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Friday, August 16, 2013
Politics ...

The New Jersey Senatorial primary election was held on Tuesday, and Newark Mayor Cory Booker was never in doubt to win. He will now go on to trounce the GOP candidate in mid-October and then it’s Mr. Booker goes to Washington. You probably don’t need me to tell you that Cory is a rising star on the national scene; some people have already made comparisons between Cory’s present trajectory and that of a young African-American legislator from Illinois back in the mid-2000’s. (Although some also say that he needs his own version of Michelle . . .)

Even though Cory could win the primary (and the main election) with his eyes closed, he still went through the motions of running a competitive campaign. For about a week I received quite a few robo-calls on my voicemail from Cory, urging me to get out and vote (which I didn’t; sorry, I was just not worked up by any of the Democratic candidates. I like Cory, but he didn’t need me to win this one). In his messages, Mayor / Senator-to-be Booker tells me (rather unspecifically) about the great things that we can accomplish together, the great changes that we can bring about. Cory was obviously not running against anyone or anything, nor did he promise me better schools, better medical care, better roads, better jobs; in sum, no better anything. Instead, Cory seemed to be offering me hope.

Ah yes, hope and change. It doesn’t seem so long ago when Barack Obama urged our nation to embrace the audacity of hope with him. And yet, here we are 5 years later, and more and more Americans seem to be losing hope in Mr. Obama’s hope. His poll approval ratings are trending south while the disapproval line keeps climbing north. So it strikes me as just a bit ironic for another young African-American politician on the rise to reach for the star of hope as a theme to inspire the voting public.

Obama is a lame duck, and Cory Booker has clearly ruled out trying to pull a second “he’s ready why wait” drama in the 2016 Presidential Primary season. I get the feeling that he knows the public would not be in the mood to push Hilary Clinton aside a second time for an amateur peddling a message of hope. The prospects for Barack Obama to accomplish anything big in his second term are slowly drifting out to sea. The nation’s big problems today (a weak economy that doesn’t produce good jobs, an unbalanced budget, an unsettled immigration question) are going to be front and center on the agenda for 2016. The country is going to be in the mood for pragmatists and proven problem solvers.

Hilary Clinton has a lot of good creds as a pragmatic problem solver, especially if she embraces her husband (literally more than figuratively) and his track record in office. She would get a lot of independent voters excited if she promised them that the old Clinton magic from the 1990s was coming back. Not to belittle her many accomplishments as a Senator and Secretary of State . . . but they would look even better in the context of Bill Clinton’s Presidential accomplishments and his political savvy, a savvy that allowed actual accomplishment to happen in the face of GOP obstructionism much like today’s.

Thus far, however, Ms. Clinton really hasn’t put forth any particular theme or rational as to what she stands for. Richard Cohen made this point recently in the soon-to-be-Amazonized Washington Post. As Mr. Cohen says, just being Hilary isn’t enough. She needs to start voicing a message. The obvious one to me would be “I’m the one who can fix the mess we’re in”. It would take some real guts on her part — she would be impliedly dissing President Obama and his supporters, while raising up her husband despite the hurt that he obviously caused her. If she can do that, I think she’s the next President. If she can’t, then the GOP has someone who can . . . none other than Cory Booker’s friend, NJ Governor Chris Christie. Big Chris is going to need a lot of luck with his fellow Republicans, given their temptation to swoon over ideological purists like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul. If Hilary goes up against one of them, she can set herself against far-right extremeism, just as Lyndon Johnson cruised to victory in 1964 against Barry Goldwater simply by seeming reasonable. She can define herself by what she is NOT. But in a battle with a problem-solver like Chris Christie, she’s going to have to get her hands dirty.

I’m glad that Cory Booker is giving New Jersey a taste of that old Obama magic from 2008, i.e. a taste of hope. But the big New Jersey political story this fall will be the huge victory that Chris Christie will have over his Democratic opponent in the governor’s race. (Oh yea, her name is Barbara Buono . . . not that many people are memorizing it). The country is in the mood for a tough, straight-talking problem solver. Hilary can do that . . . but will she? Stay tuned!

PS — back to Cory for a moment. Did he show any problem-solver instincts during his years as Newark’s Mayor? Booker did an OK job. He spent a lot of time mopping up the various financial messes that his predecessor, Sharpe James, had left. But unlike Sharpe, Booker didn’t have the knack for the “big deals” like Sharpe did, the big new projects like office buildings, distribution centers, new schools and the performing arts center. OK, Booker was involved in the Mark Zuckerberg donation of $100 million to Newark Public Schools; but Governor Chris Christie can take just as much credit for that. So, Booker survived his time as mayor intact by keeping things from getting worse; but he shouldn’t get much credit for addressing the underlying problems of unemployment, crime and declining infrastructure in the neighborhoods.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:31 pm      

  1. Jim, I have little comment to make on this blog as Newark and New Jersey politics is yet another thing I know absolutely nothing about. I, frankly, may have heard the name Cory Booker here or there; but if it came to knowing who he was, without your telling me he was the mayor of Newark, I’d have no clue.

    If it came to Illinois and/or Chicago politics, it would be a different story; I’d have plenty to say. Right now, our news around here has been filled to the top, brimming over, with the Jesse Jackson, Jr., and his wife drama going on. Then we have our good Governor Quinn, a good man, who is fighting a political fight against the Madigans – or maybe it’s just Madigan, depending on whether or not his daughter is included in the whole fuss or not. Most likely Quinn will go down. Bill Daley of the famous Chicago Daley family – and one of Obama’s main men – seems to be thinking he will run against Quinn. Bill Daley, being more of a politician’s politician may do and be better than Quinn when it comes to dealing with the politicians in Springfield. And this does not begin to address Rahm Emanuel as mayor of Chicago and his best pick for police commander who hails from Newark, as I understand it. I’ll leave all that unsaid.

    See what I mean: A longer paragraph on Illinois and Chicago politics vs. a short paragraph on NJ politics. Just don’t know Newark/NJ politics. But likely, my hunch is that NJ/IL or Newark/Chicago, little difference when it comes to politics. Yet, not knowing Newark and/or New Jersey, I cannot comment. Knowing Illinois/Chicago politics, I would have a lot to say.

    As to Hillary Clinton and whether or she may or may not run: I think it’s vastly too soon to even begin to speculate on that one. At this point I’m not even sure I know if I’d consider voting for her as president. Yes, I think she was an outstanding secretary of state; but the real question regarding her may be who might run against her for the Democratic nomination.

    Even speculation on who may run for the GOP party is too soon, in my opinion. Yet, the little I’ve seen of Chris Christy on TV late night programs (and a few news spots I’ve seen), I find him intriguing. Maybe I’d consider voting for him. But I’d be seriously afraid of the very conservative edge of the GOP and what influence they would eventually have on the moderates as Christy seems to be.

    I simply dread the tho’t of all the ifs, ands, and buts that will go on in speculation about the presidential election even coming closer to election time. Starting it now is something I can’t even begin to think about, to be honest.

    As to the mayoral election in Newark, all I can say is: I hope the best for Newark. MCS

    Comment by Mary — August 16, 2013 @ 6:24 pm

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