Kyrsten Sinema and the Joke About Bootstraps
My journey down the rabbit hole of trying to understand how someone who also grew up homeless could possibly vote against raising the minimum wage
Kyrsten Sinema’s 2018 senate race campaign was a joke. No, really. I mean it literally. Two hundred years ago, the idiom about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps was a joke about how ridiculous it would be for a man to pull himself out of a swamp or over a fence by grabbing hold of the bootstraps on his shoes. And yet, what was originally meant as a joke when Andrew Jackson was president, is today a socially acceptable way to scold poor people for being poor.
Like Kyrsten Sinema, I spent roughly half my childhood homeless. On Friday I watched the CSPAN footage of Democratic Arizona Senator Sinema walk across the senate floor to cast her vote against raising the federal minimum wage. She patted Mitch McConnell on the back to get his attention and ostensibly make sure he watched her cast her vote in his favor. Then she did a gleeful curtsy as she voted “no” in a move that that reminded me of the mandatory square dancing P.E. classes I had to attend at my Arizona elementary school.
Appalled, I promptly fell down a rabbit hole trying to understand Sinema’s voting record, platform, and how she, a person who shared during her campaign that she had been homeless as a child, could possibly justify such a callously cruel decision. I tried contacting Sinema to ask her, but did not hear back.
And then I found it. Kyrsten Sinema loves the word “bootstraps”. In her 2018 senate race campaign ad, Sinema explained: “The way I see it, the American Dream is a combination of working hard, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps everyday, but also reaching out to help those who need a hand.”
Regardless of the debate over whether living in the property that Sinema’s step-grandparents purchased, which was once a commercially zoned gas station, can be considered homeless by federal definitions, or if this was a savvy co-opting of a sensationalized term for Sinema’s political campaign, I don’t know. What I do know is that it is unconscionable for someone who has ever experienced homelessness or poverty to vote against raising the minimum wage.
An activist familiar with Sinema described the senator’s motives to the New York Times this way: “What she’s always been is not a centrist or a bold progressive but an opportunist,” said Tomas Robles, an immigration activist who said Ms. Sinema would not meet with his group. “She’s very smart about what the political climate is and where she wants to make her next move.
Sinema has always been ambitious. She graduated from high school early and attended BYU on a scholarship. No one doubts that she has worked hard. But voting against raising the federal minimum wage formally announced her belief that everyone must work as hard and suffer as much as she did. It is an argument that we have seen before in student loan forgiveness debates. It is a stance that wholly ignores the disproportionate privilege that helped lift Sinema out of poverty.
I know this because I share a similar history as a white cisgendered woman who is an English-speaking citizen. Sinema received a college scholarship and was eligible for Pell grants. Although there is one glaring difference between myself and Sinema. She graduated from college before the 2008 recession.
When Sinema graduated from BYU in 1995, she became a social worker in the Phoenix area. This reiterates my angry confusion: How does someone whose political campaign centered on her lived experience growing up homeless, who became a social worker in the 90s, who has commiserated with students about their student loan debt, who ran as a Democratic candidate, who tweeted in 2014 that raising the minimum wage was a “no brainer”, how does a person like this choose to vote against raising the federal minimum wage? And the answer is bootstraps. “Bootstraps” is the red flag telling you when a person is really just a bootlicker in disguise.