Cory Booker


Noam Scheiber with an excellent piece in the New Republic about the rising political star:

Booker’s aides insist he is a progressive at heart; it has just taken time for him to modulate his message for a national audience. “I think people grow … in terms of the way you understand how you can fix problems,” says a staffer. This may be true: For example, Booker quickly backtracked after his Bergen Record comment on Social Security. Yet the most alarming feature of Booker’s politics isn’t his proto-Rubinism. It’s a more primitive instinct—a skepticism of government that flourishes in certain (usually right-of-center) circles of financial elites. Naturally, Booker doesn’t quite put it this way. Often his skepticism is merely the subtext of a riff about some heroic collaboration with a deep-pocketed donor.

But it’s clearly there. “We in Newark have said that, if we as a government just try to solve our problems, try to rely on our state legislature, and just try to rely on the federal government … we’re never going to solve our problems,” Booker explained at an Aspen Institute discussion in 2011. “[W]e have to find a way to partner with other sectors.” He added that Americans “have obligations to make sacrifices above what we do in just paying taxes” and ticked off examples of philanthropists pouring money into Newark. “We now have the largest parks expansion [in America],” he said. “Not because of government action. But because of the courage of average American citizens [i.e., donors] to say, ‘I’m going to show that we can create global change right here in my neighborhood.’ ”

Don’t get me wrong: If I were mayor of Newark, I’d be looking for money anywhere I could find it, too. As Booker points out, you certainly wouldn’t want to wait for funds to trickle in from Trenton, or from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. What I wouldn’t do is elevate this ad hoc hole-plugging tactic into a governing philosophy. Even his Aspen co-panelist Gavin Newsom, a fellow moderate who is the lieutenant governor of California, seemed to flinch during Booker’s monologue on the subject. (“Where I’ll disagree with Cory is I think it was by government action,” Newsom interjected.)

Kevin Griffis, Booker’s spokesperson, says that a Senator Booker would try to “think creatively about whether or not he can use his convening power … to bring the same innovations you’ve seen work in Newark” to other parts of New Jersey, even the country. To point out just one flaw in this plan: If corporations were less keen on using loopholes to save billions in taxes, we wouldn’t need to rely on the millions they donate to charities and cities like Newark. No doubt the country’s biggest corporations will be keen to embrace a freshman senator who preserves their cushy arrangement. And Booker will have plenty of chances—closed-door negotiations, dead-of-night amendments—to vindicate their enthusiasm.

The far bigger problem, though, is that Booker’s philosophy simply doesn’t scale, to borrow a word he has learned from the tech sector. Most mayors don’t have a fraction of the star power and connections that Booker does, something he’s happy to note. (“I don’t mean to sound immodest,” he told his local paper. “But [the private donors] all say, if you run the schools, we will come to Newark.”) And even if there were a hundred mayors who could match Booker’s wattage, there aren’t nearly enough check-writing billionaires to make much of a dent in their to-do lists. Only the federal government and a handful of states have those kinds of resources.

Outside the context of a local politician struggling to fund his agenda, Booker’s worldview—the mild suspicion of government initiative, the trivialization of paying taxes as a way to bring about change, the sanctification of corporate do-gooding—is a few ticks to the right of a Clinton-era New Democrat. Really more like enlightened Paul Ryan-ism. There are definitely worse philosophies. But it’s not exactly progressive.

2 thoughts on “Cory Booker

  1. Will he go head to head with Chuck Schumer to get that hedge fund bracket onto the floor for a vote. No chance! Neo-liberal to the core.

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