Cory Booker is tired of “cynics” and “bloggers”

Future U.S. senator bemoans critics who accuse him of being too cozy with the plutocratic elite

Topics: Opening Shot, Cory Booker, U.S. Senate, Democratic Party, New Jersey,

Cory Booker is tired of "cynics" and "bloggers"Newark Mayor Cory Booker (Credit: AP/Mel Evans)

Cory Booker is, generally, a very positive person. He is optimistic and enthusiastic and seems to love politics. But there are some things that get on his nerves, America learned in a recent profile in the Washington Post. Cory Booker does not like bloggers, and cynicism.

Which bloggers? You know, the ones that have said unkind things about Cory Booker.

Some former employees describe him as an insincere opportunist who uses Newark as a springboard and spends his free time schmoozing on New York’s moneyed East Side. Even some of his most influential financial backers wonder if he is more deeply committed to a set of values or his own advancement. In recent weeks, many liberals have expressed skepticism about Booker, who appalled them in May 2012, when, on “Meet the Press,” he called the Obama campaign’s attacks on private equity “nauseating.”

“That critique does not hold up to a magnifying glass at all,” says Booker, who, for starters, notes that he did pretty well in the recent Democratic primary. “All I know is, many of these bloggers wouldn’t walk down a street in my city without feeling insecure.” Booker argues that his connections to Wall Street helped fund Newark parks, that his Silicon Valley connections helped bring $100 million of Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s money in for Newark schools.

Oh, those bloggers. Those darn bloggers, always criticizing Cory Booker, but too scared to even walk down a street in Newark. Because Newark, the city Cory Booker has been running for seven years, is apparently very scary, according to its mayor, Cory Booker.

Putting Cory Booker’s “Visit Newark, I Dare You” tourism pitch aside, let us note that his response to the argument that he is too cozy with rich people is that he is indeed very good friends with very rich people and that has benefited the citizens of Newark*. OK, but: Is that a sustainable model of governance? Once Cory Booker leaves Newark to be a United States senator, who is going to fund Newark’s schools and parks? Will Newark residents have to elect someone else that rich people love? Charity based on one charismatic guy’s networking ability is not a replicable model. But this is how Booker understands his job.

If elected to the Senate, “Booker emphasizes the work he would be doing with the poorer parts of New Jersey and his ability to ‘call up companies and say, “This is a moral sin …”‘” It’s not clear what sort of sin Booker is talking about in his hypothetical here, but it’s very Booker that his response to this “sin” isn’t “I will pass regulation to stop it” but I will call the company and persuade them. If they agree, good! If they don’t, because the “sin” is profitable and the market responds not to morality but to profit? Oh well!

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*(About that Mark Zuckerberg money? Well, so far much of it has gone to consultants and toward charter schools, and some of it was used to negotiate a new “merit pay” contract for Newark teachers. So it’s all going according to plan, then. As Booker aide Sharon Macklin said in a 2010 email, “MZ’s money is not going in to classrooms.”)

That’s the bloggers taken care of. What about the cynics? You know, people like Mark Leibovich?

He is prepping for the eventual move to the capital with a nightly audio book appointment with “This Town,” the bestseller by New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich that paints an unflattering portrait of official Washington.

“I fell asleep to it last night,” Booker says a few hours after receiving an endorsement from President Obama, a friend to whom he is often compared. “I love to see the cognitive laziness — that is, cynicism — at its best.”

Booker, a husky vegetarian who would be the only black Democrat in the Senate, is draining Splenda-sweetened coffee at a Greek diner in Union, just outside of Newark. He talks a lot about cynicism, calling it, “the most cognitively debilitating state of being” and declaring that “my whole life has been about confronting cynicism.” The point is that in a cynical world and a paralyzed Washington, Cory Booker is going to be different. He is going to change things.

Cory Booker’s whole life has been about confronting cynics. The cynics who said the son of an IBM executive would never amount to anything. The ones who said a guy with degrees from Stanford, Oxford and Yale Law couldn’t ever make it in politics. The ones who said that one very gifted and incredibly ambitious politician with a lot of wealthy friends wouldn’t be able to overcome the fundamental structural and economic issues that caused Newark’s decline through sheer force of personality. He proved them all wrong, except those last ones. They were sort of right.

The “cynics” in this case are people who believe Booker is part of an American elite class devoted to enriching itself at the expense of everyone else, and who point out that most members of this privileged class have deluded themselves into believing that they deserve or earned their incredible wealth with brilliance or hard work, when in fact a guy with the right background and connections can just start a fake Internet company with Jeff Zucker’s kid and get a bunch of other guys with the right background and connections to throw disgusting amounts of money at him.

The question of “why liberals hate Cory Booker” is not very useful and certainly not hard to answer: Based on his personal and professional associations, and some of his stated policy positions, like his dedication to corporate education reform, liberals think he will be an advocate for the interests of the very wealthy and that he will not support economic policies, like strong financial reform, designed to change the conditions that perpetuate economic inequity. He silence or obfuscation on most economic policy issues make it seem like he is purposefully not expressing his true beliefs in order to maintain his reputation for progressiveness. Here’s an example: “He is less interested in talking about his positions on overhauling Wall Street or tax policy, except to say, ‘I fall in a very pragmatic way.’”

A better question is, why do super-rich guys love Cory Booker? There’s just something about Booker that makes rich people want to give him lots and lots of money. And because Booker has no stated set of beliefs beyond vague do-gooderism, rich people with fairly disparate policy preferences all feel comfortable giving him money. (Here’s an example from this morning: Ben Affleck and Matt Damon will be co-hosting a fundraiser for Cory Booker, despite the fact that Damon is a noted defender of public schools and Booker is a proud advocate of asking billionaires to fund charter schools. The fundraiser will be held at the Hollywood home of billionaire investor Ron Burkle. You can read more about Burkle in this 2006 profile written by Jason Horowitz, author of the Washington Post profile of Booker currently under discussion. Burkle is best-known for formerly being Bill Clinton’s best friend and maybe owing him money.)

The simple answer is that Booker is “one of them.” He’s got the cultural and educational background of a finance guy or a successful attorney. But he also attracts the do-gooder liberal types, like Damon and Oprah. And I think it’s because Booker is essentially a motivational speaker disguised as a politician. He speaks like a high-priced management consultant, or a guy leading an expensive corporate retreat. Horowitz refers to him as a living TED Talk, and that about sums it up: He’s a vague speech about “innovation” in a suit. He will be very successful in politics.

Alex Pareene
Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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