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LOS ANGELES, CA – Krysten Sinema has made news and shocked the Beltway types for making some “mavericky” moves as of late, choosing not to green light the Democrats’ spending bill, voting along with her colleague Joe Manchin to put the brakes on runaway spending. I’ve seen articles opine on how she should be more like her predecessor John McCain, who the Beltway now call “the right kind of maverick”. Of course, it is easy to lionize someone who has passed.
Yet I beg to differ. Sinema understands that her calculation is the right one, based on the will of the people and she has already made the sale to her electorate: multiple polls have her favorability ratings are higher than her colleague, Mark Kelly’s. Sinema has a nice track record of sincerity, from when she was a hardcore Green liberal, but then evolving her approach in state government, even celebrating the joys of “compromise”. It showed she was growing and grappling with issues in an intellectually honest fashion.
This week, Andrew Yang left the Democratic Party, clearly rejecting the extreme fringe of his party. For years, the only conversation was about moderate Republicans leaving the party, like Arlen Specter. But now with the Squad and Bernie Sanders, there is an equal reaction on the left. Politics is no longer on a left to right spectrum, as those who want to simplify it would like it to be. New Jersey Congressman Jeff Van Drew left the Democrats and is now a Republican, even winning his re-election under a different party banner. Coalitions are shifting and it’s really not based on issues, as those seeking logical explanations would like it to be. It is more on the perception of authenticity.
The bottom line is we are a post-partisan world. The brands “Republican” and “Democrat” are now increasingly vague approximations of where people are at on the issues, but no one truly feels passionate about them. Is it surprising? Compared to 1980’s or 1990’s, the world has developed into so much complexity thanks to the Internet. But even in the 1990’s, Ross Perot’s candidacy took off because the sentiment of frustration with government was already there. As a society, we were developing into subcultures with less homogeneity, and before one jumps to the multiracial argument, today, many coalitions do not fall along racial lines. Look at West Texas Hispanics, who were Democrat for over a century, now becoming Republican. Or Orange County suburban Republicans slowly becoming Democrat. I know people from both demographics, as my community organizing territory in Southern California touches both demographics and the polls confirm what I have seen on the ground.
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I remember the early 2000’s, when I was already getting overwhelmed with what the Internet had to offer in the culture: so many subgroups with well developed audiences and passion behind these subcultures, whether in music or movies. What truly is American, and what truly is Republican or Democrat? Why would politics be immune to this change and not move towards greater complexity and customization? The Ron Paul movement was the first major subculture to impact one of the major parties in politics. It signaled the future MAGA movement, a few cycles later. Occupy Wall Street would soon birth the Bernie Sanders movement, on the left, a similar subculture growing to become a force. Both movements were counter culture to the Republican and Democratic parties, and in many ways, shared very little in common with the “parent” brand but a lot with each other.
What we are seeing is an overall decentralization of power. In the music industry, the internet via Napster came along and tore down existing establishments, such as big record companies. After they protested, withholding singles to sell albums became the strategy in the late 90’s and this worked for a while. However, as Internet piracy increased, iTunes then resulted to salvage the lost revenue from downloads, and this stopped the blood gushing for a bit. However, it was simply a Band-Aid. Over time, the industry had to move to on-demand streaming, which gave ultimate control to the end user to choose how and when they would consume the music. Now they make pennies for every stream, based on Spotify’s advertising content. Politics can ignore or stop the bleeding with calls to get Sinema, Manchin and Susan Collins or even Rand Paul in line, but in the end, they are simply delaying the inevitable.
Politics has always been a lagging indicator of culture. It is because everyone participates, including the elderly, many who have not touched technology. However, as every cycle goes by and people die off, we will have an electorate that has grown up with maximum choice due to the Internet and feels unrepresented by either party. They do not want to be boxed anymore, politically, into an approximation of what they stand for.
What Krysten Sinema and to a lesser extent, Joe Manchin, is doing, demonstrates her political instincts and practical wisdom in surviving politically for the long haul. Remember when Blanche Lincoln was flip flopping on Obamacare and the voters punished her? People liked to explain that away with the changing hue of Arkansas in 2010. But it was her flip flopping that did it. Voters did not want to reward those who go to Washington to just get along. Meanwhile, Manchin in West Virginia, with similar demographics, got elected a couple of years later. It’s not about ideology, it’s about consistency and strength of the candidate. In the past, politicians could get away with flip flopping, but in the age of the Internet, everything’s on record. Stand for something, or at least explain yourself sufficiently, or you will die.
While the Beltway sees them as sellouts and purposefully contrarian, sometimes it’s not about the political issue. It is the consistency of rebellion and bucking your own party that shows to the average person, a real human being in Sinema or Manchin. And it’s attracting younger people and those who are less tribal and less ideological. In a way, dare I say, it’s Trumpian. And ironically, even Trump recognized this in his own party: he was a supporter of Susan Collins, who is from his own party, and voted against him many times.
In a post partisan world, it is about the ability to agree to disagree when it comes to issues that have gotten so complex and convoluted. Both parties are busy trying to have the right answers like it’s a gotcha game, but the average person wants to see leaders who can be contrarian against the current tired and broken system. Because it’s really about frustration against that same system.
The Democrats and the Republicans are still playing an archaic game that worked a generation ago, but the average person today needs more to get engaged. A third party may not be the solution but many rank and file Republicans and Democrats want to see reform within first, but like in California, the growing number of Independents signals a hunger for something better than status quo. And we want to see a real human being fighting. Kudos, Senator Sinema.
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