Saturday, May 26, 2012

Corey Booker Demonstrates Why I Will Never Be a Politician

I felt for one of my favorite politicians this week as he got caught up in the spin cycle that begins when you speak "off script". I have followed Cory Booker since one of my frat brothers worked on his first mayoral campaign. Since becoming mayor of Newark (aka Brick City) in 2006, he has easily become one of America's most recognizable mayors for his insight and community activism, but this week that rep took a hit as had to do some moonwalking after sharing some thoughts on the 2012 campaign. As I watched the fallout from his Meet the Press appearance, it reminded me why I could never be a professional politician.

Politics as currently constituted wouldn't work for me because you are beholden to cash interests above all else at the end of the day. The ability to speak what you truly feel is right is limited by how it will impact those who spend the most money to keep you in office. For all the goodwill Mayor Booker has built up as he tweets tirelessly about getting trash picked up, snow shoveled, and crime under control, he found himself the focus of news shows this week for daring to express his disdain for the hyper-partisan nature of politics today. His commentary went against the game plan of Team Obama 2012, and in the rules of the politics game in order to keep riding the escalator up to the top of the Democratic party, you gotta fall on line like a good soldier. This is especially true in an election year, and it doesn't matter that much if what the Mayor had to say made sense if you view it from his frame of reference.

If you are Cory Booker, your job is to continue to raise the profile of Brick City, and find jobs to replace the manufacturing positions that used to be the hub of the City's economy.  Major insurance companies like Prudential have been headquartered in The Bricks forever, but insurance companies and tech companies like Panasonic (opening up in 2013) often require employees with advanced degrees, which in Newark is only a small portion of the population.  According to the 2000 Census, Newark had the lowest educational attainment numbers of any city, and one in four children lived in a household with no working parents.  If you are Cory Booker, and you know that this is the profile of your city, of course you would be open to solutions that would help bring jobs and fortify pensions much like he has leaned heavily on charters to help raise school test score numbers.  Not saying that I agree, but I can understand.  So when you understand the economics of Newark, and you remember that Cory Booker was most recently a trending Twitter topic for being a super neighbor, rescuing one of his from a fire, of course he thought he could speak his mind, but alas he quickly found that that wasn't the case.

Ultimately this was another case where the nature of soundbite media makes something way worse than it is, and if you don't go back and check the raw message without the spin, then you are left thinking something way worse than you should.  Here is the Booker quote that got all the attention:

"As far as that stuff [Bain critique], I have to just say from a very personal level, I'm not about to sit here and indict private equity. To me, it's just this--we're getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know. I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital's record, it ain't--they've done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses, And this, to me, I'm very uncomfortable with."

I have no problem with any of that because as the Mayor mentions, he was speaking from a point of view of what has been good for his city and state, which is his main concern.  But ultimately that sentence about "looking at the totality of Bain's record" could not stand because it was made at the same time that Team Obama was releasing attack ads painting Bain as the job killer.  So Cory Booker had to go on his Ustream and "clarify" in a manner that sounded much more like the talking points that the President's campaign workers want out in the media.   If you wonder why one of the most recognizable Mayors in America would do this given how much cache he has built, you just have to remember that he is a self-described Obama surrogate.  He wants to keep playing the political game when his time as Mayor is done, and being able to call on the Obamas (as well as the cultural and financial capital they inspire) when he needs them will always be a good "chip" to have in his back pocket.  I would have a hard time swallowing what I was truly feeling just to keep donors and cronies scratching my back while I'm trying to advocate for the people in my care, so worry not about me ever contacting you for donations for a political campaign run.  The game is rigged.

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