Tuesday, May 22, 2012

IN DEFENSE OF CORY BOOKER: Why Think Progress Is Unfair and Unbalanced

Liberal blogs have fallen in line to excoriate Newark Mayor Cory Booker for describing President Obama's campaign attacks against Bain Capital as "nauseating." Although Booker has tried to walk back his commentary, he still faces a lot of criticism, especially since rightwingers have used his comments as a weapon against the president's campaign strategy.

For several reasons, I strongly support Cory Booker, and I condemn progressives who criticize him for his remarks. And as I explain below, I am especially troubled by a Think Progress article that seeks to raise questions about Booker by exposing campaign donations he received from Bain executives and other financial industry employees. Here is why I support Booker and disagree with Think Progress.

FIRST, Booker was seemingly stating his true feelings. I understand that a surrogate for a candidate should stay on message. But to the extent that Booker deviated from a dictated message, this is a problem between him and Obama's campaign team. It is not an issue about his morality and value as a public official. If we have reached a point in our society where honest reflection and disagreement are sources of scorn, then public discourse in this country is in a state of extreme crisis.

SECOND, Obama has received more money from Wall Street employees and PACs than any other politician in recent US history. This is where Think Progress becomes relevant.

Think Progress reports that Bain and other members of the "financial industry" gave Cory Booker $565,000 dollars during his 2002 run for mayor of Newark. The article states that this fact "suggests a possible reason for [Booker's] unease with attacks on Bain Capital and venture capital." If this is a reason for Booker's unease with attacks on Bain and venture capital, then progressives should express similar discomfort regarding Obama attacking the same groups.

In the 2008 election cycle, Obama's top ten donors included: Goldman Sachs ($1,013,091), JP Morgan Chase & Co. ($808,799), and Citigroup ($736,771).  UBS AG, a large multinational financial services company, occupied the fifteenth position on the list ($532,674)(Please note: these figures come from employees and PACs of the companies, not from direct corporate donations).

Wall Street contributions accounted for 20 percent of Obama's big money campaign donations in 2008. Obama received $13,100,000 from bundlers in the financial services industry. This amount was second only to the $21,7000,000 he received from law firms, which undoubtedly included many firms that provide services to the financial sector.

Although Mitt Romney has overtaken Obama among Wall Street donors, Obama still hopes to collect money from the financial services industry, including from persons involved in the private equity business.

THIRD, Obama has received money from Bain executives. This is perhaps the most striking omission from the Think Progress critique of Booker.

Stephen Pagliuca, a Managing Director of Bain Capital, has given $38,500 to Obama Victory Fund 2012. He also gave $30,800 to the DNC late last year. Jonathan Lavine, the Managing Partner of Bain Capital, gave equal amounts to Obama and the DNC, as did Mark Nunnelly, another Managing Director for Bain. This information is collected in an article on Commentary Magazine, a conservative blog. But it appears originally on the Huffington Post "Fundrace" page.  It is not mentioned anywhere in the Think Progress critique of Booker.

Overall, "[e]mployees of Bain Capital and Bain & Company have given more than $152,000 to Obama's campaign and the joint fundraising operation he runs with the Democratic National Committee." Although Romney has received much more from Bain employees than Obama, as of today, Obama has received over $1 billion in campaign donations since he began running for the 2004 senate elections. He is the only politician ever to raise this amount of money in US history. Clearly, a large chunk of that money has come from financial services and other corporate sectors.

Final Thoughts
Reasonable minds can disagree over the relevance of Romney's history at Bain to his candidacy for president. An individual's past professional performance is certainly something that voters should scrutinize. But Obama's campaign is trying to make a broader statement about Romney, wealth, private equity, and the "middle class."

Perhaps this latter use of Romney's history by Obama's campaign caused Booker discomfort. It is definitely hypocritical to condemn private equity while relying on the profits it generates to run for president. Also, Obama's campaign has stated that it does not disagree with private equity, which makes Booker's comments even more compelling.

The liberal criticism of Booker has nothing to do with reasonable debate. Instead, many liberals are seeking to portray him as a corporate hack. These criticisms, however, ignore his political record; they also ignore the vast amount of money that Obama has received from the financial services industry.

Liberals have rightfully complained about the coarse nature of political discourse during Obama's presidency. They have no standing to complain, however, when they are engaged in the same type of harmful discourse.

Note: This article was updated to clarify that Obama has attacked Bain Capital - not Bain and Company.


rpannier said...

Got to disagree

First, and you did address it in your article, his comments damage the President and his messaging.
What you don't mention, and it is a serious problem; This kind of off-messaging has damaged the Democrats ability to stay on message and explain policies for the better part of 3 decades. Booker is not the first and others have been severely criticized by liberals (a group you seem to feel at ease blasting) ask Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman, Harold Ford, etc. In fact, part of Booker's defense has been that he is an 'independent Democrat,' kind of like Heath Schuler claims to be one as well.

If Booker wants to be a spokesman for the President, then he is obliged to aid the President by not undercutting him in public. Disagreements over policy or campaign related issues are done in private. Not in a forum that gives Romney an open opportunity to attack Obama.

Second, your attempt to criticize 'liberals' is (IMO) silly. One only has to go to a number of liberal websites and blogs to see that liberals have been very critical of the money that Obama has taken from JP Morgan Chase, BofA and other banking/financial institutions and corporations.

I would be curious if you went through Think Progress' site to see if there have been criticisms of Obama for the money he's received from these same institutions that Booker has.
If that's the case then I would argue that their criticism is appropriate since they are holding Booker to the same standard they are holding Obama too (as well as Hoyer, Schuler, Nelson and others).

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Going off-message is not a substantive critique of Booker's statement, however. I mentioned that in the post. Perhaps you missed it.

As I said in the article, if Booker has damaged his relationship with Obama's campaign, that is not something that liberals can resolve. Furthermore, the critiques of Booker have focused on the substance of the comments. Many folks, in fact, are calling him a corporate sellout.

Also - this blog post criticizes one particular Think Progress article. I (and probably you) know that several people write for TP. This article, however, is unfair and unprincipled. It does not mention Obama's money from Bain and corporate America, but it suggests something ominous regarding Booker's receipt of the same money. Thus, I stand by my description of the article. It was bad journalism.

It is hard to say that the author of the article is holding Booker to the same standard as Obama when the article suggests that Booker is corrupt but remains silent about Obama. If Booker is corrupt, then so is Obama -- which, as Booker said -- makes the Bain ads nauseating! How can a "corrupt" Obama criticize Romney's practices?

You have not mentioned this blatant contradiction. But it is the main point of my article.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

PS: It is fine to disagree. That was another point I made. If people hadn't made such a big deal about it, Booker's comments would have faded away into oblivion.

Haribaldi Jones said...

I agree. It was the "stay on script" backlash by the Obama Re-Election Team, mandating Booker into the backtrack grovel, that enhanced the PR problem. Booker is a grown man, with a broad constituency, and is certainly not making a radical point. Obama's handlers should probably have just made a joke about it, and moved on. I guess they're in hyper-reflex mode, right now, with Romney running even (when he should be 7-8 points behind at this stage).

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Haribaldi Jones - Great point. I agree.

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