The Cory Booker Contretemps

By Emily Theroux

So I go out of town for one blissful three-day weekend with my baby granddaughter and return home to discover that all hell has broken loose on the Sunday morning bobblehead front.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker apparently sold out President Obama on Meet the Press while I was out of cable TV and RSS-feed range, and I had little occasion (between shape-sorting brightly colored blocks, spooning mashed zucchini into Dulcinea’s Kewpie-doll mouth, and taking roughly a gazillion photos) to surf my cell phone. By the time I returned to electronic “civilization,” Booker had already backtracked twice – once after the Obama campaign had very likely chewed him out for his shocking transgression (in a YouTube clarification that MSNBC’s Morning Joe dubbed “the hostage video”), and then more vehemently the following day, after the RNC put up an online petition asking voters to step up to the plate and pledge, in raging capitals, “I STAND WITH CORY.”

“Don’t Let The Obama Campaign Silence Support For Job Creation,” the petition lead-in began.

“Yesterday New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker, a surrogate spokesman for the Obama campaign called the president’s attacks on the free market ‘ridiculous’. That’s right Mr. President, we aren’t going to let you destroy free enterprise. Stand up for America. Stand up for job creators.” (That’s verbatim; no courtesy corrections, not even for making Booker mayor of a state. I don’t think they deserve any.)

First of all, what a crock of crap! Can somber scenes of laid-off steelworkers recounting what Romney’s private-equity firm did to them really be viewed as “nauseating”? The ad shone a floodlight on how aptly Bain Capital’s notorious 1980s “money shot” (a spoof photo of Mitt and his colleagues brandishing $10 and $20 bills) depicted what the firm was doing when it shifted its focus from venture-capital investments in promising start-ups to leveraged private-equity buyouts of mature companies, which were designed to maximize Bain’s profits, not to either create or save jobs.

Secondly, what gives with Cory Booker and Harold Ford, Jr. (who said he wouldn’t have backed away from Booker’s original position)? Has Booker secretly signed on as a right-wing tool? Did RNC chair Reince Priebus co-opt Ford? Are both of them in the back pockets of Wall Street campaign donors with a big ax to grind against Obama for “scapegoating” Wall Street bankers over the recession and “demonizing” capitalism?

As it turns out, the award-winning blog ThinkProgress reported in 2002 that Booker and his slate of candidates received a total of $565,000 in donations from venture capitalists, investors, and Wall Street bankers during his first mayoral race – including $36,000 from Bain Capital. Ford, a former Tennessee congressman, worked for Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley after leaving public office. Other Democrats who rushed to Bain’s defense after Booker spoke out on Meet the Press included former Obama economic adviser and “car czar” Steve Rattner, who spent his career working at Lehman Brothers and other Wall Street firms, and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, a wealthy and successful venture capitalist before serving in public office. The Romney campaign has since turned the criticisms of Obama’s ad by Booker, Ford, and Rattner into a campaign ad.)

From all the cable TV chatter, you would think that this enormous gift to Mitt Romney from Cory Booker, et. al., was bought and paid for by the Koch Brothers, Karl Rove, or any number of GOP Super PACs. It appears, however, that Booker – described in The Washington Post as “more crazy like a fox” than merely crazy – may have done something that made progressives “livid” in order to please financial-sector donors and put some political distance between himself and Obama, to whom he is constantly compared.

But the truth about this huge brouhaha over campaign tactics may end up being that nothing really substantive has changed in the presidential race since last week, when Mitt responded to a reporter’s question about a nasty remark he had made weeks earlier to Sean Hannity on the topic of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright: “I’m not familiar precisely with exactly what I said, but I stand by what I said, whatever it was.” Them’s not fightin’ words; them’s weasel words – classic Romney equivocation, deliberate ambiguity. Dancing on the head of a pin so no one can pin him down.

Pretending to “stand by” positions or “stand with” fellow politicians definitely has its downside for the Romney campaign, whose staffers have their hands full trying to stifle any off-the-cuff remarks and make sure he’s routinely “teleprompted.” The ludicrous “I STAND WITH CORY” contretemps is merely a smokescreen for the likelihood that Romney himself lacks an effective means of disputing what the Obama ad campaign reveals about him and the “business expertise” he touts as evidence that he’s a “job creator” – at least no means other than crying “character assassination” or taking advantage of Democratic gaffes.

Nevertheless, the bobbleheads persist in believing that this lapse in party unity spells doom for the president; it helps ward off any possible insinuation that they harbor the dreaded “liberal media bias” of which they are so often accused by the right wing. “The last time I saw the mainstream media this unified in their certainty that Obama had made a political blunder was the beginning of the ‘war on women’,” read a comment posted on a progressive blog. While the Democrats worry about damage to the president’s campaign, Mitt is floundering about trying to defend himself against both the ongoing Obama campaign to hold him accountable for his business practices and a new Priorities USA ad that consists of a running critique of Romney’s “vulture capitalism” by his former Republican rivals, who pulled no punches while each of them, in turn, tried like hell to overtake Mitt’s fairly steady 25 percent share of the primary vote.

“If Mitt Romney wants to talk about what a few Democrats have said about Bain, fine. We are going to talk about what prominent Republicans and ultraconservative superstars have said about Mitt Romney and Bain Capital,” proclaimed the progressive blog The People’s View. “Did the Republicans really think that exactly this wouldn’t be the response to their singing and dancing around Booker’s comments?” wrote the anonymous blogger. “This is the big leagues, Mr. Romney. This ain’t your Republican primary.”

Has public opinion changed since Cory Booker’s temporary defection gave Republicans a big fat bull’s-eye to pin to Obama’s back? It’s too early to tell, but The Star-Ledger’s website slyly predicts that “Cory Booker’s defense of Wall Street may hurt his status with liberals, but it won’t hurt his bank account.” And why does the paper think Booker may have stepped so far out on a limb in defiance of Obama in the first place? “The Newark mayor has taken at least $491,000 in political contributions from the financial services industry in the last nine months … according to campaign filings with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission and the Federal Election Commission.” For that matter, says a Princeton political history professor, Obama’s campaign coffers are also brimming with financial-sector loot – unless it’s true that, as the pundits claim, the president has recently been coming home from Wall Street fundraising forays with empty pockets.

From the lunatic fringe, Glenn Beck’s website The Blaze posed a fascinating query: “But is the pubic [sic] behind the Obama team taking the campaign in this direction?”

Sorry, answer inscrutable. (You have to subscribe to “GBTV,” Beck’s live video network, if you want to actually watch his worthless video. I would sooner ingest the extruded pink sludge that an online “10-most-disgusting” list said chicken nuggets and hot dogs are made from than give a single dime to that revolting rodeo clown.) Warning: Whatever you do, don’t Google “really disgusting substances” – unless you’d like to experiment with bulimia.

There are worse things, of course, and Glenn Beck is one of them.

Tags: , , ,

9 Responses to “The Cory Booker Contretemps”

  1. Robert Garrett Says:

    I love your piece…but! What linguistic gremlin got you to start the whole thing with “So….”? Aren’t you sick of that word, so overworked and misused that firing squads are lining up coast to coast to deal with it? I know I am. I’m so sick of “so” that I’ve searched online for a spray, potion or powder that kills it dead. Then kills its memory! Then prohibits its resurrection!! Then deletes, destroys and demolishes any Goggle searches that use such a word!!! Did I mention that I LOVE your piece?

  2. Russ Layne Says:


    Taken from the Donald Rumsfeld playbook.


  3. Emily Theroux Says:

    Thanks, Robert – I think! Yes, you did SAY you loved it. And you are absolutely correct about “so.” I was feeling really ornery when I wrote that word down first. I think it must have killed MY memory, because I completely forgot to go back later and delete it. But you do realize, I hope, that you used it yourself – twice – while telling me how much you wanted to root it out and abolish it. (?) It’s very difficult to get away from words like that, but I promise I will try, if you will agree to do it with me.

    Did I mention that I LOVE your response?

  4. Marshall Rubin Says:

    A few nights ago Cory Booker was on Rachel Maddow’s show, where he was contrite about his unfortunate remarks. Although he didn’t say as much, he probably came to realize that his original outburst showed more his ignorance, than a distaste for Obama’s attacks about Bain Capital. He was strong, however in condemning the way the GOP twisted his statements, and concluded by pledging his strong support for Obama, indicating that no one forced him to issue a retraction. I take Booker for his word, in that he has been an articulate spokesperson for the plight of the less fortunate, many of whom reside in Newark.
    I think it’s cynical to attribute his remarks to any financial support he may have gotten through big-time corporate fundraisers. Generally, Booker is a smart and good man who said something stupid (like we all do) and he deserves to be fully integrated back into the Democratic fold.

  5. James Prather Says:

    My unfortunate opinion is that none of this matters one squat. All the Republicans (from Romney to Rubio) have to do is to continue to spew their hatred for and lies about Obama, and they win…and they are champions at spewing hatred. Oh, yeah, and they also have more money! Did I say that I also loved your piece?!?!

  6. Emily Theroux Says:

    Dear Mr. Rubin,

    I agree with you that Cory Booker is a valuable member of the Democratic Party who has done a good job for the people of Newark. What motivated me to look into what he said on Meet the Press was his suspiciously high praise for Bain Capital, when he represents a city whose residents earn an average salary of $35,963 (approximately half that of other New Jersey residents) and where almost 25 percent live in poverty. I was also disturbed by his comparison of Republican “character assassination” (the real thing) to Obama’s legitimate criticism of Romney’s record at Bain Capital – which Romney himself submitted for consideration by making it the central focus of his campaign. Booker lumped the two campaigns together when he called their ads “nauseating.” That sounds a lot more like distaste to me than ignorance.

    Cory Booker is in no way uninformed about the issues, and I don’t believe he would “improvise” about something so potentially harmful to Obama without considering what effect it might have on the campaign. I doubt that someone as intelligent and thoughtful as Booker would go on Meet the Press unprepared to answer questions about recent political developments. He certainly couldn’t plead ignorance about how private equity firms make their money, and the disingenuous statements he made about Bain Capital could have been uttered by Mitt Romney himself.

    When I see Democrats like Booker, Ford, and Rattner giving Republican talking points a pass, either through action or inaction, that sets off my internal BS alarm. The Obama campaign is already fighting an uphill battle against both Romney and the pusillanimous press. Obama doesn’t have the luxury of time to make up for the damage done to his credibility by unfair public criticism from one of his own surrogates – particularly one who should have realized that anything negative he said about Obama would immediately go viral.

    I don’t believe Booker intended to hurt Obama’s chances at reelection, but the mayor’s timing was terrible. Ruminating on-camera about the nature of campaign tactics, when our future as a democracy is at stake in this election and you know the opposition will seize on every opportunity you give them to turn your words against you, is a foolish and destructive use of precious air time.

    Now is not the time for Cory Booker to burnish his bipartisan “cred” or say anything that would even unintentionally “aid and abet the enemy,” not when Obama is under attack from right-wing fanatics who are becoming ever more radical – and especially not when the mainstream media amplifies Republican talking points (as Jay Carney pointed out) by simply regurgitating them and refusing to challenge them. The right drowns out facts with their torrent of lies and distortions, and Booker just handed them another microphone with his name and perspective on it. Republicans will be able to use Booker’s words, and that video clip, against Obama for the remainder of the campaign, if not for all eternity.

    I realize that Booker’s attempts to “walk back” what he said were genuine and heartfelt. But this kind of damage can’t really be walked back. The Republicans have had a field day with this already and show no signs of stopping. Moreover, the people who watch Meet the Press are not always the same as those who watch Rachel Maddow or YouTube videos. How many people who heard Booker make those remarks on Sunday ever heard any of his subsequent “clarifications”? And of “low-information” voters who did, how many would be able to pick their way through the subtleties that distinguish what a politician is able to say in public from what he would be committing political suicide to say aloud?

    As for the criticisms in my column about Booker’s perceived indebtedness to financial-sector donors, I am probably not as cynical as you think – although I do have to say up-front that I don’t place any politician on a pedestal that precludes me from observing when he or she is acting politically. Cory Booker is an ambitious politician who almost certainly aspires to a higher office than the one he has. Very few donations to either Booker’s political campaigns or the important work he’s done to revitalize his city have come from either Newark or New Jersey; most of them have come from financial-sector sources.

    Yet I do share your faith in basically good politicians like Booker with an unselfish desire to do the best job they can for their constituents. The problem, in my view, is that they can’t achieve their aims without: a) a very healthy ego, and b) some facility for working within a political system that is far from ideal – one that has been corrupted by money, influence, and power held by unscrupulous people. If Booker didn’t cater to some extent to the folks who support his campaigns, he would be a fool, because he never would have gotten elected in the first place, much less achieved any of his goals for Newark. The mistake he made, as many others have remarked, is that he gave a very public nod to the private-equity donors who butter his bread, when he should have done so behind closed doors.

  7. Emily Theroux Says:

    @Russ Layne:

    It’s The (Other) Donald, the unknowable unknown.

    Thanks, Russ!

  8. Marshall Rubin Says:

    As I’ve said before in many more words, Booker’s utterances were more out of stupidity than malevelence toward Obama. It’s only because the Repugnants are far worse that I don’t make public statements about Obama’s miserable record on civil liberties, a man who’s supposedly an expert on the Constitution!

  9. Debra Scacciaferro Says:

    Good piece, Emily. I share your frustration with those who (unwittingly) give the Repubs more ammunition, and agree that once done, they can’t be undone. The Republicans are too good at speaking in lock step, and we Democrats and Progressives are more thoughtful and want to talk about reality, which includes the pros and cons of Obama’s administration — which is then, in turn, used as ammunition to the willfully ignorant voting public.

Leave a Reply