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Cory Booker is getting virtually no traction in his presidential bid.
A story last week noted that in one poll, Booker’s standing shot up by 100 percent – he went from 1 percent to 2 percent.
So Booker needs to do something to get noticed. This week’s Democratic debates give Booker, who will be on stage Wednesday night, a chance to do just that. But the senator got an early start in terms of making waves when he emotionally – as he is wont to do – criticized Joe Biden, the front runner in all polls.
That was when Biden said last week that as a young senator he got along with the likes of James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia. Both were segregationists who fought civil rights legislation. Eastland and Talmadge were well-established U.S. senators when Biden joined the club in 1973 so it probably was practical for the young man from Delaware to seek their guidance – up
to a point.
Still, Biden, who has a history of saying silly things, certainly could have made the same point about bipartisanship by mentioning other senators. His example was clumsy, but does it go beyond that?
Booker thinks so.
Here’s what he had to say in a fundraising email.
“I know the damage that segregationists caused and how that still affects black and brown communities like the one I go home to. I know the people that Vice President Biden worked with would not have wanted me in the Senate. And I know that anyone running to be president of the United States and the leader of our party shouldn’t need this lesson.”
He also demanded an apology from Biden, which has not been forthcoming. Biden then followed suit and asked Booker to apologize.
That didn’t happen either.
Is Booker overreacting?
Let’s keep in mind that Biden was not endorsing the views of two segregationist senators almost 50 years after the fact. And Biden’s record in supporting civil rights is beyond question.
He used a poor example, but Biden’s overall point was a good one. The U.S. Senate by design has two representatives from every state. People from different states can think differently even if they happen to be, as they were in this case, members of the same political party.
That makes it incumbent for people to sometimes seek common ground even if they strenuously disagree on fundamental issues. That’s all Biden was saying at a time when it seems bipartisanship is vanishing.
In the wake of the uproar, some African-American lawmakers came to Biden’s defense, including a South Carolinian who said he had worked cooperatively with Strum Thurmond. The onetime governor and senator was such an ardent segregationist that he led a walkout at the 1948 Democratic Party convention over a civil rights plank in the platform.
Nonetheless, it would not be surprising if Booker brings up this point again on Wednesday. That would be a mistake.
The hunch here is that most people, and yes, most Democrats, are not all that roused up by a presidential candidate who said he had civil dealings more than four decades ago with those with whom he disagreed.
The danger here for Booker, and, in fact, all Democratic presidential candidates, is assuming positions that are out of touch with the views of average people. Keep in mind that a majority of voters – even after
this internal party flap – likely have no idea who James Eastland and Herman Talmadge were.
Judging from the results of the midterm election, Democrats in many parts of the country, New Jersey among them, have a great weapon in Donald Trump. His mere presence in the White House energizes Democrats in particular and liberals in general.
But one way to dilute that advantage is for Democrats to get bogged down over tangential issues that have little to do with people’s daily lives.