I am no lover of New Jersey or New Jersey politics. But after returning to find the Garden State in election-time frenzy I feel obliged to comment on current political landscape.
A lot has been said already about Cory Booker’s ties to hedge fund managers, business executives, and other members of the 1 percent. This article in the Guardian, which describes Booker as “a neoliberal egomaniac who sees government as nothing more than a charity for billionaires and corporations to support as they please,” chronicles Booker’s attempts to suckle at the teat of high finance quite well. None of this is particularly surprising. Still, while reading over the names of contributors to Booker’s campaign something caught my eye.
In an article titled “Zuckerberg, Spielberg, Affleck in All-Star Financing of Booker for Senate,” posted on Bloomberg of all places, Christy R. Walton, the world’s richest woman — with a net worth of $37.8 billion – is also listed as a contributor to the Booker campaign. According to Forbes, Alice and Christy Walton … gave $200,000 to Restore Our Future and $50,000 to Our Destiny [both Republican PACs], respectively.” With the financial support of the sinister Walton family, whose members gave generously to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, the Booker-Romney ticket might be a more apt and certainly more descriptive way to refer to the current Newark mayor’s bid for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Talk of the overlapping Booker-Romney backers reminds me of the time Cory Booker criticized Barack Obama for speaking out against private equity firms before it was revealed that during his 2002 run for mayor Booker received over $565,000 from Bain and the financial industry. Bain Capital is Mitt Romney’s former firm.
In many ways Cory Booker is a model of a new incarnation of corporate hegemony. And while ranting about money in politics is a hackneyed kind of critique, examining the changing ways the wealthy exert political control is relevant. Take Booker as a character or physical model and let’s assign to him a political stance.
He leans forward like the internet moguls who support him, seemingly in the pursuit of progress. He cooperates with the titans of social media and embraces the new entrepreneurial spirit of the age. Cory Booker likes start-ups. He uses the word “innovation”. This is his most evident stance – the one that ingratiates himself with both Silicon Valley elites and well-meaning, white liberals. But this stance is also a diversion; distracted by the salience of his familiar and friendly lean we forget to notice where his feet are planted.
Booker’s feet are planted in the place where austerity, privatization (school vouchers, anyone?), and crony capitalism come from. His campaign is powered by the country’s wealthiest citizens who have gained immensely during the economic downturn while the rest of the country has suffered. While reigning over Newark, one of the poorest and crime-addled cities, he pals around with Romney backers and the hedge-fund gentry. Under the guise of pragmatism and budgetary necessity, he forced fiscal hardship onto an already poor and weakened city.
Booker embodies today’s post-partisan and hyper-capitalist politics. As the country’s elite come to a consensus on formerly divisive social issues like gay marriage in abortion they unite behind candidates, regardless of party affiliation, willing to advance their interests. In the past, political contributors would try to hide their double-dealing. But now it isn’t necessary. The differences between the two parties have become nearly insignificant. And if anything, bipartisan political contributions are lauded as a sign of moderation, balance, and willingness to compromise instead of evidence of ideological shakiness and insincerity.
The other side of the socially liberal push forward is the economically regressive screw backwards – the incessant boring of holes in the social safety net. The latter uses the former as a means of obfuscating its true nature. But still, there is something strange in the brazenness of Booker’s Republican backers and the frankness of Booker’s defense of them.