On Sunday, Newark Mayor Cory Booker called out the Obama campaign for its “nauseating” attacks on Bain Capital. Booker, a prominent Obama supporter since early in the 2008 campaign and an individual who some think may run for President in 2016, not only took an interesting stand on the issue but posed a fascinating question: Just what is the role of a campaign supporter? Read on to find out my take.
The media narrative regarding Booker is generally positive. After all, he’s a Rhodes-scholar recipient, an über-articulate, hyper-polished mayor who last year wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in personally shoveling the driveway of a snowed-in Newark citizen and this year saving a woman from a fire (yes, you read that right). In 2008, Booker campaigned for Obama and explicitly tied himself to the Obama campaign (see this op-ed written by Booker after Obama’s victory). His comments deriding the Obama campaign, though, have been met with significant negative fallout. Steve Kornacki, writing for Salon, argues that Booker is the “surrogate from hell” who made his remarks to distance himself from Obama, gain Wall Street support, and position himself for a 2014 gubernatorial run.
I’m not so sure I agree with Kornacki’s criticism. In my eyes, just because he has been tied to Obama doesn’t mean Booker is going rogue for leveling a criticism against an Obama strategy (particularly since the criticism isn’t a particular revelation: see my post about why Romney’s ties to Bain Capital should not be used as a campaign attack). Booker, as a mayor of a major Northeast city, is a public individual with a right, a duty, even, to report grievances against as major a campaign as that for the Presidency. Although it would’ve been politically beneficial for the Obama campaign had Booker voiced this concern privately, as opposed to on a morning news segment, Booker was not wrong for speaking his mind.
Kornacki’s not entirely wrong, though. The GOP has latched onto Booker’s remark and is using it as a campaign tool. Booker also should have realized that he benefits from the Obama campaign, and if he does mount a run for President in 2016, he’ll need to count on support from the same Democrats now trying to undo the damage he’s created. Kornacki certainly goes too far in naming him the “supporter from hell,” but there’s at least an argument to be made that Booker should’ve kept his opinions to himself.
The story doesn’t end there, as Booker is not the only Obama supporter to raise eyebrows in the past few days. Bill Maher crossed a new line of political demagoguery today in decrying Romney for his Mormonism and even calling the Church of Latter Day Saints a “cult” in a tweet. This isn’t the first offense for Maher, a notable firebrand who is no stranger to political incorrectness, but for me, calling a religious faith adhered to by 6.1 million Americans a “cult” is particularly reprehensible. Obama should denounce it. Some speculate that Obama’s failure to criticize Maher’s tweet stems from Maher’s financial affiliations with an Obama SuperPAC.
The hubbub over both of these mini-crises will die down by the end of the week. They certainly won’t change the outcome of the election. I think both debacles could have lasting power, however, if they prompt a discussion about the role of a supporter of a campaign. Hopefully the Booker event will allow the Obama campaign to delineate the role of a political supporter more clearly. Similarly, the backlash over the Maher tweet ought to prompt a reevaluation and discussion of Obama’s role in responding to the gaffes made by prominent financial supporters. These questions aren’t going away: in the age of the SuperPAC, politicians will surely be forced to grapple with the role of the affluent supporter. So in the coming months, when either Obama or Romney is called upon to defend the actions or accusations of a supporter, take it upon yourself to reflect upon what exactly it means to be affiliated with a candidate.