Yes, Cory Booker's Victory Will Be Lousy for Progressives

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 13 2013 10:24 AM

Yes, Cory Booker's Victory Will Be Lousy for Progressives

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Cory Booker can't be beaten.

Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images

The Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in New Jersey lasted 10 weeks, and it'll end as it started: as a coronation for Newark Mayor Cory Booker. I've always been OKwith that, as Booker's interesting to cover, and I am a reporter who cares about nearly nothing else. It's still surprising that no Democrat ever scored a hit on the guy, who is loathed by some progressives in a way that's only now being noticed. The only direct attack on Booker in the campaign came from Rep. Rush Holt, who warned voters that Booker supported neither a carbon tax, nor a new Glass-Steagall, nor a ban on NSA snooping.

But there's been no coherent critique of the guy, and the New York Times' A1 story about Booker's glad-handling involvement in Waywire (a video curation site that no one uses) broke too late to hurt him. Alex Pareene's anger is righteous:

He will, in short, be the worst kind of senator. The kind that has no power and no real desire to exercise power on behalf of the people the senator ostensibly represents, but the kind that always expresses opinions on television about whatever national issues people on television care about that day. He will be on Morning Joe and Meet the Press constantly. He has even already said that he might consider Rand Paul and Ted Cruz as models for how a freshman senator might make “big marks.” Not “big marks” in the sense of any sort of lasting legislative legacy, because Ted Cruz does not care about legislation or policy, but “big marks” in terms of media attention and stunts designed to appeal to a core of supporters who prefer their senators brash and loud. Another one of those senators will not help anything.
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Right, a Booker victory will mean the replacement of a reliable, plodding progressive with a less reliable neoliberal. How often does that happen in Democratic primaries? How often do Republicans toss out a conservative for a "gosh, guy, I want to cut deals" moderate? The only progressive argument for Booker, honestly, is that there have been only four African-Americans ever elected to the U.S. Senate, and from only three states, and that the long-term interests of a party that depends on huge minority turnout adding to white liberal turnout are served by promoting nonwhite stars.

That's not much of a setback for conservatives. Reflect on how clever Chris Christie was about the date of this election. One: The general election to replace Booker will come in October, so Democrats won't be hitting the polls the same day Christie's up for re-election. Tens of thousands of potential low-information votes for Barbara Buono, Christie's opponent—poof, gone. Two: By denying/sparing Democrats a drawn-out process, Christie effectively put the crown on Booker's head, preventing any progressive from upsetting the Democrat who worked best with the governor and was most likely to say nice things about him before he runs for president in 2016.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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