The Washington Post

Kyrsten Sinema wants to know whether you’ve tried listening

- ALEXANDRA PETRI

“We need robust, sustained strategies that put aside party labels and focus on our democracy. Because these challenges are bigger than party affiliatio­n. We must commit to a long-term approach as serious as the problems we seek to solve. One that prioritize­s listening and understand­ing.”

— Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-ariz.), in a floor speech on Thursday

Fellow Americans, America is diseased. But I, Kyrsten Sinema (Imperturba­bly Seated at the Exact Midpoint Between The Aisles-ariz.) have figured out the problem, and I have also identified a solution. Things seem very divided. Issues that did not used to be partisan issues, such as “Is this person qualified to be a Supreme Court justice?” and “Voting?,” have become so. Everything is very, very bad, worse than ever.

But I realized what we need to do! Listen. Listening is the answer.

Some people say that democracy is in trouble, that the kind of gridlock we now experience is actually pernicious to the whole American experiment. But I say to those people, maybe you just aren’t listening hard enough. I love to listen, provided I can hear the other person over my outfit. Anyone who says “We must act now to preserve Americans’ voting rights, or we are going to be locked into a decades-long nightmare of minority rule” is way out of line. That person should not be talking at all! That person should be LISTENING.

George Washington said political parties were bad. And I am joining him in saying that: Parties are bad, and there is no individual party that is more responsibl­e for things being bad. That is what bipartisan­ship means — knowing it is your fault when you cannot get any Republican support for your bill to safeguard voting rights. You must be doing something wrong. You must not be listening. “Well, will this work if Republican­s don’t want to listen more?” Shhh, not now. I am busy listening.

It is important to keep the filibuster in place because nothing says “listening” like “I will stop all legislatio­n by talking.” It is good that legislatio­n is so hard to move through; this means that everything that happens will be the executive branch making a big reach because the alternativ­e is “nothing” and then a few weeks later the judiciary will come overturn it! That’s called a functionin­g democracy.

I am the first to say we have a lot of problems in this country right now because we are so polarized and divided. Our judiciary is lopsided! Our candidates are often alarming, polarizing people! And you know what the solution to that is? Enshrining voting rights protection­s in law so that votes are not suppressed and so both parties have an incentive to run candidates who are not actively trying to set things on fire? No, listening.

We must listen for years. We must listen, in a committed way, for years and years so that we can get to the bottom of what is wrong. We must not listen to the people who say, “We have gotten to the bottom of what is wrong, and we could solve at least part of it now and prevent at least part of it from getting worse by passing voting rights legislatio­n, and it’s worth suspending the filibuster to do that.”

We must listen, just in general. But, again, not to anyone who says that the filibuster is part of the problem and not part of the solution. No, instead of fixing this particular problem that might then lead to the outcome I hope for, I think, instead, we should place our hope in years of sustained work and commitment, honesty, listening, and solution-seeking from both sides of the aisle. That’s not a meaningles­s phrase uncoupled to any action! That’s — leadership.

Even if all we are hearing is “no” without an explanatio­n, it is so important to listen across the aisle. We must listen until our ears ache and our eardrums ring. I still believe in bipartisan­ship. Not in service of any particular value, just as a value in itself, which it certainly is. Having a Republican and a Democrat both attached to something — that means so much, entirely irrespecti­ve of the content of the thing.

It is easy to talk (why the filibuster is so great!). But it is harder to listen. We have got to listen to what voters want. I know that one way of hearing what voters want might be “allowing them to express themselves by voting.” But I think listening would be better.

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