The Morning Jolt

Elections

If Cory Booker Wants to Win, He’ll Need to Play Partisan

Sen. Cory Booker (D, N.J.) during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., April 12, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Everything you need to know about newly announced Cory Booker that his fan base won’t tell you, some good news on the job-creation front even with the government shutdown, and some absolutely bonkers state regulations about licensing for certain jobs.

‘Sparty’ Is In

New Jersey senator Cory “Call Me Spartacus” Booker is running for president, to the surprise of no one who’s been paying attention for the past three years or so.

In a political era that seems long ago, Cory Booker was one of the more interesting figures in the Democratic party. He began his career by taking on an established Democratic machine, and failing in his first bid to be mayor of Newark. Incumbent Sharpe James was the old guard using every strong-arm tactic in the book to keep power and the city’s appalling status quo, and Booker was the young, fresh-faced Rhodes scholar determined to show that city government could be more than just a corrupt, favor-dispensing fiefdom.

After being elected mayor four years after his first attempt, Booker quickly became master of the dramatic announcement. Perhaps his biggest was in September 2010, when he joined then-New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on The Oprah Winfrey Show, to accept an eye-popping gift: $100 million to reform Newark Public Schools, with local philanthropists and others matching it and raising it to $200 million. Few big city mayors have ever had a day that good.

A study completed in 2017 found that the Zuckerberg gift was neither a complete failure nor a rousing success: Student test scores in the city improved dramatically in English but stayed about the same in math. Some complained that a portion of the lucrative gift went to $1,000-per-day consultants. But by 2013, Booker was already off to the Senate.

During the 2012 presidential campaign, Booker didn’t just murmur disagreements with the way the Obama campaign attacked Romney’s work in the private sector, he denounced it.

“I have to just say, from a very personal level, I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity,” Mr. Booker said. “To me, it’s just we’re getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record, they’ve done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses. And this to me, I’m very uncomfortable with.”

“The last point I’ll make is this kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides,” Mr. Booker continued. “It’s nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.”

But within a few days, Booker backtracked almost completely, releasing a video that was such a complete reversal that some of us compared it to a hostage tape, with Booker being punished by his party’s Ayatollahs for blasphemy against their deity. It was a key early indicator that Booker was willing to defy his party to stand up for what he believed was right . . . until it became difficult.

At the end of that year, the New York Times noticed that the social-media star mayor had succeeded a lot in promoting himself but not so much in improving daily life in his troubled city:

When snow blanketed this city two Christmases ago, Mayor Cory A. Booker was celebrated around the nation for personally shoveling out residents who had appealed for help on Twitter. But here, his administration was scorned as streets remained impassable for days because the city had no contract for snow removal.

Last spring, Ellen DeGeneres presented Mr. Booker with a superhero costume after he rushed into a burning building to save a neighbor. But Newark had eliminated three fire companies after the mayor’s plan to plug a budget hole failed.

In recent days, Mr. Booker has made the rounds of the national media with his pledge to live on food stamps for a week. But his constituents do not need to be reminded that six years after the mayor came into office vowing to make Newark a “model of urban transformation,” their city remains an emblem of poverty.

Blunt assessments of his time as mayor of Newark concluded that “Booker cared more about the optics of a social media moment than actually delivering on basic city services” and “Newark has a steep climb before anyone deems it the model city Booker envisioned.”

You probably recall Cory Booker’s stories of his old friend T-Bone, who probably doesn’t exist. He raves about the joy of pedicures. He’s been vegan since 2014. His very limited release of his tax returns revealed that he made more than $1.3 million in paid speeches while being mayor, and getting $700,000 as part of a confidential separation agreement from his old law firm — a firm that just happened to have contracts with two city agencies. Despite all of this, Booker gets some of the most glowing coverage in the Senate, and it is hard to overstate how thoroughly Booker can charm the reporters sent to profile him. In 2014, the Daily Beast raved about his “Christ-like quality.”

Once Booker entered the Senate, he got somewhat more predictable and partisan in his stances. A Republican senator once said to me, paraphrasing, that he actually liked working with Cory Booker on legislation because Booker wasn’t a partisan jerk. But in order to win the Democratic presidential nomination, Booker was going to have to act like a partisan jerk, and this Republican senator predicted that this wasn’t going to turn out well for him, because he believed that this would only make Booker come across as an inauthentic partisan jerk.

Year by year, Booker stopped being the genuinely surprising and unpredictable urban reformer and became the guy who tries too hard to get his party’s base to love him. He tends to shout his speeches:

And then Booker’s shouting just kept going on, and on, and on. He had to quote or cite Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln and Maya Angelou and John F. Kennedy. Towards the end, he tried to get the audience to chant with his punctuating phrase, “we will rise!” Unfortunately, his verbiage in between the chant opportunities dragged on so long, the audience forgot they were supposed to join in.

In the Trump era, Booker quickly realized that his party had absolutely no interest in nominating a lawmaker who had cultivated a bipartisan image, and so he had to transform himself into the Trump administration’s biggest foe. After previously cosponsoring legislation with Jeff Sessions, Booker chose to testify against his confirmation to be attorney general, the first time in Senate history that a sitting senator testified against another sitting senator for a cabinet post during a confirmation. (President Trump probably wishes he had listened to Booker’s objections.) By 2018, Booker insisted that supporters of Brett Kavanaugh were “complicit in evil” — and this was before the allegations of Christine Blasey Ford were revealed.

And now, here Booker is, trying to out-#Resistance the rest of the Democratic field, who are all attempting to metamorphize into the ultimate anti-Trump, some sort of amalgamation of Rachel Maddow, Tom Steyer, Jimmy Kimmel, Jim Acosta, Jorge Ramos, and Stormy Daniels. The painful irony is that early-stage Cory Booker would stand out in this giant field of candidates, offering a genuinely different option as a more pragmatic problem-solver, willing to defy liberal orthodoxy in search of solutions that worked best.

What Layoffs? America’s Hiring Spree Continues!

Everyone expected this month’s jobs report to be pretty lousy, because of the government shutdown. And yet . . . it’s pretty darn good!

The US economy added 304,000 jobs in January, a surprisingly strong month of hiring as employers continue to bring in new workers.

The unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 4 percent.

January was the 100th straight month of job gains. The government said there were “no discernible impacts” from the government shutdown on hiring and wages, but did contribute to the uptick in unemployment.

Licensed to Grill

One last note from the Koch network meeting: Russell Latino reminds me of the full spectrum of rather absurd occupational-licensing requirements in the states. Some of these are pretty understandable – pest-control workers handle potentially dangerous chemicals, and you want anyone working with children to be properly trained, school bus drivers, etc.

But there are some cases where it seems ridiculous, such as interior designers:

Although licensed in only three states and D.C., the requirements are onerous. Aspiring designers must pass a national exam, pay an average of $364 in fees and devote an average of almost 2,200 days— six years—to a combination of education and apprenticeship before they can begin work.

Really? I watch HGTV. I know that a set of curtains can clash with the wallpaper, but they don’t clash violently.

Five states require a license to be a shampooer — i.e., the person who shampoos your hair before a haircut at a salon, requiring an average of $67 in fees and 23 days of education and experience. Just how many days can you spend on “Don’t get it in the customers’ eyes”?

Terrifying news for Senator Booker:

To become a manicurist—licensed in every state but Connecticut—requires an average of 87 days in education and training and two exams. In 10 states, securing a manicurist license takes more than four months.

Three states require a license to be dietician: “Dietetic technicians must spend 800 days in education and training, making for the eighth most burdensome requirements.” Mind you, this isn’t medical treatment, this is encouraging people to eat more vegetables and not deep-fry food. Honestly, you need a license to grill.

My absolute favorite is the requirement in Massachusetts that you need a state license to be a . . .  fortune teller. I wondered how, exactly, do they test for this? “Give me three predictions, and we’ll check back in a week?” But it turns out that you don’t need to be tested — just reside in the locality for a year, pay a $175 hearing and advertisement fee, and a $50 annual fee.

ADDENDA: Tomorrow is Groundhog Day. Be careful, groundhogs — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio still walks the streets in his bloody reign of terror. If you ever doubt that there is a ludicrous double standard in media coverage, try to imagine how everyone from news media to cable news to the late-night comics to PETA would handle a Republican mayor who killed a groundhog by accidentally dropping it.

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