

11:55 AM

17 November 2021

11:55 AM

Kyrsten Sinema doesn’t care. She doesn’t care about your tweets. She doesn’t care about the constant vitriol from Jacobin-lite bloggers. She doesn’t care about CNN’s Manu Raju chasing her down the halls of the Capitol to ask her about the filibuster or “voting rights” for the fifth time that day, every day.

She doesn’t care about what Chuck Todd is saying about her on Sunday mornings. She doesn’t care what the astroturfed Act Blue-funded activists are saying to her while they film her in the restroom. She doesn’t care about Joe Biden or his faltering presidency.

The clueless Mean Girls on the New York Times’s op-ed page pick on Sinema’s weird wardrobe and hair and her new-girl attitude, as they block off the seat at their cafeteria table that she’s not interested in sitting at anyway. Ugh, Becky, look at her hair. She’s certainly not invited to Maureen Dowd’s high school popularity party. But Kyrsten Sinema really doesn’t care about Maureen Dowd, and she really doesn’t want to sit with Michelle Goldberg or Taylor Lorenz either.

Despite the media’s attempts to create an “enigma” out of their own confusion, there’s no mystery to Sinema. She made herself quite clear in an Instagram story last April: an image of Sinema sitting twee in a pair of hot pink-rimmed specs, giant purple hoop earrings and a matching pink newsboy cap. She is sipping on a sangria through a purple twisty straw. Her right hand is adorned with a ring bearing the words “Fuck Off,” accented by a rose.

This is an album cover in all but the actual music, jumping right out of the mid-Nineties and into the feeds of the fragile millennial “activist” journalists at BuzzFeed or the Daily Beast. They can’t figure out if Sinema looks like a United States senator or a member of Veruca Salt. They don’t get her, and she doesn’t care.

Sinema is forty-five years old. She was born in Tucson, Arizona, and raised in the Florida Panhandle and the Church of Latter-day Saints. She returned to Arizona after college, trained as a social worker and retrained as a lawyer. She began in the Green Party, became a Democrat in 2004, won a seat in the Arizona House that year, and entered the Arizona Senate in 2010. When she ran for the US House of Representatives in 2012, her Republican rival accused her of being an “anti-American hippie” who practiced “Pagan rituals,” which just made her seem cooler than she perhaps actually was. She won, and became the first openly bisexual person to be elected to the House of Representatives. In 2019, she entered the US Senate.

Along the way, Sinema worked for and supported Ralph Nader as a Green Party activist, and wrote about the perils of NAFTA and the World Trade Organization. This wasn’t unusual among the politically engaged Gen X youth at the end of the 1990s, who saw Al Gore and George W. Bush as two elite stiffs in suits concerned with furthering their family legacies. It wasn’t cool to be a Democrat and it was even less cool to be a Bush supporter. In another life, she could have been one of the pre-Antifa “black bloc” protesters who marched in Seattle in 1999 against the World Bank’s annual meeting. But Sinema moved right. Or was it that the Democrats moved left?

This question — whether she moved to the moderate center, or whether she was there all along and it was politics that shifted — is the real “enigma” of Kyrsten Sinema. The far left has nothing to offer her or her state. Arizona is moderately purple, with a popular Republican governor and an older population untroubled by pronouns and the anti-racist musings of Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi. Sinema never embraced Donald Trump as a president or a person, but her stance on border enforcement, an issue close to her constituents’ homes, saw her align with Texas’s Republican senator, John Cornyn. In April, they co-sponsored legislation in response to the migrant caravans arriving at the southern border. The mystery is more why other senators don’t represent their states’ interests with the same commitment. Sinema acts for Arizona, not the whims of the Democrats’ far left, or the national media, much of which follows the far left’s lead.

When Sinema, the first out and proud LGBTQ senator, was sworn in by then-Vice President Mike Pence, it was a trollish moment the press soaked up with enormous glee. Sinema had no family with her, and she joked to Pence, “Can we get a spouse over here?” The press and the activist left ate it up. This was a new breed of US senator. She was funky. She was fun. She was queer! Her bleached-blonde bob and penciled-in eyebrows invoked mid-90s Gwen Stefani, and as with that incarnation of Gwen, you just had to be there.

When Sinema helped to swear in Mark Kelly, the new Democratic senator from Arizona, she donned a manic-panic purple wig and zebra pattern cloak right out of Hot Topic. The Democrat-supporting media assumed that the very presence of her hand on the US Constitution was an affront to everything Pence and John McCain, whose seat she had taken over, stood for. As it turned out, they didn’t know much about Kyrsten Sinema.

Sinema is the first US senator to come from Generation X in both age and mentality. To understand her is to understand Gen X itself, the middle children of cultural history. Born between the early 1970s and the mid-1980s, my generation assumed that our turn to rule would eventually come. Instead, we are reaching our forties and early fifties in the shadow of the baby boomers’ power-hoarding and post-9/11 paranoia. As the boomers die out, Gen X should be having its time in the sun and high office. Instead, we are in danger of being bypassed entirely.

Barack Obama brought a little Gen-X energy, but Trump and now Biden have stifled that. We were hoping for more Kyrsten Sinemas, not fewer, and we find ourselves once more glossed over by the media and the political class. Our teenage mood, that warming calm of apathy as everything burns down around us, has taken hold again. If you’re wondering how Sinema can remain calm as reporters hound her and activists constantly harass her, this would be why.

As Matthew Hennessey warned in Zero Hour for Gen X?, American politics looks likely to skip a generation. The louder, more numerous and more influential millennials are led by a mad-left Squad eager for clicks, online influence and press attention. Gen X might get squeezed out by vanity activism. Sure, we’re not too old to keep up on all the latest social media hacktivist trends and fads, but at the end of the day, why bother? While Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez uses her Instagram to push her far-left culture war, Sinema uses hers and her ironic ring to tell people to fuck off. This makes her my generation’s only true voice in government.

Sinema is neither loose nor tight, black or white. Demanding she fall in line with her party ignores how Generation X feels about society as whole and politics in particular. We might now be the parents of teenagers and have traded flannel for slacks, but the last thing this generation is going to think as it hobbles into middle age is that we’re all just going to fall in line as well — and certainly not after the way the parties have ignored us. When the press describes Sinema as selfish and only in it for herself, to that we say: good, and good on her, because so are we.

In May, while her party pushed a $15 minimum wage bill for federal employees, Sinema sauntered to the Senate floor and registered her opposition by dropping a thumbs-down and a curtsy. The shock resounded across #Resistance Twitter, which was completely befuddled that Sinema wouldn’t even offer them an explanation. How dare she!

Overnight, Sinema went from ironic icon to permanent fixture on the hard-left’s hit list. The usual script is that online cancellation leads to pressure from media outlets, which leads to politicians placating the mob. But the activists had met their match. This, and the Democrats’ narrow hold on the Senate, is why Sinema has come in for so much vitriol.

After denouncement on social media, rolling protests outside her office and then, in June, her home, the campaign against Sinema came to a head in October. Sinema, who holds a JD, is teaching a course at Arizona State University in developing grants and fundraising. When she took a break, she was chased and harassed by a student activist group down the hallways and into the restroom. They continued to film her and berate her as she was inside a stall, as she washed her hands, and as she returned to the lecture hall. Sinema, of course, not only did not cave to their demands; she didn’t deign to speak about the incident, other than in a statement from her office condemning the harassment as “not legitimate protest.”

Several writers disagreed. Online gossip blog Jezebel ran a piece titled “Absolutely Bully Kyrsten Sinema Outside Of Her Bathroom Stall.” Molly Jong-Fast of the Daily Beast called it “a dumb fake scandal and conservatives pretending to care” and “kind of hilarious.” New York magazine’s Intelligencer column justified the action by suggesting Sinema deserved it for not listening to the activists. It’s no coincidence that all of these authors are women, all sitting at the same cafeteria table, all giving her mean stares. Who does she think she is?

Somehow, after all the crocheted pussy hats and #MeToo, it was suddenly fine to film a woman in a bathroom. When President Biden was given a chance to condemn the harassment, he wrote off the incident as part and parcel of lawmaking: “The only people it doesn’t happen to are the people who have Secret Service standing around them. So it’s part of the process.”

Sinema responded in kind, not only by sticking to her guns in negotiations on the Hill, but by taking off for Europe for a week in mid-October. Her message to the Biden administration could not be any clearer. Politico may call her “stubborn,” but she has been crystal clear on what she wants for herself and for Arizona:

I have already told the White House what I am willing to do and what I’m not willing to do. I’m not mysterious. It’s not that I can’t make up my mind. I communicated it to them in detail. They just don’t like what they’re hearing.

In the Capitol, a journalist from NBC News stopped Sinema and scolded her: “What do you say to progressives who are frustrated they don’t know where you are?”

“I’m in the Senate.”

“There are progressives in the Senate that are also frustrated they don’t know where you are either.”

“I’m clearly right in front of the elevator.”

Under pressure, Sinema had channeled the ironic monotone of Daria Morgendorffer, the high school heroine of MTV’s 90s cartoon Daria, and left both journalists and activists speechless. If the twentysomething BuzzFeed reporters want to understand Kyrsten Sinema, they should stop drafting listicles about Beyoncé’s hair color and listen to Gen-X “riot grrrls” like Sleater-Kinney.

Sinema isn’t going it alone against her own party because of her voting record or her donors. She’s doing it because she is Gen X, and she’s going to force the media, the Democrats, Joe Biden and his astronomical spending plans to swallow what Alanis Morissette called a “jagged little pill.”

Sinema has got the Gen-X memo that wielding power doesn’t have to mean going with the herd. She can become another cookie-cutter progressive and the Heathers in media might allow her to sit with them in the cafeteria or smoke with them behind the bleachers. That would restore her to the good graces of the left. She would be in all the magazines, once again hailed as a trailblazing bisexual icon. But that’s not what she wants, and it’s not what we want.

Sinema doesn’t care about the things millennials care about, and she’s not seeking the approval of the dying boomer establishment. Saturday Night Live will make fun of her. Twitter will insult her and come up with clever hashtags. The Squad will scold her and accuse her of betraying her sex. And Joe Biden will have to listen to her. It won’t be a mystery as to why.

This isn’t about the red team versus the blue team: Gen X is happy to sit out the boomer-on-boomer culture wars. We have our own contrarian senator now. Like us, she is bored with it all, and happy to make sure neither side is happy. In the words of Gwen Stefani, that other Doc Martin-stomping bobbed blonde with the penciled eyebrows, Kyrsten Sinema is “just a girl.” There is now no doubt that she knows exactly where she stands.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Show comments