Driving Me Crazy: Cory Booker Edition

I have a story I like to tell about Cory Booker.

In 2013, when Booker was going county to county trying to shore up support to succeed the late Frank Lautenberg in the U.S. Senate, he, Sheila Oliver, Frank Pallone, and Rush Holt came to Middlesex County to make the case as to why they should be the next junior senator from the state of New Jersey.

Despite clear strengths in all of the candidates, an obvious favorite, for me, was Frank Pallone. Pallone has been such a giant in our 6th Congressional district and a progressive leader in the U.S. House of Representatives that it really didn’t seem like much of a contest.

And then Cory Booker made his pitch, sounding every bit like the Cory Booker we saw this week railing against Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions. This was not the Mark Zuckerberg, “One Newark,” Cami Anderson Cory Booker, nor was it the public housing in the South Ward Cory Booker. It wasn’t the live-on-food-stamps Cory Booker. It certainly wasn’t the Harrington Park, Rhodes Scholar, Oxford University Cory Booker.

He immediately separated himself from his brethren, talking about Newark Tenants United and Newark tenant rights titan Frank Hutchins and the power of community organizing, impact organizing and protest. He spoke feverishly and forcibly about civil rights and racial justice. He was the Urban Justice Center Cory Booker; the Street Fight Cory Booker. The Cory Booker that inspires us.

It was so different from other viable candidates who would have had similar progressive ilk in the Senate. I mean, Middlesex County is a lot of things, but it ain’t a liberal, progressive place. The county, despite being overwhelmingly Democratic, went for Christie twice, but nevertheless here was Cory Booker, talking about things that most people in the room couldn’t relate to, mainly because there are so few prominent elected officials who talk about matters of racial justice in such a powerful way.

And that’s important—it’s not just words. Illustrating inequity and moving it away from abstraction is critical in this era of Trump. That’s Cory Booker’s gift and it’s one he possesses that makes him a very different, very special member of the Senate.

But then we see the centrist, industry-friendly, Booker. He is such a friend of the financial services industry in a way so diametrically opposed to the Street Fight Booker. This week, we saw him cast a vote against an amendment in a budget resolution sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont that encouraged—not allowed, but encouraged—the importation of prescription drugs from Canada.

Then, remember in 2012 when Romney was getting a thumping for his time at Bain Capital and his general support for corporate personhood? Well, who was there to stand up for Wall Street? Sigh. Cory Booker.

“I have to say, from a very personal level, I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity. To me, we’re getting to a ridiculous point in America.”

It’s all pretty baffling and I don’t know why Booker voted the way he did on the Klobuchar-Sanders amendment but he should have understood that EVERY SINGLE legislative action taken from here on out needs to be done through an economic progressive lens, even procedural stuff.

Cory be Cory. It’s not an excuse and it’s not an explanation. It’s an enigma. I try very hard to see how the financial industry Cory squares with the racial justice Cory because oh how I love the latter but am opposed to the former. It’s totally cuckoo, so all I can do is shower praise on him on the good days and condemn him on the bad days. In the case of this week, there was literally 24 hours that separated the two Corys.

We saw how he can be a freedom fighter in a way no other U.S. Senator can be in his testimony against Jeff Sessions. But Booker’s not, nor has he ever been the economic populist we want and need him to be (and this doesn’t even address his record on education or his way-too-close relationship with Chris Christie—even if he did endorse Barbara Buono) and it’s good and necessary that we rail against his votes that are antithetical to where we stand.

As Frank Lautenberg’s widow, Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg, said when Booker jumped the gun on announcing his candidacy for Lautenberg’s Senate seat before Launtenberg even announced his retirement, “being great on TV and raising money outside of the state doesn’t mean you’re going to be effective in the United States Senate.”

We do know that continuing to take cues from the pharmaceutical and financial industries will not have the effect we want. Tell Booker that and tell him to calibrate himself so that Street Fight Cory comprises not only racial justice, but also economic justice.

Tell him he simply cannot continue on a dual track. Not in New Jersey.

Tell him: (202) 224-3224 (DC), 856.338-8922 (Camden), (973) 639-8700 (Newark).


Comments (5)

  1. Joseph

    There’s an article that the New Republic published yesterday called “Cory Booker is not your friend.” It’s at https://newrepublic.com/minutes/139825/cory-booker-not-friend, and it hits on topics you just mentioned, going into a bit of detail on the Zuckberburg donation and now that mostly went to charters and how he received “more Wall Street funding than any other U.S. senator that [2014] election cycle” after defending Bain Capital.

    When Cory’s name first came onto the scene as the possible future of the party (the establishment’s pick for that future), I saw a lot of tweets from progressive saying “no thanks.” I asked why, because I didn’t know that much about his pre-senator performance, and they pointed to these same kind of neoliberal tendencies that got us into the mess of 2016 in the first place. He’s got 4 years, but people don’t change that often (Bernie’s been repeating the same lines for decades, after all).

    So it makes me happy to see Bernie, rather than Cory, going on CNN town halls and being a strong voice for the party. And I’m happy to see the pressure on him and the critical articles about his vote. If we’re not going to hold Democrats’ feet to the progressive fire, they’re always going to default back to being technocrats who rather check boxes than understand the humanity of progressive politics.

  2. Bill Orr

    A great post Matt.

    I first got to know Booker when he was running for City Council in Newark, taking on gangs, providing hope for residents, railing against the crooked politics, and promising better government. He succeeded but only partially and always had his eye toward a higher job. He helped the AIDS organization I ran in Newark but he also disappointed us with scattered attention. He would praise our organization at events, then pose with numerous people for fotos and soon disappear.

    He remains an enigma for so many reasons as you well point out. I am sadden by his support for big Pharma when most Americans find drugs too expensive and some forego buying life-saving medicines because they cannot afford them.

    1. Matthew Brian Hersh (Post author)

      Agree on all points, Bill. We remember that he was a very popular mayor until about halfway into his second term when people really started to understand what it’s all about.

  3. marshwren

    Here’s an even more ungenerous take on Booker, from 2002, from Black Agenda Reporter–it’s not for the faint-hearted:

    1. Matthew Brian Hersh (Post author)

      Thank you for posting this piece. I had never seen it. Wow.


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