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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Resist resentment

by John Brummett | October 7, 2021 at 2:55 a.m.

From a bathroom at Arizona State University to the chambers of the Arkansas State Capitol, zealous partisan extremism makes our politics all about resentment rather than solution.

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the Democrat from Arizona who is part of a small group resisting the new "progressive" intolerance overtaking her party, got followed by a protester into a bathroom at Arizona State over the weekend.

She was stalked outside her stall by a Bernie Sanders-supporting, phone camera-wielding activist for immigration with a history of disdain for America's past and present in its treatment of indigenous people.

But immigration and indigenous people have nothing to do with the issue at hand, which is that left-wing Democrats and a few Democratic socialists hold hostage a bipartisan infrastructure bill on which Sinema took the lead at Joe Biden's behest. She and about a dozen Democrats and Republicans produced a bill that got 67 votes--17 from Republicans--in the Senate.

These so-called progressives hold it up in the House to leverage passage of some lesser version of their $3.5 trillion wish list--Medicare expansion, child care, climate reform, paid leave, free community college and more--championed by Sanders and embraced by Joe Biden.

Sinema thinks the bipartisan infrastructure bill ought to stand on its own.

Progressives decry the very idea of letting a bipartisan bill stand on its own. Their currency is not bipartisanship, but distrust.

They say Sinema is weird or a sellout. I don't know if she is or isn't. But I know that Michelle Goldberg, a New York Times columnist, applied more thoughtful context early this week.

She noted that Sinema once was a liberal activist herself, before she got elected to the Senate, to the point of expressing contempt for the centrist Democrat Joe Lieberman. What's different now, Goldberg theorized, is that Sinema has come in the Senate to find greater value in a bipartisan act than a unilateral philosophical one.

She seemed to be saying that was a bad thing.

I don't know if it's true of Sinema, but I know it's true of me. It must become true of more of us if we are to escape this dysfunctional plunge in which politics is all about extreme-right and extreme-left resentment of those who disagree, punctuated with the demand that one side gets all it wants or no one gets anything.

It would be best for the country for Biden to stand in the White House flanked by reasonable Republicans and Democrats to sign and celebrate an overdue bill to address our nation's infrastructure decline.

That would be much more valuable to the national psyche than for Biden to stand only with Democrats to spend $3.5 trillion or $2.1 trillion or some amount between on a broader domestic policy agenda.

That's because tangible progress produced by bipartisan compromise would begin to free voters to make positive choices rather than angry ones. Instead of voting almost entirely against the party they despise, the pattern in recent cycles, voters could move toward a positive selection between the philosophical starting points of solution-seekers.

Voters would influence decisions rather than reflect and advance alienation.

Progressives argue Biden got elected on this progressive agenda now larded into one bill. But $3.5 trillion was nowhere on his campaign website. Many of the individual programs were, which is why he ought to prioritize them and seek to pass them systematically.

He got elected not by anything posted under "policy proposals" on his website, but by center-inclined swing voters in Georgia and Sinema's Arizona who simply could no longer tolerate Donald Trump.

Allying with a zealous base and abandoning the center is what has put Republicans in this Trump fix, one from which only the Democrats can--and apparently will--let them out.

As the other commentators have said in other ways, all the Democrats need to do when Republicans go mad is not go mad.

And yet they go mad.

Meantime, at the Arkansas Capitol, Republican extremists push semi-secessionist bills presuming to reject federal regulation.

They argue against vaccines even after a lawyer made the imaginative case in a losing state Supreme Court case that they rejected a mask mandate to encourage people to do the wiser thing and get vaccinated.

That's because nobody is going to tell them what to do.

Resentment politics is not logical politics.

The latest poll from Talk Business and Politics and Hendrix College showed only 22.9 percent of respondents opposed to mask mandates.

Resentment is louder than it is broad.

Resentment is a greater motivator than a desire to negotiate.

Resentment is the easiest sales pitch for raising campaign money, railing as it does against a demonized opponent, stoking fear, rather than calmly asking for donations to put you in a position to try to work things out.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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