Congratulations, New Jersey 'Pragmatists'

[This post is going to be a lot of pent-up venting, as a way of highlighting a crucial issue for today while also highlighting what might have, should have, been in New Jersey recently. First, the venting]:

Congratulations, New Jersey!

First, you gave the country Chris Christie as a national-level politician. Then, just last month, in a Democratic primary to determine who would face this charming specimen of tea-party Republicanism in the special election to fill Frank Lautenberg’s recently-vacated Senate seat, you chose Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

Cory Booker? Why is that a bad thing, you ask? I mean, doesn’t Cory Booker do all sorts of amazing, heroic stuff like rescue abused dogs from freezing to death and women from out of burning buildings?

Why, yes. Yes, he does do those things.

And if what we as Democrats – or we as a country – needed in the Senate was people who were personally heroic, Cory Booker might be a solid, sensible choice. If Cory Booker were applying to be a fireman or even running for fire chief, he’d definitely be a solid choice. But the problems facing the United States Senate today are not ones which can be solved by acts of personal physical bravery, and Cory Booker (and, not coincidentally to this story, a small host of other Democratic hopefuls) were running in the Democratic primary for a US Senate seat.

One of that small group of other Democratic hopefuls whom the Democratic primary voters of New Jersey, in their wisdom, overlooked in favor of Booker was current Representative Rush Holt. Who is Rush Holt? Well, in addition to being an actual rocket scientist (he was assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory), and one of only two research physicists in Congress (Holt’s PhD dissertation was entitled “Calcium absorption lines and solar activity: a systematic program of observations”), Holt taught physics, religion and public policy(!) at Swarthmore college for nearly a decade. Holt’s the kind of accomplished (not to mention intelligent) that most people never even approach in their own lives.

More to the point, though, Holt is also the kind of guy who has regularly gone around during his time as a politician saying stuff like this and this and this in public. In short, he’s wonderfully progressive. Also – again, not incidentally to this story – Rush Holt had the following to say about Wall Street when he was campaigning for the Democratic nod in New Jersey’s Senate primary:

That’s instructive for two reasons. The first reason has to do with what noted heroic rescuer Cory Booker had to say about the world of high-finance last year, in a very telling bit of unscripted TV. Live as a guest on Meet the Press not long before the 2012 election, Booker and the rest of the panel were shown a very strong ad from the Obama-aligned PrioritiesUSA that hit Mitt Romney hard (but accurately and fairly) on his time at Bain Capital. Asked what he thought after the video concluded, Booker offered up this (just compare it to Holt’s ad, above):

I have to just say from a very personal level, I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity. To me, it’s just this–we’re getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know. I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record, it ain’t–they’ve done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses, And this, to me, I’m very uncomfortable with.

Booker followed this remarkable statement up moments later by proclaiming himself “nauseated” by such attacks on private equity. To be as fair to Booker as it’s possible to be, the two subjects he and Holt spoke about in their respective videos above are not the same. A financial transaction tax (FTT) has little to do with the sort of rapacious behavior of private equity firms like Mitt Romney’s old firm Bain which Booker took such pains to indignantly and staunchly defend. But both ideas concern the nerve center of finance in our country: Wall Street. And both statements shed a great deal of light on the attitudes each of these candidates will or would have brought to bear in the US Senate on one of the most critical issues of our time: the runaway financialization of our economy. Jersey Democrats, you could have had a rocket scientist with an impeccable progressive pedigree who would’ve fought hard for all the things progressives and Democrats claim to be in favor of. Instead you chose a relentless self-promoter who rescues dogs and women in his spare time, but in his professional life as a politician, apparently feels like we need to lay off Wall Street and financial firms.

And before anyone tries to suggest that Holt was a fantasy candidate on the order of Dennis Kucinich’s repeated candidacies for President – something that only ultra-liberals with the vapors would even support, and who would never win – let me direct your attention to the in-state polling which showed that against a knuckle-dragging tea-partier like Lonegan, either Booker OR Holt would have won. That means, if you’re keeping score, that all the Republican-lite centrist Dems who drape themselves in the trappings of pragmatism as they try to suggest that voting for genuine progressives is throwing one’s vote away are merely using that as cover for voting for the tepid Third Way-types they favor anyway, and trying to scare everyone else into doing it, too. Even when polling shows that a genuine progressive not just has a shot, but is favored to win, “pragmatic” Dems will still choose the corporate Dem.

Now for the crucial issue for today that I promised you, which ties in to all of the above. So, after winning the NJ Democratic Senate primary, Cory Booker is the (heavy) odds-on favorite to win the seat and become the next Senator from the great state of New Jersey. To win the seat, he will no doubt draw upon a large reservoir of campaign contributions from the very Wall Street interests to whom he has all but pledged fealty already, cementing further the alignment of his views (and votes) with them and against the 99%. What has Rush Holt been doing since being defeated by Booker? Just this week, this: introducing the Surveillance State Repeal Act:

Mr. Holt, whose Surveillance State Repeal Act would eliminate much of the escalation in the government’s spying powers undertaken after the 2001 terrorist attacks, was responding to news reports about N.S.A. documents showing that the agency has spent billions of dollars over the last decade in an effort to defeat or bypass encryption. The reports, by The New York Times, ProPublica and The Guardian, were posted online on Thursday.

Just for comparison’s sake, what does Cory Booker have to say on the subject of the surveillance state overreach? Though the most-recent revelations regarding the NSA’s ability to circumvent or break much of standard-issue encryption on the web was not yet public at the time, the first of the NSA revelations were already surfacing when the primary in New Jersey was still underway. During the primary, Booker had this to say on the subject:

Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the Democratic primary’s front-runner, says on his campaign website he supports increased oversight and discussion about the NSA programs…[but]…Booker did not support the Amash amendment, his Senate campaign spokesman Kevin Griffis told The Star-Ledger in July.

But Booker “believes that we must amend the Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in order to strike a better balance between privacy and security,”

He “supports increased oversight and discussion.” NO specifics as to how FISA should be amended, or to what degree (or what ends). Clear as mush. Frankly, it’s a model of a studied, political opinion – by which I mean: one that leaves room for wiggling a substantial amount in either direction, should the wind blow that way.

So, thanks again, New Jersey. It’s too early to say what sort of chance of passage Rep. Holt’s new bill to reform and rein in the surveillance state has. But bills like this which challenge deep pocketed interests with powerful lobbies in Washington, while they may narrowly pass the house, are the kind of bills for which the Senate is the place they go to die. And if corporate-leaning centrist Cory Booker should happen to wind up in the nays column on this vote – or other equally vital, equally close votes that pit the people against the powerful – we’ll have even more reason to thank the country’s (and especially New Jersey’s) “pragmatic” Democrats.

Down With Tyranny! has more on Booker, if this wasn’t enough.

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