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NEWARK – Donald Trump most famously – or infamously – talked about American “carnage” and a nation in such bad shape only he could fix it.
Cory Booker is going in the opposite direction. This is a candidate who truly believes America is already great and that it can only become greater.
On the day he officially launched his campaign for the presidency, Booker stood outside his home on Longworth Street, somewhat oblivious to Friday’s freezing weather, and talked about the eternal goodness of the American people.
He said he wanted his campaign to appeal to the “best ideals, best values” and the best of “who we are.”
Booker often sounds more like a preacher than a New Jersey politico and that trait certainly was in play.
He said there is more that bonds the American people than divides them.
“I believe we are going to consolidate in this country against the policies of hate and division,” he said.
All this makes for good sound bites, but here’s the reality: When it all shakes out, Booker is going to be one of probably more than a dozen candidates seeking the Democratic party nomination. And how far is sweetness and light going to go?
Booker said he’s going to campaign for president the way he campaigned years ago when he was running for the Newark City Council. That seems a bit far-fetched, no? It’s not easy to seek the presidency by going door-to-door.
Still, it’s tough to question Booker’s sincerity. His message of stressing what’s right with America, generally speaking, has a receptive audience. People like to be told they are not the problem.
To understand perhaps Booker’s outlook, it’s instructive to consider his family history, which he briefly touched on. Booker made his political mark in Newark, but he was raised in quite a different environment – suburban Harrington Park in Bergen County.
His story is well-known to New Jersey politicians, but probably not to those around the country. His parents needed assistance from a fair housing group to integrate a white suburb. Booker used that episode to emphasize how average people step forward to fight injustice. Young Cory Booker flourished in Harrington Park, starring on the high school football team and attending Stanford University.
That was then. Today he lives in Newark. Booker at times on the stump has talked about living in the city’s Central Ward. It’s meant apparently to convey some type of urban decay. The city certainly has problems, but the houses on Booker’s street seem well-maintained. Many of them were decked out Friday afternoon with Booker for president signs.
In fact, Booker was speaking to a large media contingent when a neighbor yelled encouragement from across the street.
“Hola,” Booker said to someone he obviously knew. Later, he answered a question from a reporter with a Spanish-language TV station in Spanish.
A state law would allow Booker to run for president and also seek reelection as senator simultaneously.
Asked about that safety net, Booker said, “My focus is running for president of the United States.”
In that capacity, Booker knows criticism of him, and the city he once ran as mayor, will come and grow in intensity if his campaign shows signs of success.
The man who once got publicity for helping rescue a resident from a burning home said that when an average guy helps someone cross the street, it’s just helping someone cross the street.
But when a politician does it, people think it’s all about politics, he said. And that’s something he’s prepared to live with.