Newark, New Jersey mayor Cory Booker is one step closer to being the next senator from the Garden State. He won the Democratic primary on Tuesday by a significant margin over his rivals, Rep. Frank Pallone, Assembly Speaker Shiela Oliver and Rep. Rush Holt.
Historically speaking, if he wins on October 16, Booker will also be the only elected African American member of the United States Senate, and the ninth member in history. (Yeah, there’s still something very, very wrong with American voters.)
There’s another dimension to this election, meanwhile, that only appeared briefly on the blogs and via social media. Were it not for the divisiveness on the left created by the Edward Snowden NSA drama, with far-left activists supporting Snowden’s leaks and with pragmatic center-left liberals expressing disdain for the hyperbolic, outraged sensationalism of the story, the New Jersey special election would’ve surely been a huge battleground between those two factions.
Honestly, I didn’t really think about how the far-left, which orbits around writers like Glenn Greenwald and publications like Salon.com and which essentially helms the progressive movement, would regard Booker’s candidacy. But in hindsight, this faction coming out in sharp opposition to Booker doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. For some reason, be it ideological purity or self-immolation or both, the far-left appears to enjoy losing spectacularly and in a way that serves to ostracize it from the policy-making grown-up’s table.
Even though the far-left’s support was too little too late, activists vocally rallied around Holt, who was regarded as the only truly progressive candidate of the field. However, they supported Holt in a way that wasn’t just an endorsement of their candidate, they also scathingly attacked Booker’s record, even scoffing at his heroic deeds in Newark, such as when rescued a woman from a burning building and when he saved an abused dog. Among others, the attacks on Booker came from Alex Pareene and David Sirota from Salon.com, Crooks & Liars and, naturally, Glenn Greenwald. Together they engaged in a tone-deaf, polemical, bridge-burning group assault on Booker.
Why? What could the far-left have possibly won by this strategy?
In a word: nothing. Nothing. Actually, I take it back — they’ve won the sanctimonious self-satisfaction and hipster cred that goes along with taking a principled stand and then losing by embarrassingly horrendous margins, while subsequently being tagged as politically impotent. Other than that, it’s yet another example of the utter strategic foolishness of this crowd.
In the October matchup between Booker and Republican nominee Steve Lonegan, Booker leads by 19 percent. Barring a scandal, Booker is the next senator. On the other hand, Holt only led the Republican by 0.7 percent. If Sirota’s adorable little dream came true and Holt somehow won a miracle primary, Lonegan had an equal chance of winning anyway, whereas Booker is a sure-thing. But if Lonegan won, which he had a solid chance of doing, how the hell would that’ve helped to advance the progressive agenda? How would that’ve possibly helped to move the Overton Window leftward?
On the other hand, if the far-left was more politically savvy, its strongest voices would’ve seen the strategic advantage in supporting Booker even though they don’t align exactly with Booker’s politics. The smart play here would’ve been to have supported Booker knowing that they’d have been more successful lobbying a would-be Senator Booker in support of progressive legislation than it would’ve been to lobby a would-be Republican Senator Lonegan. Or perhaps they could’ve still supported Holt, but in a way that didn’t involve verbally burning in effigy the obvious nominee and clear winner in October, thus damaging the far-left’s relationship with the new senator and making him less likely to pay attention to their demands and grievances. Either way, Holt is still a member of the House of Representatives, but the far-left would’ve had another ally in the Senate, too.
It would’ve cost the far-left nothing to pursue this far wiser approach, and they would’ve won a lot. Instead, cue the Price is Right fail horn. The far-left fumbled the ball again. They did it by supporting Ralph Nader in 2000, they did it by supporting John Edwards in 2008 (can you imagine the disastrous Edwards presidency?), they did it by teaming up with Grover Norquist to kill the healthcare reform bill, they did it by primary-challenging Democrats in 2010 and they did it by threatening to primary-challenge President Obama in 2012.
At every turn, the far-left stupidly undermines its political goals simply because it doesn’t understand the realities of American politics. And if perchance I’m wrong, and they do get it, they spend way too much energy trying to reinvent the wheel rather than, you know, winning. In the end, in order for elected leaders to do what you want them to do, they have to be able to do it, and they have to want to do it. So that means supporting the candidate nearest to your values… who can actually win.
UPDATE: I originally included a link to a Daily Kos contributor who took issue with being labeled “far-left.” I’ve removed that link. Here’s the writer’s response.