Newark mayor Cory Booker will almost certainly win Tuesday's primary to be the Democratic nominee for Senate in New Jersey (Update: he won), which will make him the overwhelming favorite in October's general election. But despite (or maybe because of) his near-certain imminent transit from city hall to Capitol Hill, a wave of liberals have hit Booker with their un-endorsements. The point doesn't seem to be to stop his election to the Senate — that looks impossible — but to make the case for why he shouldn't climb any higher in Democratic politics, a clear reminder that Democrats do infighting, too.
Booker is famous for sort of opposite things: an avid social media maven, he's known for helping the little guys, like the time he saved someone from a burning building; as a politician, he's supported some very big guys, like the time during the 2012 presidential campaign he defended the financial sector from Democratic attacks. And that is the core of the problem Salon's Alex Pareene (and others) have with him. Pareene writes on Tuesday that Booker is "an avatar of the wealthy elite, a camera-hog, and a political cipher who has never once proposed anything to address to the structural causes of the problems he claims to care so deeply about." He seems like a smug, self-dealing rich dude. Pareene writes:
Booker and his crowd believe that the charity of the benevolent elite — people who know they are rich because of their innate skill, their brilliance, their work ethic, everything besides fundamentally inequitable distribution of resources and opportunities for economic advancement — is the only acceptable and effective means of addressing the needs of the lower orders.
Will this stop Booker from winning the primary? Very unlikely! Even Pareene does not think so. But his praise for another candidate gives some indication of the long-term importance of the case against Booker. Democratic rival Rush Holt, Pareene says, "will probably not use the Senate seat as a stepping stone to the White House." Booker recently announced he won't run for president — in 2016, but he didn't rule out 2020 and beyond, and that's exactly what Pareene seems worried about: "He is the worst sort of Democrat, and Democrats should be doing everything in their power to wrest control of the party away from people like him."
For the Booker un-endorsers, what's at stake in the New Jersey special election is the idea of who the Democratic standard-bearer will be after President Obama. And, while Booker talks a good game about fighting for poor people, they say, he works to protect the interests of his peers: wealthy people with allegiances to elite institutions. It's worth noting that Booker, the son of IBM executives who went to Stanford, Oxford, and Yale, is probably not all that rich himself. He's recently found himself in trouble over a web video curation company, Waywire, that he convinced people like Oprah and Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt to invest in. Booker's shares in the company, The New York Times reported, are worth $1 million to $5 million, according to his financial disclosures. But that could be very be wishful thinking: at its tiny larval startup stage, Waywire, as we discussed previously, might be worth as much as $10 million or as little as $0. The Internet is a hard game!
Still, Booker has defended the kind of elites who invest in Waywire and Booker's career. Pareen's colleague at Salon, David Sirota, is appalled that Booker's cultivation of that crowd is seen as political savvy, not corruption. Sirota writes:
... Booker did not just raise massive amounts of campaign money from the thieves on Wall Street and then attack President Obama on behalf of those thieves. He did not just orchestrate a secret $100 million deal with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that the Washington Post notes was designed to help those donors circumvent the public and "remake (Newark) public schools in the way they want to." On top of all that, he also leveraged his municipal office to personally pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate speaking fees... Booker convinced his tech-industry backers to bequeath him an entire company – and then tried to prevent the multi-million-dollar gift from showing up in campaign disclosure reports.
The guys at Salon are not alone: "I don't trust the man," Crooks and Liars' Susie Madrak wrote on Monday. Voting for him risks selecting "a Manchurian candidate who, while running as a nominal Democrat, is and has been deeply entrenched with the vulture capitalists and their disaster capitalism education 'reform...'" Esquire's Charles Pierce is also creeped out by Booker's connections, writing on Tuesday, "Why I Wouldn't Vote for Cory Booker." He notes that Booker said on Meet the Press in 2012 that attacking Mitt Romney for Bain Capital is "nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright." It's a sign that Booker can't see the difference between the financial crisis and a preacher who says unpleasant things, Pierce writes:
I've forgotten, how many houses did Jeremiah Wright steal out from under their owners? How many toxic mortgages did he foist off on unsuspecting customers while getting rich betting against the same investments? How many pensions did he loot? How close did Jeremiah Wright come to wrecking the entire world economy?
The anti-Booker sentiment has been brewing among liberals for some time. But it was less intense when Booker was less close to becoming one of 100 senators, instead of a Twitter celebrity and mayor of a city of 277,000. In June, DailyKos diarist RVKU wrote, "I Can't Vote for Cory Booker in a Primary." The blogger wasn't quite so tough on Booker, calling him intelligent and charismatic, with a "bright future in national politics" and "redeemable qualities." (RVKU lamented the same set of issues as the other un-endorsers.) Back in February, Sen. Frank Lautenberg — who died in June, and whose seat Booker is seeking to replace — compared Booker to a child who needs a spanking.
Gawker's John Cook wrote in December 2012, "Let the Booker Backlash begin." The prematurity of the declaration is evident by the update at the bottom of the post: "This post initially featured an exclamation point, rather than a period, at the end of its first sentence. Gawker regrets the error."
Correction: This post originally said the general election for Senate was in November. In fact, Gov. Chris Christie scheduled a special election for October.
(Photos by Associated Press.)