Booker keeps his focus on bottom line
Sunday, May 27, 2012
Newark Mayor Cory Booker took a giant step toward the presidency last Sunday. On NBC's "Meet the Press," Booker called President Barack Obama's advertisement criticizing Mitt Romney's tenure at the private-equity firm Bain Capital "nauseating." His comment has been portrayed as a disagreement with the president over Obama's ad strategy. What Booker was actually doing, however, was shoring up his base: Bain Capital and all those similarly situated firms that have supported him in the past and will, presumably, do so in the future if he ardently defends them.
Booker said, "We're getting to a ridiculous point in America." He added, "It's either going to be a small campaign about this crap or it's going to be a big campaign, in my opinion, about the issues that the American public cares about."
Booker wasn't committing a Kinsley gaffe, the term for when a politician accidentally tells the truth. He was purposefully telling the truth. Nary a cent for his mayoral campaigns (or revitalizing his city) came from Newark or New Jersey. Most of it came from the mountain of private equity and investment banking just across the Hudson, from which hedge-fund managers and other banking types write big checks to Romney and howl over "class warfare."
For Obama, this is a lesson in how not to choose a surrogate: Stay away from people still in the game and hoping to run for higher office. No one goes straight from Newark City Hall to the Oval Office. On his trajectory upward, Booker might enjoy the help of Obama -- but he absolutely needs the deep pockets of Wall Street.
It all adds up to one more example of how the rich are different from you and me: They have very thin skins. Obama's take from Wall Street groups that gave him record amounts of cash in 2008 (twice as much as to John McCain) is way down. Booker can't afford that.
Real or not, this political tiff pushed aside wars and the European financial collapse at Obama's news conference at the NATO summit in Chicago. Obama reformulated his argument for Booker and any other Democrat who might choose Wall Street over Pennsylvania Avenue: "If your main argument for how to grow the economy is, 'I knew how to make a lot of money for investors,' then you're missing what this job is about."
Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist.