The ticket in the tag may lack regional balance, but Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York and Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey are positioning themselves as exemplary Austerity Democrats for the next election cycle. Booker built up his street cred -- Wall Street, that is -- with his criticism of the Obama re-election campaign yesterday for its attacks on Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital. The most startling thing about Booker's comment was its implicit generality, which on the one hand gave him wiggle room to later say that Romney himself wasn't immune from scrutiny, yet on the other left him sounding like an uncritical cheerleader for venture capitalism. He didn't say "stop attacking Romney," nor "stop attacking Bain." He said "stop attacking private equity." Moreover, he equated attacking private equity with attacking Rev. Jeremiah Wright, as if to say that criticizing speculative capitalism itself is as politically incorrect and dangerously provocative as criticizing a black preacher. On top of that, Booker basically dares people to question his motives by noting at the onset that "I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people invest in companies like Bain Capital." He may be happy with the totality of Bain's record -- he says "they've done a lot to grow businesses, to support businesses," -- but whether he or anyone should be happy with the power over people's lives an entity like Bain possesses, and the prerogatives that come with such power, is the real question and a legitimate issue in any campaign season.
Cory Booker seems like the sort of tailor-made politician for whom Barack Obama was a rough draft. His nativity is unquestioned, as far as I know. Like Obama, he came out of the Ivy League and rose to power after struggles with an old-school black political establishment that questioned his authenticity. Unlike Obama, he has executive experience. His community activism has largely been directed against inner-city crime. His most recent appearance in the national news before yesterday was positively Capraesque as he personally rescued a neighbor from a burning building. He seems to be the change some people were hoping for from Obama: a black politician without the racial or ideological baggage of the inner city or the deep South. With appearances like yesterday's, Booker distances himself from Obama and raises centrist hopes that he may actually be The One. The only challenge he faces over the next four years is whether to stand pat on his mayoral record or take a chance on challenging Chris Christie -- a presidential prospect for the other side -- for the governorship. But if Booker finds it "nauseating" to criticize capitalism, whether its excesses and abuses or the system itself, he may not have the stomach for a national campaign as a standard-bearer for a party or movement that tolerates capitalism, like their antagonists tolerate government, as a necessary evil at best while insisting that people, not markets, set standards for civilized life. Even then, he might still be better than Cuomo.