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“The Painful Paradoxes Of Race”: A History That Just Doesn’t Go Away

“In the jewelry store, they lock the case when I walk in,” the young African-American man wrote. “In the shoe store, they help the white man who walks in after me. In the shopping mall they follow me. … Black male: Guilty until proven innocent.”

“I have lost control of my emotions,” he declared. “Rage, Frustration, Anguish, Despondency, Fatigue, Bitterness, Animosity, Exasperation, Sadness. Emotions once suppressed, emotions once channeled, now are let loose. Why?”

The words came not in response to the George Zimmerman verdict in the Trayvon Martin killing but to the acquittal of the police officers in the Rodney King case. The author of the May 6, 1992, column in the Stanford University student newspaper: Cory Booker, now the nationally celebrated mayor of Newark and the frontrunner to be the next United States senator from New Jersey.

Booker pointed me toward his angry essay more than halfway through a late breakfast on a visit here last week. He spoke the day before President Obama went to the White House briefing room to issue his powerful reminder to Americans that “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”

In words that resonated with what Booker had said, the president noted that “the African-American community is looking at this issue though a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”

For his part, Booker didn’t start with the Zimmerman trial but instead spoke enthusiastically about a program he had established in cooperation with the libertarian-conservative Manhattan Institute to help men released from prison become better fathers. “The right intervention,” he said, “can create radically different outcomes.”

Booker knows about crime. He described his experience of holding a young man who had just been shot, trying and failing to keep him from dying in his arms. He returned home disconsolate and washed off the young man’s blood.

His account, and Obama’s later words, put the lie to outrageous claims by right-wing talk jocks that those upset over the outcome in the Zimmerman trial have no concern for what the conservative provocateurs, in one of their newly favored soundbites, are calling “black-on-black” crime. African-American leaders, particularly mayors such as Booker, were struggling to stem violence in their own communities long before it became a convenient topic for those trying to sweep aside the profound problems raised by the Martin case.

Booker fully accepts that there is a right to self-defense. “One of the things I learned from the good cops is that there were some times when they were completely justified in pulling their weapons and killing somebody,” he said. But those good cops, he insisted, also understood that their first obligation was “to defuse a situation,” to try to prevent violence. Discussing Zimmerman, Booker added: “This so-called community watch guy, having been told by the police to back away, had so many opportunities to defuse the situation.”

Why, Booker wonders, do we only have our famous conversations about race and fear “when things go terribly wrong”? Why, he wants to know, was it impossible for Zimmerman to look upon Martin “as someone he could have a conversation with”?

This shrewd politician is under no illusions that his questions have simple answers. Yet as we neared the end of the interview, he offered a thought you might hear in a church or synagogue. “Fear is a toxic state of being,” Booker said. “You’ve got to lead with love.”

Talking to Booker was a reminder of the bundle of contradictions that is the story of race in America, precisely what Obama was underscoring when he spoke of our progress as well as our difficulties.

The young man who protested against the need to prove his innocence had earned a Rhodes scholarship and went on to become one of the country’s most prominent politicians. He has won friends across the political spectrum (which makes some liberals nervous). Most of what he had to say to me was about practical things government can do to reverse rising inequality and battle child poverty. One of the central problems of our time, he said, is “the decoupling between wage growth and economic growth,” a development that feeds so many other social challenges.

We cannot give up on trying to solve these problems any more than we can blind ourselves both to the persistence of racism and our triumphs in pushing it back. That, I think, is the message of his old column. We have come a long way, and have a long way to go.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 22, 2013

July 23, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Racism | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The “Joshua Generation”: Cory, Artur, And Harold, Reflecting The Media’s Wishes?

There’s a piece at Buzzfeed that groups the above troika–Cory, Artur, and Harold, respectively–into the “Joshua generation” and notes that they were “born too late to participate in the Civil Rights movement, and late enough to benefit from it with blue chip educations and direct paths to power. They were free of the urban machines that had defined black politics in America, and ready for a different and more hopeful sort of politics of race.”

The real lesson about these guys is that they have all reflected the media’s wish for and infatuation with a “different” kind of black man. They all have Ivy League credentials as undergraduates or graduates. They first hit the scene–and timing, as they say, is everything–had grown sick and tired of old-line pols like David Dinkins who came up through the black clubhouses and so forth. So this narrative was created: These are the new African American leaders who aren’t hung up on the old racial mau-mau stuff, etc.

There is some truth to this. Inside each of them, and others like them who are lesser-known, there probably exists some internal reflex against being too predictable, being too like the generation that preceded them. That of course can be admirable, but it can be carried to extremes.

Davis is really the most extreme case. He voted against Obama’s health-care bill, apparently lost in some delusion that the people of Alabama might actually elect him their governor. He lost. Not the general election. The primary. By just a little bit. Like, 62 to 38 percent. He could have become a birther and performed a song-and-dance tribute to George Wallace, and maybe he’d have brought it to single-digits. And remember, that’s among Democrats. This seems to have left Davis feeling pretty bitter about Democrats. But does he think he’d have somehow done better among Republicans?

Ford kind of almost won a Senate seat, but he was race-baited at the end (“Harold, call me!” said a cute blone in a last-minute ad, as she winked at the camera). He just seems these days like he’s interested in making a lot of money, and good for him, but he’s not actually a spokesman for anything anymore, except that he’s useful to the right in situations like the current one, and he seems happy to oblige.

Booker, as I wrote yesterday, is likely preparing for his own Senate run, when he’ll be going to private-equity people for donations. He used his appearance on Rachel Maddow last night to mount a pretty full retreat, so he may yet be able to show his face at the convention.

These are different men, but I suspect they have in common that they bought into their early press, and they know what it is that gets them press: deviating from the expected black-liberal party line. And so that’s what they do. And, of course, they may all just be jealous of Obama, who won the big derby before they did.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 22

May 23, 2012 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Nauseating”: Cory Booker, Surrogate From Hell

If Cory Booker went on “Meet the Press” on Sunday with the intent of helping President Obama, then his appearance was an utter failure. But anyone who’s followed the enormously ambitious Newark mayor’s career closely knows he’s not one to pull a Joe Biden. He’s just too smart and too smooth to screw up so epically.

More likely, Booker went on the show to help himself and to advance his own long-term political prospects. And on that score, his appearance was a success.

You’ve probably seen or are now seeing the headlines Booker generated by calling the Obama campaign’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s private equity background “nauseating” and likening them to efforts by some on the right to inject Rev. Jeremiah Wright into the campaign.

“Enough is enough,” Booker said. “Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.”

He added: “I have to just say from a very personal level, I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity. 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 invest 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.”

Playing up Romney’s Bain record is, of course, central to Obama’s general election plan. Romney is running as a business-savvy “job creator” and relying on the public’s tendency to associate private sector success with economic competence. There is no overstating how vital it is for Obama and his campaign to break that link, and to establish that Romney’s real expertise is in making investors rich – not adding jobs and improving the quality of life for middle class workers.

In belittling this strategy, Booker isn’t just breaking with Obama, he’s breaking with just about everyone who’s ever run against Romney – including Ted Kennedy, who used criticisms of Bain’s treatment of workers to pull away from Romney in their 1994 Senate race. Essentially, Kennedy created the blueprint that Obama is now using. Booker is also providing Republicans with a dream talking point: A top Obama surrogate not only disapproves of Obama’s use of Bain, he finds it nauseating!

It wouldn’t be surprising if Booker has already heard from the White House, and surely he’s now in for a world of abuse from Obama supporters. But that hardly means he made a mistake, at least in terms of his own ambition. Financial support from Wall Street and, more broadly speaking, the investor class has been key to Booker’s rise, and remains key to his future dreams.

It’s easy to forget, but before the world met Barack Obama in 2004, many believed that the first black president would be Booker. Armed with Stanford, Yale and Oxford degrees and all of the invaluable personal connections he forged at those institutions, he set out in the mid-1990s to craft a uniquely appealing political biography, swearing off lucrative job offers to move to Newark’s Central Ward and take up residence in public housing. Within a few years, he won a seat on the City Council, where he showed an early and consistent knack for self-generated publicity, most notably with a ten-day hunger strike in the summer of 1999.

That set the stage for Booker’s 2002 race for mayor, an ugly contest against incumbent Sharpe James, an entrenched icon of the city’s civil rights generation of black politicians. James, as any self-respecting Newark mayor would do, leveraged his clout for campaign contributions from city workers, vendors and those who aspired to be city workers and vendors.

Booker, meanwhile, had hardly lost touch with his old classmates, keeping one foot in Newark and the other in Manhattan, where he built on the connections to elite donors that he already had. He called the millions of dollars he raised for the race “love money.” The press – and James’ campaign – took note that almost all of it was from outside Newark, nearly half of it was from outside New Jersey, and a quarter of it came directly from Wall Street.

This helped bolster James’ claim that Booker, who grew up in an affluent suburb, was not an authentic Newarker. That attack resonated just enough to save James, who won in a squeaker. It was a pyrrhic victory, though: Booker had captured national interest – there was a Time profile during the campaign, and an Academy Award-nominated documentary followed – and immediately started campaigning for the next race, while a federal investigation soon swallowed up James. In 2006, Booker was elected with ease, while James was on his way to jail.

Since then, the only question in New Jersey has been when – and not if – Booker will seek to run for statewide office. In 2009, the beleaguered Jon Corzine begged him to run for lieutenant governor on his ticket, an offer that Booker wisely refused. He’s often touted as a potential gubernatorial candidate for 2013, but those who know him say his eye is more on the Senate seat now held by 88-year-old Frank Lautenberg, which will be up in 2014.

This is why it’s not at all surprising to see Booker going to bat for private equity. The allies he’s cultivated on Wall Street and in the financial industry (think, for instance, of his chummy relationship with Michael Bloomberg) have made Booker a prolific fundraiser, and when he ventured into the ultra-expensive statewide game, he’ll need them more than ever. Many of them have turned fiercely against Obama over the past few years, convinced that he’s unfairly targeted them. Booker’s words on “Meet the Press” may have enraged the average Obama supporter, but to the Wall Street class they were probably close to heroic – finally, a big-name Democrat with the cojones to call out Obama on his class warfare!

The Booker calculation, in other words, is probably that the average Democratic voter’s memory of his outburst will fade long before 2014 – but that the average Wall Street donor’s won’t.

 

By: Steve Kornacki, Salon, May 20, 2012

May 21, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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