What Was Cory Booker Thinking?

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Cory Booker at a Barack Obama campaign rally i...

By Bob Cesca: Even though he obviously has some issues to overcome, I simply don't believe the progressive love affair with Newark Mayor Cory Booker is over. On Meet the Press, the popular mayor inexplicably attacked the Obama team for demonizing Mitt Romney's record with Bain Capital and likened it to the Republicans using Rev. Wright as a campaign issue.

"[F]rom a very personal level, I'm not about to sit here and indict private equity," Booker said. He continued by saying that he's "very uncomfortable with" the attacks on Bain. He added, "[T]his kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides."

Ugh. The "both sides" meme and an infuriatingly false equivalence between Bain and Rev. Wright. As someone who has been ballyhooing the mayor's political future as a potential governor of New Jersey and subsequent presidential hopeful for 2016 or 2020, this admittedly stung a little bit. I expect this kind of third-way "both sides" nonsense from the Morning Joe crew, but not one of the iconic household names in progressive politics. Not from the guy who personally shovels people out of snow banks, personally monitors pot holes and personally rescues Newark residents from burning buildings.

I've kind of wondered when we'd see the ugly side of Mayor Booker's political repertoire, and here it is. He defended Bain Capital -- Bain Capital! -- Romney's old private equity firm, responsible for busting out company after company like the Borg collective assimilating entire star systems. The process is not too dissimilar to the deal Gordon Gecko makes for Martin Sheen's airline in Wall Street. Bain often snatched up ailing companies, fired scores of workers, collected the profits, then, when they couldn't fix the hemorrhaging, it ran for the hills with a bankruptcy filing. Nothing unusual in the corporate universe of soulless automatons, really, but extraordinarily questionable as the centerpiece for an economic pitch by a presidential candidate when the Great Recession kicked the asses of millions of American workers.

President Obama is more than justified in attacking Romney's Bain history for precisely this reason. Romney is pitching his Bain job-creation record, so it's fair game -- unlike the Rev. Wright issue on so many levels, beginning with the fact that President Obama never once brought up Wright or Wright's church as a campaign point. The Republicans resurrected that one purely for Southern Strategy motives.

Do you see any comparison there? Anything remotely similar between the two things? Evidently Mayor Booker does.

I wonder why?

ThinkProgress came up with a possible answer. Mayor Booker accepted over $565,000 in donations from the financial sector, including three executives at Bain Capital, during his 2002 campaign.

Now, this could be a simple coincidence. Political campaigns receive donations from dubious sources all the time. It doesn't mean the candidate is obligated to defend the donors from attacks 10 years later.

Nevertheless, the mayor totally walked back his "nauseating" language and delivered a total reversal on Maddow last night.

My hunch is that when the mayor blurted out his pro-Bain remarks on Meet the Press, he was trying to position himself in that familiar (yet insufferable) zone typically occupied by someone who wants to appear as though he's sympathizing with the Every-Man's "they're all crooks" mentality -- to soften his liberal cred and to position himself more outside the game than he really is for the edification of a national Sunday morning audience. And that means he probably has national ambitions. Which, this episode aside, is still very good news.

Yes, I wish it had been the mayor who said on Meet the Press: "Romney's known as a job destroyer, not a creator.... I think Bain stinks. I think the idea that you bring in Bain, which is what happened in the '80s. They fire a lot of people and that's how they get prosperity for the rich." Instead, it was spazzy Jim Cramer from CNBC. And personally, I would have rather heard a walk-back of the "both sides" nonsense from the mayor.

But I think despite what we've witnessed here: a mid-level blunder and walk-back from a politician who is otherwise golden, Mayor Booker still has a superhero role to play in long term Democratic -- and presidential-level politics. Considering all of the heinous things that could have happened, this one, ultimately, is forgivable.

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