Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey was in the news a lot last week, receiving both praise and ire from liberal progressives. It seems the once promising political figure is now experiencing scrutiny for many of his lesser known or publicized political decisions. Rightfully so.
On the one hand, Booker gave an impassioned testimony against the confirmation of Jeff Sessions for Attorney General, emphasizing that Sessions will not take the steps necessary to protect minority groups in the United States.
On the other hand, Booker got heat for voting down a resolution proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Amy Klobuchar that could reduce the price of prescription drugs by allowing Americans to buy them from Canada, where prices are much lower. As it turns out, pharmaceutical companies have a large presence in Booker’s state. In addition, Jezebel revealed that pharmaceutical companies have donated around $267,338 to Booker’s campaigns for Senate. In defense of his actions, Booker shot back that he was concerned that the drugs would not meet American safety standards.
But really, why should people care about Booker’s glaring inconsistency, as he champions justice for all on Wednesday and blocks Americans from receiving affordable prescriptions on Thursday ?
Booker is a rising star in the Democratic Party. He got his start in Newark and served on the city council before running for mayor. In 2002, he lost to longtime Newark Mayor Sharpe James, but Booker ran again, defeating Sharpe’s Deputy Mayor Ronald Rice in 2006.
During Booker’s tenure as mayor he tackled Newark’s problems with an innovative-styled liberalism that revitalized the city center and brought big initiatives from Wall Street and Silicon Valley into Newark, such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who donated $100 million to Newark’s schools in 2010. The New Republic reports that most of that money went to charter schools.
As mayor, Booker employed social media to publicly assist and talk politics with Newark residents, often drawing national attention for appearing to be “hands on.” Back in 2010, he and his team arrived to help people who asked for help on Twitter shovel snow during a storm and he even delivered diapers to one mother who could not get out of her house.
While in Newark, however, Booker stirred controversy. Residents were concerned that he was more available to give commencement speeches than talk to his constituents. Violent crime increased and accusations of corruption surfaced just as he was elected to the Senate. Many Black Newark residents saw him as politically posturing and distancing himself from Newark’s problems in lieu of chasing his bigger aspirations.
In her 2012 book The New Black Politician, Emory Professor Andra Gillespie writes that Booker joins President Barack Obama in a class of young, Black politicians who believe they can gain support from a multi-racial coalition of voters—while potentially losing some of the Black vote along the way.
If some of Black Newark felt that Booker did not represent them, it could very well be because he was not trying to.
Booker was mayor of Newark for seven years before running for and winning Senator Frank Lautenberg’s Senate seat, after he passed away in 2013. Cory Booker appears to be a successful politician: he is good-looking, he is a Yale Law graduate and attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. His name is frequently floated as a potential contender for 2020.
However, the dual nature of Booker’s commitments are concerning.
In light of the 2016 election, now is not the time for (more) Democrats who compromise on behalf of corporate greed. Booker’s (honorable) stand against Jeff Sessions, like his speech at the Democratic National Convention, and his deal with Zuckerberg, once again got him national attention. Yet, his late night vote in favor of big pharma raises serious concerns and questions.
We must know what we can expect from Cory Booker when no one is looking. If Booker wants our attention, and ultimately, our vote, we are going to need someone who is open and consistent with their political positions—not waving for our attention only when it is politically expedient.
Vox writes that this is simply a case of a senator representing an industry within his own state, siding with companies that perhaps employ his constituents. To be sure, Booker will have to reckon with the citizens of New Jersey as he runs for re-election every few years to keep his senate seat. But if he even wants a national audience, Booker will also have to grapple with an increasingly vocal left and the fact that his political stances are highly visible at this particular moment.
Booker does not have to be perfect, but he should know, we want him to take private stands that we can all be proud of in public. We will be watching and we will be waiting.
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