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Opinion | Is It Time for Kyrsten Sinema to Leave the Democratic Party?



Ms. Sinema is, at heart, a Democrat of convenience and expediency; she has a chance now to show that independents aren’t just a New England eccentricity. Her early allegiance was to the Green Party, and she worked on Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential campaign — an animating message of which was that the major parties were two sides of the same corrupt, self-serving coin. Her first run for office was for the Phoenix City Council in 2001. She raised little money — back then, she saw campaign donations as “bribery” — and she lost. The next year, she ran for the State Legislature as an independent. She lost, again, and blamed the local Democratic Party for labeling her “too extreme.”

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In the years after Sept. 11, Ms. Sinema was a hard-charging peace activist. (Her decision to attend at least one protest rocking a pink tutu became a Republican line of attack against her.) In 2003, she helped lead a demonstration in Tucson against the presidential campaign of Mr. Lieberman, a hawkish Democrat from Connecticut who later became an independent. “He’s a shame to Democrats,” she charged. “I don’t even know why he’s running. He seems to want to get Republicans voting for him — what kind of strategy is that?”

A year later, having joined the Democratic Party, she won a seat in the State Legislature.

But her involvement with progressive activists — both as one herself and later as an elected official — left some scars. In her 2009 book, “Unite and Conquer,” Ms. Sinema emerges as a progressive disillusioned by the foibles and limitations of progressive activism. The book, on coalition building, is awash in mocking caricatures of progressives as smug, ineffectual, rigid, self-serious, wonky, disorganized know-it-alls. Recalling her own experiences, she tosses out tough-love observations such as, “Progressives love to talk about coalitions, but we’re not very good at creating or maintaining them,” and “since we’re so smart and have all the answers to the world’s problems, you’d think that we progressives would get more done.”

And don’t get her started on identity politics, which she says boils down to this: “I am different from you in some fundamental respect and therefore need my own group that understands me. And also, I can’t work with you.”

Ms. Sinema was clearly stung by her experience as a newbie state legislator helping to lead the successful charge to block an anti-gay marriage amendment in 2006. She argued that all unmarried couples would suffer if the state prohibited the legal recognition of domestic partnerships. Some in the L.G.B.T.Q. community chided her for not focusing on their “trials and tribulations,” as she puts it. “I was surprised by the reaction,” she writes, “until I remembered identity politics.”

With their fanatical “obsession with victimhood,” she declares, progressives will always struggle to create “effective coalitions.” This focus on differences rather than shared interests is one of the political tendencies she sees herself fighting against.

That rejection of factionalism may be more central to her identity than any of her legislative positions. On policy, Ms. Sinema doesn’t seem that out of bounds for a moderate Democrat. She is pro-choice and has a respectable record on environmental issues. She supports voting rights protections (even if she won’t help abolish the filibuster to achieve it), the Dream Act and permanent renewal of the Violence Against Women Act. Having grown up poor — she says her family was even homeless for a time — she recognizes the value of a government safety net, though she prefers that the net be tailored and targeted. She is more hawkish than many in her party on border security, but that’s not altogether unusual for a Democrat representing a border state.

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