Kyrsten Sinema’s courage, Washington’s hypocrisy and the politics of anger
In Shakespeare’s “Othello,” the character Iago famously declared that “men in anger strike those who wish them well.” It was a warning that Sen. Kyrsten cinemaKyrsten SinemaBiden touts infrastructure spending as other priorities falter The Hill’s 12:30 report: More of Biden’s Agenda falters on the collapse of Joe Biden’s disastrous 48 Hours MORE (D-Ariz.) now understands all too well. Both Sinema and Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinBiden touts infrastructure spending as other priorities falter The Hill’s 12:30 report: More of Biden’s agenda lurches before collapse The Hill’s Morning Report: Biden takes it by the chin MORE (DW.Va.) have refused to be pressured into changing the filibuster rule – a rule that forces the parties to dialogue and compromise.
Sinema supports the Voting Rights Act, but sees it as jeopardizing any chance of national healing and resolution. She declared in the Senate that “we only have one democracy. We can only survive, we can only keep her if we do so together.” That heartfelt speech was met with vile, threatening attacks, and it seems that in a nation stricken with anger, even those who have a seeking intervention can become victims of our political plague.
Sinema made the same arguments that have long been used in support of the filibuster — in fact, the same arguments President Biden made up until this week. Biden once called previous efforts to change the filibuster “disastrous” for democracy, proclaiming, “God save us from this fate… [it] would change that basic understanding and continued practice of what the Senate is about.” Others echoed him at the time in calling for Senate Republicans to retain rule in the name of democracy itself, including peers like then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.), who insisted that abandoning the rule would mean “the end of democracy” and make the United States a “banana republic.”
All of these speeches were hailed as powerful and poignant by the media and Democrats at the time.
But that is the liberating quality of anger: it is pure and absolute, without the burden of reason or approval. Liberal commentators lashed out at Sinema this week with stuttering blind rage, many scoffing at her getting emotional as she described the anger and divisions in the country.
MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell wrote, “Sinema delivers the Senate’s dumbest speech by a Democrat in a voice close to tears to give childish words melodramatic effect.” Former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann tweeted that Sinema “must step down immediately or be removed from office… [she] has become a threat to the continued existence of American democracy.” MSNBC’s Malcolm Nance went further, saying Sinema’s staff should “resign from the shame of being accomplices in the death of democracy.”
Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, who previously called for burning down the Republican Party, tweeted: “Sinema is effectively asking the authors of Jim Crow and the election rigging to give her permission to stop. This is worse than incoherent or cowardly. It’s a moral shame. Are you asking permission for the segregationists to vote for the Civil Rights Act?
So are senators who hold the same position recently held by Democrats like Biden, Obama and Schumer now “segregationists”?
The “Jim Crow on steroids” reference to Georgia Election Law was voiced by President BidenJoe BidenHouse Democratic campaign arm picks up GOP counterpart in final quarter of 2021. Putin’s “Brezhnev Doctrine,” involving Ukraine, could backfire, who has now devoted himself entirely to anger politics. He recently vowed to do “whatever it takes” to get the law passed, and his solution was to blindly rampage through Atlanta, accusing anyone who votes for the filibuster of siding with the segregationists and the aiming to destroy democracy. The next day, Biden unleashed a tirade in which he denounced half the Senate for trying to establish autocracy through voter suppression.
The president who once insisted on being the uniter of the nation has discovered the freedom of anger politics – the same freedom demonstrated by those who chased Sinema into a bathroom last year. Likewise, ACLU staffer Sarah Michelsen was thrilled after Sinema’s speech, seeing Sinema on the verge of tears, and encouraged activists to “keep going” with the attacks because they are “breaking” them.
It’s the same license to hate and harassment shown by ACLU attorney Samuel Crankshaw, who opposed allowing high schooler Nicholas Sandman to be admitted to the college, even after it was shown he was falsely accused of being an American activist Having molested Native Americans in front of the Lincoln Memorial. It’s the license that recently prompted a Los Angeles Times columnist to defend mockery of the deaths of unvaccinated people.
Some Democrats were quick to promise that Sinema had just retired; CNN’s Joe Lockhart wrote, “Probably more accurate to refer to her as former Senator Sinema.” Her speech was in this vein reminiscent of another courageous Senator, Edmund Ross of Kansas, one of seven Republicans who voted in 1868 to acquit President Andrew Johnson agreed. He described his fateful vote as “literally [looking] down into my open grave.”
Ross has been hailed as a “profile of courage” for taking a stand despite the anger of his own party.
So did Senator Mitch Romney (R-Utah) when he voted to convict President TrumpDonald TrumpThe fates of the 10 House Republicans who voted Jan. 6 to impeach Trump’s resolution honoring Capitol workers would have been rejected by Hawley, Senator Trump says to rally supporters in Texas MORE in his second impeachment trial; liberal commentators showered him with praise. 2020, Stephen ColbertStephen Tyrone ColbertAmidst multiple crises, Biden is rushing to NBC’s safe room with Jimmy Fallon Biden to appear on Friday’s “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” announced Romney as a “ray of hope” who was telling the truth and “was willing to take whatever the setback for this decision is.”
Lawrence O’DonnellLawrence O’DonnellPorter on City Hall Melee: ‘Hard to feel safe’ Biden: McCarthy’s support for Cheney’s ouster is ‘above my pay grade’ On The Money: Inflation is rising fastest since 2008 | Biden ‘encourages’ bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE tweeted: “Every day for the rest of his life [Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHillicon Valley: Amazon’s Alabama union fight — take two McConnell will run for another term as leader despite Trump’s attacks Senate Judiciary Committee to debate key antitrust bill MORE] will live in angry jealousy [Romney’s] Courage.” While Romney got emotional on the floor as well, O’Donnell didn’t mock him for his “crying voice that lends a melodramatic effect to childish words.”
Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerJoe Biden’s Disastrous 48 Hours Biden’s Desperate Attempt To Keep Minority Voters Business leaders urge Senate to bypass filibusters to award voting rights MORE went public to “salute Romney”: “The pressure on every Republican was enormous…The fact that this is bipartisan keeps up a beacon of what was right and what was wrong.”
But according to the liberal experts, Sinema is no Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRomney says it would be crazy if the RNC blocked candidates from commission debates. Sinema dashed hopes of filibuster reform. She had the audacity to stick to principles rather than politics. It’s widely believed that other Democratic senators share their unease at the filibuster change, but so far they have not mustered the same courage to face such scathing criticism. As I wrote last year, such integrity is rarely rewarded by one’s own party: “Ross jumped like Romney – to applause from the other party. In the Senate, self-sacrifice remains an act best admired from afar.”
Sinema’s speech has been denounced by those who insist that bipartisanship is a “myth” in the Age of Rage. According to MSNBC’s Nina Turner, she’s a “soulless coward” because she seeks common ground and compromise. She is hated precisely because she has not hated enough. She didn’t hate Republicans blindly enough to brand them, like President Biden, into modern-day Bull Connors or call the filibuster “a relic of Jim Crow.”
In the age of anger, politeness is repugnant and intolerable. Sinema made herself a point of reference, showing how off-kilter many of her fellow Democrats have become. Remove that reference point and only anger remains.
Jonathan Turley is Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates on Twitter @JonathanTurley.