COMMENTARY

Kyrsten Sinema doesn't need to be saved by Republicans

Ignore Republicans wringing their hands about the alleged incivility of the left

By Heather Digby Parton
Published October 6, 2021 9:56AM (EDT)
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

I have often observed that shamelessness is the American right-wing's superpower and that is never better illustrated than when they call for the smelling salts over Democratic "incivility." We are once again undergoing such a phony hissy fit in the case of Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, who was accosted by protesters who followed her into a public restroom, in one instance, and asked her questions on an airplane flight in another. 

Let me just say that I think the bathroom thing was ill-advised, and cornering anyone on an airplane is pretty aggressive since there is literally no escape. It's not like a business owner asking someone to leave the premises, such as what happened to Donald Trump's former press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders or when his former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Neilsen was taken to task by fellow diners in a restaurant in Washington, both of which also caused right-wingers to froth and fume. Sinema was in no physical danger from these protesters and neither were Sanders and Neilsen. As President Biden said when asked about it on Tuesday, "I don't think they're appropriate tactics, but it happens to everybody … it's part of the process."

The right-wing is staging this fit because they are currying Sinema's favor in the hopes that she will destroy the Democratic agenda. But this is a common tactic — hypocritical faux outrage about left-wing misbehavior is one of their oldest tricks.

As Salon's Zachary Petrizzo reported, former Trump adviser turned podcaster Steve Bannon railed about the fact that the protesters were "illegal aliens" (always a good bet to get the right-wing base riled up.) Breitbart News claimed that the protesters "stalked and harassed" Sinema and Red State wondered if a crime had been committed. A Fox News anchor declared that Sinema was "assaulted" on the airplane and wondered why the FAA didn't intervene. And in one of the more embarrassing examples of right-wing self-righteousness, the National Review's Charles Cooke wrote this:

If, instead of a left-winger berating a moderate Democrat in the loo, a right-winger had berated a moderate Republican, it would have been the biggest news of the year. Within minutes, the incident would have had a name — the "Arizona Attack," perhaps. Within a day, it would have been deemed to be representative of everything that was wrong with the American Right — and with the United States itself. Within a week, we would have been drowning in breathless TV segments, tendentious op-eds, and mawkish lectures about the sanctity of democracy in the United States.

I don't know how to break it to him but you don't have to imagine it. It's happened. A lot.


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Last January, just before the joint session of Congress to certify the presidential vote, GOP Senator Mitt Romney was accosted in the Salt Lake City airport and rudely confronted by Republicans angry at him about his unwillingness to object to the electoral count. On the airplane full of people coming to the rally scheduled for January 6th, they chanted, "traitor, traitor, traitor!" and yelled at Romney to resign. (At the insurrection rally on January 6th, President Trump asked the crowd, "I wonder how Romney liked his flight last night," to the delight of the crowd.)

Likewise, Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was angrily confronted by a mob of Trump supporters at Reagan National Airport a couple of days later. They called him a traitor too and crowded him to the point that airport security had to escort him to safety. In one of the videos of the incident, a woman was heard saying, "one day they will not be able to walk down the street; it is today."

Last month Republican Congressman Anthony Gonzales of Ohio dropped out of his race for re-election citing the fact that he had to have police escorts for himself and his family at airports due to threats from Trump supporters angry over his vote for impeachment. I'm sure Congresswoman Liz Cheney has similar stories. And while they didn't manage to find Vice President Mike Pence on January 6th, we know what they planned to do with him if they did, don't we?

Right-wing protesters aren't just attacking politicians. All over the country, they are threatening health care workerselection officials and school board members about everything from masks to vaccines to critical race theory. It has gotten so bad for local school officials and teachers that the Department of Justice has announced a plan to intervene. But yet, in another example of egregious shamelessness, Senator Josh Hawley took the other side of the argument in a Senate hearing this week, arguing that these were just fine examples of parents looking out for their children. MSNBC's Chris Hayes rounded up some examples of such civic protest for Hawley since he didn't seem to have the full picture of what's been going on:

Meanwhile, we have the predictable claims that the protesters who confronted Kyrsten Sinema were financed by the great leftwing boogeyman, George Soros. It's true that the group they belong to got money from Soros' foundation in 2017 and 2019, but there is no evidence that the foundation is involved in the protests in any way. It certainly isn't directing the protests with talking points and strategy as the Washington Post reported the Koch brothers network has been doing with the school board protests.

This is nothing new for GOP activists. In 2009, the very similar angry protests over the Affordable Care Act were likewise directed from on high by groups financed by big-money donors who bused activists all over the country with instructions to disrupt the town hall meetings. They put out a strategy memo that said:

— Artificially Inflate Your Numbers: "Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the Rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The Rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington."

— Be Disruptive Early And Often: "You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep's presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep's statements early."

— Try To "Rattle Him," Not Have An Intelligent Debate: "The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions."


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Recall that all those nice "protesters" even gathered in Washington one day to yell racist epithets and spit on congressmen? Clearly, the right thinks that protesting masks and vaccine mandates will deliver them the same win that the Obamacare protests did in 2010, which is highly debatable. We have 700,000 people dead from COVID and the majority of Americans are not amused at these antics.

But no matter what, Trump or no Trump, the Republicans will still be wringing their hands about at the alleged incivility of the left and whining about the supposed denial of their rights even as they do everything they claim the other side is doing. As I said, shamelessness is their superpower.


Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Commentary Democrats Gop Josh Hawley Kyrsten Sinema Protests Republicans Tea Party