Booker time

I was giving a talk to NC State Scholars students yesterday and I mentioned my partiality towards Booker a couple of times and in the Q&A, a student asked me to elaborate, so I did.  I haven’t done that here in a while.  So, some of what I said yesterday…

I’ve been a fan of Booker’s since I read his interview on criminal justice reform with German Lopez.  I especially liked this part:

GL: So the bill received some big changes recently, after it was released last year, due to fears about some of the measures benefiting violent offenders. But I know that a lot of reformers and experts actually liked those portions; they think it’s important to acknowledge that sentences are too long not just for drug offenders but for everyone in general. Where do you stand on that, and is it something you intend to work on moving forward?

CB: I’ve spoken about this publicly a lot. And I don’t have unanimity in my own caucus about this. But we have an issue with violent crime in the sense that everybody makes a stark difference between violent offenders and nonviolent offenders.

But for people in the criminal justice working world, that is a gray line at best. You could have someone who’s in a car, driving a boyfriend, and the boyfriend decides to jump out, pull a gun out, rob somebody, jumps back in the car, and she keeps driving — and now she’s a violent criminal.

So we need to start having a better conversation about the many people who are languishing in prison for very long terms when their crime was not showing the right sense and stopping the car and exiting the car as a driver or what have you.

I still think we have disproportionate punishments for people who are so-called violent criminals but don’t necessarily involve any direct actions of violence.

In addition to that, the circumstances to violent crime. I’ll give you an example on an assault charge. If you and I got into a bar fight, and you punched me, and I fell backward and I hit my head, and I died, that’s a horrible crime — but there are circumstances within that. Does that person deserve life imprisonment?

I just think there’s a fear to have a candid conversation about proportionality when it comes to things that are labeled as violent crimes.

This is not controversial stuff for a student of criminal justice.  But it sure is for most politicians.  Three cheers for Booker for being forthright and honest about violent crime, something vanishingly few politicians are willing to be.

It should also be noted that Booker is smart and thoughtful across a whole range of issues, as is clear in this interview with Ezra.

On a practical level, I truly think he is the most general election electable of all the Democrats.  We’ve already seen that plenty of Americans will vote for a Black man.  And strong evidence that having a Black man boosts Black turnout.  Likely beyond the costs of racists who would otherwise vote for a white Democrat.  As for how ideologically pure or not he is, I also get the sense that the most woke of Democrats are “so not a white man” and that some of Booker’s limited heterodoxy may be therefore be more easily forgiven in an identity politics world.

Also, he’s just generally got a lot of stuff going for him. Edward-Isaac Dovere had a nice Atlantic piece, “Why Hasn’t Cory Booker’s Campaign Caught Fire? On paper, he’s exactly what many Democratic voters say they want.”

Staffers for the senator’s campaign are exasperated and annoyed. Booker has tried everything, down to providing hand warmers for the 200 people at the rally in front of the statehouse after he finished filing for the primary. He’s done everything right: established the necessary relationships in key states, racked up more endorsements than any other candidate, performed well in the debates. He carries the message of unity that Democrats say they want. He’s been out front on gun control, he grapples publicly with America’s structural racism, he’s proposed innovative government programs for combatting economic inequality, he’s been squaring progressive politics with openness to business for years. He’s made no big gaffes, had no significant stumbles. His messaging has been consistent. At candidate events, he reliably gives the best speeches to the most thunderous ovations.

And yet few people believe he can win the nomination—and that’s been true for the entire 10 months he’s been running. Black voters don’t seem to believe he can win. Nor do progressive voters. Nor do Wall Street voters. Though his campaign has had no layoffs, no whiplash restructurings, no finger-pointing leaks about internal drama, some staffers have started to wonder if the time has come to start interviewing elsewhere. And now, just as Booker was grasping for whatever slivers of visibility he could grab hold of in impeachment’s shadow, Deval Patrick and Mike Bloomberg have jumped into the race, saying voters in search of a moderate, unifying, electable candidate should take a look at them. Wait a minute, the Booker campaign could be forgiven for saying. Couldn’t you take a look at someone already in the race? He’s right here!

“A lot of people in the party seem to think they need more choices,” Robert Backus, a New Hampshire state representative who’s endorsed Booker, told me after the New Hampshire rally. “They should have listened to Cory—they probably wouldn’t feel that way.”

So why isn’t Booker doing better.  Dovere doesn’t end up with much more than a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and I cannot do all that much better.

Meanwhile, today I took the Washington Post’s fun quiz on which Democratic candidate you most agree with.   The winner for me?  Yang :-).  But among actual serious candidates, it was a tie between Booker and Harris.

What I especially liked was the question on nuclear power.  So not popular with the Democratic left.  But if you are actually serious about reducing carbon emission and making decisions based on reasonable policy analysis instead of emotion, nuclear is so the way to go.  And, yet, Booker was the only one of the serious contenders to take this position.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth “I’ve got a plan for that” Warren surely knows better, but panders to the left on this one.  I do like Warren, but she frustrates me so.  Booker is willing to take empirically-supported but unpopular stands to a degree that Warren is not.

Anyway, it’s all just spitting into the wind at this point, but in the alternate reality where Booker is performing better in these primaries and on his way, I maintain he is the single best candidate to defeat Trump.  Plus, he’d be a good president to boot.

%d bloggers like this: