The Cory Booker Problem

The shoo-in candidate for the Senate disappoints those hoping he would be a black leader in the traditional sense and he can no longer coast on diversity

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Kena Betancur / Getty Images

Cory Booker, former Newark mayor and current Senator, speaks with members of the media on Aug. 13, 2013

It was bound to happen after a while, even to Cory Booker. While the Newark mayor easily won the Democratic primary for the Senate race in New Jersey this week, some liberal commentators were rolling their eyes. The bright-eyed young hero the media and blue America fell in love with 10 years ago for his bid to take over ailing Newark from a black-power machine gone to seed is increasingly processed as a bit of an empty suit.

Some of the Cory Booker fatigue is due to the choirboy earnestness. We will recall, for instance, the heroics in Newark — saving someone from a burning building, living in a grim housing project himself, etc. Everything Booker does, including his just-so speeches and talk-show appearances, is so facelessly straight-ahead that he is almost oddly free of irony or attitude for a modern politician. By all appearances, it’s heartfelt — but in this age, it can’t help seeming a tad fake to some, or even eerie, leaving some observers wondering when the real guy is going to show up. But that is the real guy.

(MORE: Does Cory Booker Really Want to Come to Washington?)

Another thing that skews his reception is that he doesn’t have a wife and kids. Forty-three is a little old for even men not to be married when they are in the public eye of politics. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. Imagine Booker as his current self in every way, except with his wife Lori and their two sons Omar and Malcolm. Somehow the apple-cheeked quality would come off more as “family man,” and he would in general seem more “rooted,” less of a question mark.

The main criticism of Booker seems to be his open embrace of the powers that be, even while he says he speaks for the poor brother on the street. Booker hit the ground collaborating with, for example, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a free-market conservative think tank (which I used to work for), and has welcomed overtures from Silicon Valley moguls (including ones setting him up with a startup, as we have learned lately). For all of his commitment to Newark, Booker has never hinted at seeking a radically new order — his idea has been to bring Newark in line with the way the rest of America is making money.

In that, Booker disappoints those hoping he would be a black leader in the traditional sense. He’s good at saying his name with a pop on the b that subtly communicates black identity — listen to him say, “I’m Cory Bbooker” — but he isn’t the type that excites the black nationalist or the white fellow traveler. They see someone whose main niche seems to be sitting in suits talking to the man.

(MORE: The Real Signs of Black Power)

Of course, all indications are that this is precisely the kind of black leader that will have any real influence in American life as we move on. Booker is to be commended for knowing it and acting accordingly. However, there isn’t much drama in being that kind of black leader, however you pronounce your b’s. On that, another problem of Booker’s begins with B — Barack.

There was a time when the sheer fact of Obama’s blackness had more than a few harboring expectations beyond logic. “Yes, we can!” he intoned, and everybody went crazy — but more because of the skin color of who said it than anything else. Obama sounded like a preacher, and thus a prophet. He was going to get us beyond the partisan divide because, well, he’s wise, or … has been through the fire … or, well, O.K., is black.

(MORE: Obama: The Magical Negro Falls to Earth)

We’re past that, and being a pretty color will never again get a black politician walking in Obama’s footsteps that kind of adulatory reception. Never mind that we’ve also seen that black politicians come in flavors as un-Obaman as Herman Cain and Allen West. No, from here on, our black politicians will be vetted more on the content of their character than the color of their skin, ironically enough.

Booker, therefore, won’t be able to coast on “diversity,” which leaves him with his straight-shooting, single self, more interested in setting things right than stirring up the pot. In an ideal world, it would be enough — but in this one, we’ll just have to see.

172 comments
SmoothEdward1
SmoothEdward1

You're just full of charming things to say aren't you. It doesn't work that way.  Just what do you actually know about Newark anyway? Are you from there or anywhere near there? I am, and can tell you there are certain sections of Newark, such as the Ironbound section that are doing quite well. The cities you mention all have one thing in common - predominantly poor underclass. Why is there a predominately poor underclass in these cities? The legacy of slavery and segregation haven't yet been solved. I can tell you this. In my travels, and I've traveled considerably, everyplace I found poverty, no matter what race or ethnicity of the group that lived in it, the results were same: high crime, disintegrating families, poorly funded schools, drugs. Another thing these cities have in common are a history of corrupt government, and the disappearance of manufacturing jobs, destroying the tax base. Setting up a few charter schools for specially selected students many benefit a tiny minority, but the larger problem will remain and grow. These Silicon Valley moguls want to experiment and fund some special schools, fine, but they should stop hiding their billions in off-shore accounts escaping taxation. We can use that money here.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@SmoothEdward1 Are you talking to me, because if you are i will tell you I have been to Newark on a couple of occasions with a narcotics task force and found nothing redeeming about the city as a hole. every city has certain area better then others newarks best is most cities worst of equal size. And I have traveled to every state and many cities and one of the worst was newark and gary Indiana both arm pits of american cities of there size. It has nothing to do with tax base, poorly funded schools and corrupt govt. It boils down to the people who live there and who runs the city. all it is good for is as a 3rd airport for NY city and the rats the crawl around the port authority.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@SmoothEdward1 By the way charming is my middle name. everyone who knows me thinks i am charming and dappper just like cory. but just like cory that charm is BS.

mejackson
mejackson

Who cares about the color of his skin, or his marital status? These characteristics do not determine his success as a senator or any other position. It is sad to see we have not evolved and progressed any more than this. Electing an African American/Black senator should not be any big deal. Nor should electing a woman or gay be a big deal. This article causes grave concern regarding the lack of intellectual and moral critical thinking ability still present in our society. But I guess the author had to try, serpent in the garden, appeal to the least knowledgeable. Trash media and manipulation at its finest.

Other_Spaces
Other_Spaces

Excellent article! Right on the money! It will, of course, put Booker supporters in convulsions, as evident in some comments here. Some just don't want to believe he is an empty suit, while others may not fully realize how far back Booker's right-wing connections go, not just to the Manhattan Institute, as mentioned here, but also to the Bradley Foundation and the GOP's attempt to garner the black vote . 

Anyone wanting info about the conservative-backed Cory Booker should see what NJ journalist Glen Ford has reported at The Black Agenda Report, starting with the most recent piece (but also search that site for earlier reports): "Cory Booker, the Next Black Corporate Presidential Contender"  http://www.blackagendareport.com/content/cory-booker-next-black-corporate-presidential-contender 

Openminded1
Openminded1

@Other_Spaces Never happen again in your life time. Obama ruined it for every other black seeking the Oval office. Whites will not make the same mistake 3 times. History has been made the media will move onto a woman, or jew maybe a hispanic or Italian maybe they are great cooks and colorful people. But forget black not going to happen again in the next 50 years.

SmoothEdward1
SmoothEdward1

@Openminded1 @Other_Spaces Nonsense. Whether you like Obama or not, people who aren't racists will evaluate another African-American candidate on his/her own merits. I'll bet if a right-wing, black candidate for President emerged you vote for him.


Openminded1
Openminded1

@SmoothEdward1 @Openminded1 @Other_Spaces Smooth right or left wing if i like a guy I would vote for him or her not just because he was black like most blacks do. If OJ got out of prison and ran for mayor of Oakland if he could being a convicted felon and all every black in oakland would vote for the thug.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@ToddGilbert @Openminded1 @Other_Spaces that is ok they will not give an Italian a try either, i do not think a jew has chance either. I wish an Italian would run for President the food at the white house would be better, the clothes would be nicer, and a lot more sex at the white other then just in the oval office. Lets go Italian everyone wants to be italian anyway. the woman are better looking then most and who makes better shoes.

JonathanCarter
JonathanCarter

I am very glad that Cory Booker is a disappointment to those expecting a "traditional Black leader".

McWhorter is, effectively, labeling Booker as a "sellout". And in doing so, he is echoing the Black pseudo-intellectuals that are quick to tear down Cory Booker for not being radical enough, while decrying the lack of Black economic progress.

Even the most radical element would concede that self-determination arises from financial empowerment. However, in the eyes of McWhorter, meeting with investors is a sign of deference, even if it yields the capital and infrastructure investment we seek. Even in the dogma of Black revolutionary thought, when Black employment and financial health are woefully inadequate, isn't wearing a suit and talking to "the Man" exactly what is needed?

Or, should Booker become a reinvented version of Sharpton/Jackson to serve as the mouthpiece for a frustrated Black public, periodically delivering soulful sermons and commentating on the ills of the Black community? This is a tradition that should be left in the past. McWhorter's assumption is incorrect. The excitement wasn't the prospect of a traditional leader. The excitement was the prospect of a non-traditional leader. An architect of real change, not just emotional appeals for abstract goals.

JillRenshaw
JillRenshaw

So we hear a lot of talk about "how black" Booker is, why isn't he married, if he is a champion of "diversity" (whatever that means), and the like.  

What we do NOT get any discussion about is (surprisingly) WHAT SORT OF MAYOR HE HAS BEEN.  The answer, of course, is that Booker has been an astonishingly SUCCESSFUL mayor of Newark.  Shouldn't that matter?  Perhaps for the "Racial Identity Uber Alles" crowd, it does not.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@JillRenshaw Successful because he is PC with everyone and is charming,dapper and intelligent not because he has really improved things in Newark. Newark is and always will be a  Ghetto of a city with more of its share of crime and uneducated thugs roaming the city and using it as a garbage dumb a place to hang out on the corner and drink colt 45 out of a paper bag and collect welfare checks. With its main source of income coming from the port authority. Without NY in the shadows of Newark the city would be worse the another arm pitt Detroit.

LindaWarnke
LindaWarnke

Stop looking for "magical negroes"! It must suck to be an earnest young black politician, only to realize you can't move in ANY direction because you've been saddled with the weight of everyone's hopes and aspirations...Not fair. When a white politician trips up, we don't see it as a failure for all white folks. 

Nobody's perfect. Everybody will screw up something during their life. Booker may have his faults, but I'll take the image of a spandex-clad Cory who runs into burning buildings over 90% of our current crop of elected officials ANYDAY!

So, go ahead and point out the stains on that spandex superhero suit, I don't care. Booker is still a pretty cool guy. And stop making 'wink, wink...nudge, nudge' comments about his single status...we get the implication. And we don't care about that either.

grape_crush
grape_crush

> The main criticism of Booker seems to be his open embrace of the powers that be...

That paragraph was all that was needed to be written. No need for the veiled reference to possible homosexuality (aren't we past that?) and invocations of black power politics...

>  ...his idea has been to bring Newark in line with the way the rest of America is making money.

Tax avoidance, sucking the middle class dry, privatizing the public commons, and handouts to wealthy individuals and companies?




marc.cannon
marc.cannon

@grape_crush I don't think the implication is of possible homosexuality. The implication/reference seems to be toward the notion that in American politics, we tend to prefer leaders who are married and have children. There are some exceptions, but when you consider that the leaders we elect are not only leaders but people who often embody our cultural and social values, then having a family is almost necessary. Sexuality aside, there is a reason why every president has been married.

JillRenshaw
JillRenshaw

@marc.cannon @grape_crush    Yeah.  The "reason" is that married people are exclusionary b*tches, who, to put it bluntly, just DO NOT HAVE ANY RESPECT WHATSOEVER for those who choose to NOT get married.

MatthewCarr
MatthewCarr

"Yes we can" was powerful because of the WAY Obama said it, because of what it MEANT after George Bush. If you can't see that then you still have yet to pull away the veil of partisanship and seek an enlightened high ground.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@MatthewCarr @Openminded1 Nom de Plume , oh my god who are you trying to impress? Your picture says it all you silly little man bleeding heart liberal. Obama is no MLK and never will be. Obama if you could read between lines is a closet racist. Do you not read and listen to him. I really liked his son Trayvon Martin. Get real stick to tea in the am with your wife an d keep up your fancy vocabulary. what a moron.

RodneyPatterson
RodneyPatterson

Are you kidding me, you actually sat down and wrote this?

...and your editor published it? Wow, just wow.

No wonder so many old school media outlets are going belly up. 

My advice - there's real news out there, get up, go out and find some of it.

tampajohn2
tampajohn2

There are many politicans  that would love to have Booker's "problems"  ---- most of them Republicans. 

cmag1971
cmag1971

This starts out about Booker and seemed to end up about Obama?  How were the matching funds from Facebook's Zucker spent.  I seem to recall Mr. Booker not keeping the best of records for a while.

ShlomovonGlickstein
ShlomovonGlickstein

Booker strikes me as a corporate conservaDem fraud, giving audience empty progresive rhetoric whilst advancing the noble cause of corporate greed, on virtually every policy issue he' advanced in office.  Hence he identifies with corporatists like Mitt Romney and his BAIN CAPITAL rather than those who have lost their jobs across this land, or engineers public works giveaways to big corps financed by wall street, as his own city starves...He is uncle tom on steroids... with staged acts of heroism complete with a press following that have become urban legends that wouldn't have been necessary if he's not gutted emergency services in Newark....

kennyk
kennyk

@ShlomovonGlickstein Yo Shlomo, don't be a schmuck!  He's probably the best Mayor Newark has had since Ellenstein!   Lets not forget  he IS a politician and makes for a sharp Statesman- it is about getting the job done!

PS he has also been a friend to the Jews...

Openminded1
Openminded1

@kennyk @ShlomovonGlickstein Only because he needs their vote and money, mainly money. he is articulate and intelligent but he is another under cover racist like Obama who is just smarter then the average black in politics.