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Newark's mayor Cory Booker, just like NJ's governor Chris Christie, embodies the increasing trend of personalization in politics, characterized by a cult of individual "leadership" and charisma over party and platform.  Cory Booker is by far the most well-known candidate in the New Jersey senate race, but he is no progressive.  He has deep ties to right-wing foundations and think tanks, Wall Street and private equity, education profiteers, and the hard-right Zionists. I recommend Jason Farago's recent piece in The Guardian for an analysis of Booker's blend of ego-driven spectacle and neoliberal politics.

I was waiting for a long time to see what Booker's campaign website would say in order to find out how he tries to frame himself as a candidate.  Last week, his website finally gained its substantive content (a step above the comically content-less website of Gov. Chris Christie). Amusingly, the website is designed so that Booker's face will always take up half the screen no matter what page you are reading.  He's just that humble.

Anyway, I wanted to go through his website and highlight language I find worthy of note.  I also want to highlight contrasts between Booker and Rush Holt, my favorite candidate in the race.  I am going to ignore their environment/energy, women's rights, and gun safety sections since they demonstrate relatively few differences in policy or vision. I was suspicious that Booker would include a lot of empty "all-of-the-above" rhetoric when discussing energy. Thankfully, he does not.  I chose to leave out their discussions of health care policy as well.  Booker's section basically reflects the Democratic party line. Holt, however, is far more progressive, highlighting his support for Medicare-for-All.  I also left out education because I believe that Booker's opinions on education are the most well-known of his opinions.  As a simple yet important contrast, Booker supports voucherizing education.  Holt, on the other hand, affirms, "We must also staunchly oppose those who would take money out of our public schools in the form of vouchers."  In other words, Holt is the much stronger defender of the public school system.

Let's begin with Booker's section "Safeguarding Civil Rights and Civil Liberties."  First, he addresses marriage equality:

Fighting for Marriage Equality

While I believe in finding common ground in the name of progress, and I understand that there are many well-meaning people on the other side of this debate, the issue of equal rights for LGBTQ New Jerseyans is a red line question for me. And now that the Supreme Court has struck down the national tragedy that was DOMA, New Jersey’s Civil Union law is no longer a disgrace on the grounds of bigotry alone. It is plainly substantive discrimination that deprives New Jersey’s gay couples of over 1,100 federal rights, privileges and benefits afforded to married couples. I am confident that we will see a rush to litigation to overturn this discriminatory law, and urge our legislature to act immediately and put gay marriage before the governor once again.

Is he speaking about his best bud Chris Christie with that opening language? There's certainly an allusion to Christie at the end with a strange belief that if the legislature passes marriage equality legislation again, Chris Christie will somehow become less inclined to veto it as he has before.  (Spoiler: Christie's still a bigot.) I don't know if I've ever really heard the phrase "red line question," and the disclaimer is simply extraneous.

He also fails to mention the Employment Non-Discrimination Act at all.

Contrast this language with that in Rush Holt's section on Protecting LGBT Rights.

I believe in equality under the law – period.  In today’s America, protecting LGBT rights is the frontier in our struggle for civil rights for all.

Here’s where I stand.  You should never fear harassment at work or school because of your sexuality.  You should never lose your job because of who you love or how you express your gender.  You should be able to marry the person you choose, and your marriage should be recognized by the federal government and by every state in the nation.

    “Whenever issues affect the LGBT community in Washington, (Rush Holt) has always voted with clear cut and forthright values due to his belief in equality for everyone - with no exceptions.”  

    - Out in Jersey Magazine

I am proud to be a founding member of the Equality Caucus and have worked with them to advance the rights of LBGT individuals in the United States and around the globe.

Now, let's turn to Booker's section on Balancing Privacy and Security.
I was deeply troubled by recent revelations of the scope of the National Security Agency’s domestic data collection. We failed as a nation to thoroughly debate and create public oversight before this highly questionable data collection began. It is time to bring this program to light and fix that error.
Did we, as a nation, make this failure, or was it our elected officials in Washington who chose to vote for the PATRIOT Act without having read it?
It is a basic principle of our founding that laws be open to public debate and inspection. We must update the rules that permitted this program to exist and ensure Congress, the courts, and the people have access and oversight. We need to vigorously guard our 4th Amendment privacy protections while still protecting Americans from terrorism. There are serious questions about whether this program successfully does that, and we cannot ask these questions after the fact again.
Booker just managed to talk about the NSA revelations without mentioning either (1) the PATRIOT Act or (2) the FISA Amendments Act.  

Contrast that with the much stronger language in Rush Holt's section "Stopping Surveillance of Innocent Americans" (part of the "Civil Rights and Civil Liberties" page):

If you are innocent of wrongdoing, the United States government should not spy on your phone calls and e-mails. This is a simple belief, rooted in the clear language of the Fourth Amendment:  “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”

Yet through the misguided PATRIOT Act and FISA Amendments Act, the NSA has reportedly been gathering the phone records of millions of innocent Americans – including deeply private details such as what numbers you dialed, where you were when you placed a call, and more.  This is wrong-headed and unconstitutional, and it wastes resources spying on innocent Americans rather than pursuing the guilty.  

As former chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, I know that these surveillance programs have compromised Americans’ rights while providing only the illusion of security.  As a scientist who understands how these massive databases can be used and abused, I am frightened by what this near-universal surveillance suggests for the future of our democracy.

I will lead the fight in the Senate to repeal the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act and to end these abuses.

Additionally, Holt criticizes the the NYPD's warrantless spying on Muslim communities, an issue often ignored by the media:
Ending Warrantless Spying on Religious Communities

The evidence is clear.  For years, the NYPD spied on communities of American citizens – including those gathered for dinner, for worship, and for recreation – without a warrant and without any suspicion of wrongdoing.  The NYPD targeted these places for surveillance simply because some of the people in attendance were, or were believed to be, Muslim.

This behavior is repugnant to American values.  Just as importantly, law enforcement officers waste their limit resources when they spy on the innocent multitudes rather than focusing on the guilty few.

If law enforcement has reasonable suspicion that someone is guilty of a crime, then they should, of course, monitor that person – regardless of his or her religion.  But if law enforcement has no reason whatsoever to suspect someone, then it is unlawful, ineffective, and un-American to subject that person to surveillance simply because of his or her religious affiliation.

I will fight to ban any federal funds from being used for ethnic or religious profiling.

Frank Lautenberg voted against the PATRIOT Sunsets Extension Act of 2011 and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.  (Because of his poor health, he could not make it to Congress to vote against the FISA bill last December.)  Holt would likewise be a champion of civil liberties.

Let's now turn to Booker's section on Ensuring Economic Fairness and Security.

Washington, however, doesn’t seem to get it. Our deficit challenges are very real and must be addressed, but we will not be able to cut our way out of the jobs crisis. The defeat of many aspects of President Obama’s jobs plan, on the basis that it meant a short-term spending bump, is emblematic of Congress’s inability to reconcile smart spending and investment now with long-term deficit reduction efforts that will help ensure our economic prosperity.
I simply don't trust any mention of "long-term deficit reduction" that does not come with a discussion of the need to raise taxes (income or corporate) or reduce military spending. Spoiler: Booker addresses neither. "Long-term deficit reduction" too often just means "We need to cut Social Security and Medicare, facts be damned!"

Booker continues the elaboration of his "vision" on economic fairness:

It is critical that we work towards fairness by ensuring that everyone, at home and abroad, plays by the same rules and pays their fair share. We should be able to reach across the aisle and agree on that.
The first sentence consists of standard talking points that mean little without substantive policy recommendations.  The second sentence ignores the fact that this is a point of substantive and moral disagreement between the parties.

Booker's section on economic fairness and security also touts his record as mayor of Newark. He proudly cites development projects and corporate relocations; however, he doesn't mention whether any of such projects actually created jobs for Newark residents.  Newark's unemployment rate is currently 13.1%, so the economic situation there is no pretty picture.

If you want to read about Rush Holt's plans and record on research & development and tax fairness, you can find that on his Economy page.  Holt cites, among other points, his opposition to the Bush tax cuts and his co-sponsorship of the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act.

For further contrast with Booker, you can look at Holt's Workers' Rights page:

If we are to keep the American Dream alive in our time, we must protect the rights of workers to organize for safe working conditions and a secure future.  We must finally pass the Employee Free Choice Act to ensure that collective bargaining remains a fundamental American right.  We must build on New Jersey’s success and guarantee every worker paid medical leave – both as a matter of basic decency and of public health.

And it is long past time to raise the minimum wage.  We must ensure that every worker gets paid a living wage, and we must ensure that the minimum wage rises with inflation.

Collective bargaining, paid sick leave, and a living wage--that's your progressive economic platform.

Because of Booker's well-known fondness for private equity and Wall Street cash, I was curious to see how he would speak about Social Security.

In his section on Ensuring Economic Fairness and Security, Booker offers the following language:

And as the unpredictability and hardship of the last five years has made even clearer, we must make good on our promise to seniors and fight to protect Medicare and Social Security benefits.
This is not a substantive defense of the programs.  Any statement that does not affirm an opposition to benefit cuts is an evasion.  Obama and the Democratic leadership regularly claim that they are "strengthening" Social Security through chained CPI---although they might say, "It's a Republican idea!  Blame them!" in the same breath.

Contrast that with the stronger defense of Social Security that Rush Holt offers in the Ensuring a Secure Retirement section on his Workers' Rights page.

America is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world.  There is no reason why, after a lifetime of hard work, our workers should have to worry about making ends meet in retirement.  We can and should afford to guarantee Social Security benefits for every American.

Despite the claims of alarmists, Social Security remains in fairly good shape:  it can afford to pay out full benefits until about 2033, and even after that, the system will be able to pay out about three-quarters of promised benefits.  With some relatively minor tweaking, such as expanding the Social Security wage base – and without slashing promised benefits to seniors – we can secure Social Security for generations to come.

In other words, raise the cap.

Holt has a longer defense of Social Security and explanation of his opposition to efforts to cut it through chained CPI and other such policies on his congressional website.  He is a co-sponsor of Ted Deutch's Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act, which would increase Social Security benefits and raise the cap.

Now, let's turn to Booker's section on Keeping America Secure.

It begins with stock language, which--as usual--overestimates the threat of terrorism.  Americans are more likely to be killed by their own furniture than by a terrorist attack.  Just wait until our politicians find out about the ottoman!

The world is changing. A hyper-connected, interdependent world economy and new technologies have empowered people and organizations. That means both individual activists in repressive countries have more power to seek freedom, and that groups like al Qaeda can wreak more havoc. This has made the work of ensuring American security more difficult. Gone are the days when we worried principally about a single geopolitical foe. Instead, American security concerns now range from nuclear proliferation and cyber terrorism to plots hatched in distant countries by small bands of radicals and managing a scale down of forces in Afghanistan in a responsible and safe manner. We face new, diverse threats, and we must meet them with a smart, principled strategy that recognizes, rather than ignores, how our world is changing.
I find it amusing that this paragraph manages to both begin and end with the phrase "world is changing." One can also sense some good old-fashioned hypocrisy whenever American politicians talk about the dangers of nuclear proliferation while somehow failing to mention that the U.S. has the largest arsenal, which it shows relatively little willingness to reduce.
America is a great nation because, over the course of our history, we have done great things. The tools that made us a world power – a strong economy, a strong military, robust diplomacy with strong allies, international development, and support for democracy – all must have a place in American strategy. Few of the new challenges we face can be solved by our military alone.  Instead all of these pieces must work together to address the economic, social, political, and military challenges of our time.
"America is a great nation because...we have done great things."  Could his website editors really not come up with something more creative?

References to U.S. support for democracy abroad always make me laugh; the U.S. is very conditional in its support for democracy, as our close alliances with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and history of support for/complicity in military coups show quite well.

Also, what are the "military" challenges of our time?  We face no threat of invasion.  We haven't seen a domestic attack from another country since Pearl Harbor.  And if we look at the Lower 48 alone, we haven't been the victim of a war of aggression since 1812.  

As a young councilman, I had the opportunity to ask General Colin Powell what the greatest threat to our national security will be over the coming years. His answer: “Our persistent failure to educate our children.”
Colin Powell is a war criminal.  I might find the reference to education more endearing if Booker weren't the corporate school 'reformer' that he is.

He then does the usual chest-thumping about the military:

America has, and must continue to maintain, the strongest military force in the world. Our fighting men and women deserve the equipment they need to accomplish their missions, responsible planning necessary to ensure their success, and the care they were promised when they return home. These things are not negotiable.

The military threats of the future look very different than the challenges we faced in the 80s, 90s, or even just a few years ago, and America’s military needs to keep up. Without a major adversary like the Soviet Union, smaller nontraditional conflicts and interventions are more likely to be the rule, even as we refocus on asserting power in the Pacific. That is why military spending should be driven by a strategy to meet future threats, rather than an arbitrary number invented for political posturing or an attempt to fight the wars of past.

Why must we "continue to maintain" the largest military?  Why must we "assert power" in the Pacific?  The Soviet Union collapsed two decades ago.  A post-Cold War reality is not new anymore.  And, again, as I noted earlier, the U.S. suffers no invasions of the homeland.  

What does Cory have to say about "Iran's Nuclear Ambitions"?

As a state sponsor of terrorism, Iran poses a threat to American security, a threat made worse by their pursuit of nuclear technology in defiance of the international community and their own treaty obligations. A nuclear-armed Iran is plainly unacceptable. It would pose serious threats to American interests and to our allies, particularly Israel.
A state sponsor of terrorism?  Oh, you mean, like Saudi Arabia, one of our closest allies?

When it comes to nuclear non-proliferation, the U.S. is that guy who stockpiles guns but then says that we need background checks so that the dangerous people can't get guns.

Why no mention of Israel's nuclear arsenal, which it won't admit to having?  That, of course, is okay in the U.S.'s eyes despite treaty violations.

The president is right to keep all options, including military action, on the table while vigorously pursuing both international sanctions and a negotiated settlement that prevents Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.  Today, sanctions have imposed real and increasing harm on Iran’s economy and isolated them from the international community.  Pursuing these diplomatic and economic actions must continue while there is time, because while all options should remain on the table, the cost of military action to end the Iranian nuclear program could be very high for us and our allies in the region.
Why should military action be "on the table"?  How would that accomplish anything remotely constructive?  

"Imposing real and increasing harm on Iran's economy" means inflicting suffering on the Iranian people who are not the ones in charge of the nuclear arsenal.  The main beneficiaries have just been Iranian state-owned businesses, and the sanctions have created a humanitarian crisis with regard to the shortage of medical supplies.

And what does Cory have to say about the U.S.-Israel relationship?

In an increasingly uncertain world, Israel continues to be an advocate for freedom, equality and democracy in the Middle East, protecting the rights of its citizens while upholding the values that Americans hold dear. From a strategic perspective, the United States must continue to support Israel as a secure homeland for the Jewish people. Simply put, where Israel’s security is at stake, America’s security is at stake. We share strategic interests, face common threats and jointly aspire to achieve peace.
Israel's advocacy of "freedom, equality, and democracy" does not, however, extend to the population under occupation in Palestine, nor does such a commitment to equality extend to Arab-American travelers.

If Israel aspired to achieve peace, then there would be a Meretz-Labor coalition government (perhaps with Kadima as a junior partner, too), rather than one that includes quasi-fascist parties like Yisrael Beiteinu and Jewish Home. Just last month, Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni, who joined the coalition on the condition that she would be in charge of peace negotiations, threatened to leave the coalition unless Bibi clamped down on such right-wing ideologues who vocally and vehemently oppose peace negotiations.  I doubt she will carry through her threat, and I'm not sure if Bibi even cares.

Lasting security for Israel will ultimately require peace between Israel and its neighbors. That is why we as Americans must continue to work to facilitate direct negotiations that seek a two-state solution. However, it is the right of the Israeli government to make the tough decisions that are necessary to secure its future. The Palestinian People deserve a state, and one that allows them to prosper and thrive. That state, though, must not be a vehicle for the launching of attacks against Israel. During any eventual negotiation, certain things must remain non-negotiable, namely conditions that speak to Israel’s right to exist as a secure Jewish state.
The statement "It is the right of the Israeli government..." implies that Booker believes that the U.S. should put no pressure whatsoever on Israel.  The two-state solution would be DOA if the U.S. continues such an approach.  It's pretty much DOA anyway, considering that Bibi's coalition would fall apart if he made any advances on the issue.

The statement "That state, though, must not be a vehicle for the launching of attacks against Israel" seems to delegitimize the Palestinian desire for statehood by implying that Palestinians only want statehood to attack Israel. Security is always implicit in a two-state framework, and he implies that the acrimony and violence in the relationship has only ever been one-way.

Next, Booker has a section on International Development and Foreign Aid.

International development is one of the most important ways that we live up to America’s role as a force for good. Foreign aid isn’t cutting a check to the government of another country. Instead, it’s working with their police forces to fight the corruption that hurts business, training their militaries to protect unguarded borders from extremist infiltration, or connecting our farmers with theirs to learn the latest techniques and prevent famine. Together these tools ensure a safer, more democratic, and more stable world – things that are essential to our security at a time when difficulties overseas can have large and unpredictable impacts here at home.
In Afghanistan, the CIA's been giving buckets of cash to Karzai to pay off warlords.  What a great job of curbing corruption they're doing!  And maybe before we focus on rooting out corruption in police forces abroad (or, should I say, pretending to be doing so), we should clean up the mess of many police forces at home.  For example, check out Radley Balko's latest book  “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.”  You could also read about the rampant corruption of the NYPD.

Frankly, I don't think the U.S. should be funding any other country's military.  End stop.  The only exception of which I can think is funding an ally's military during an interstate war (e.g. lend-lease program from WWII).  International aid should be for humanitarian purposes.  

Booker's comments about food aid sounds to me like an endorsement of status quo of letting companies like Monsanto drive food aid policy.

Importantly, we must remember that America is not alone. Other countries, particularly China, are interested in exercising influence in the developing world. And while American support is often contingent on reform or democratization, other countries often have fewer scruples. The last thing we should do is retreat from our role and cede ground when our values are at stake.
So we should continue the Cold War battle over Africa but with China instead? The U.S. has no policy of which I know of making aid contingent on democratization.  For example, look at U.S. funding of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the Egyptian military.  "Reform" means the selling of state assets and the privatization of public services, preferably with American companies as the beneficiaries.  So much for scruples.

Let's go over to Holt's "Homeland Security" page.  It begins with the following language:

To protect our homeland in the 21st century, we must have with a deep understanding of the science and technology underlying nuclear, chemical, biological, and cyber attacks.  Too often, though, Congress seems to write laws to protect us from the imagined threats we see in Hollywood movies – leading to a policy response that is mismatched to real-world dangers and that imposes serious costs in dollars, lives, and lost civil liberties.
The line "Congress seems to write laws to protect us from the imagined threats we see in Hollywood movies" is so true, so depressingly true.

Holt has a section titled "Refocus the 'War on Terror,'" in which he calls on Congress to repeal the PATRIOT Act and the AUMF:

In the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks, Congress passed a series of emergency bills to provide wide-ranging, near-unilateral authorities to the executive branch.  Most notably, Congress dramatically expanded the surveillance authorities of law enforcement through the PATRIOT Act, and it enacted an Authorization for the Use of Military Force against those involved in carrying out the terrorist attacks.
Congress’s intent was to provide the short-term authorities required to respond to a national crisis.  Yet now, 12 years later, few of these authorities have been revoked, and some have been expanded.  The result is that America has entered a state of endless war against ill-defined adversaries, with federal authorities claiming ever-greater authorities in the name of uncertain goals.

These laws have been abused and must be changed.   In the Senate, I will fight to repeal the PATRIOT Act and to end the Authorization for Use of Military Force – replacing them, if necessary, with far narrower authorizations that fit today’s real threats.  To further draw a sharp break with the mistakes of our past and to reestablish America’s moral credibility in the world, I will work to finally close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

America is a stronger nation than some of our leaders give us credit for.  We need not sacrifice our most fundamental values in order to keep ourselves safe.  To the contrary, part of being the strongest nation on earth is standing by our values.

His section on foreign aid talks up microcredit:
We also must embrace new forms of foreign aid, including microcredit – a tool pioneered by the Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, who was recently awarded a Congressional Gold Medal under legislation that I wrote in Congress.  Dr. Yunus discovered that, by lending just a few dollars to impoverished families around the world, he could enable these families to build the foundation of a better life.  So far, Dr. Yunus’s organization has helped 9.4 million families around the world, providing ample proof that microcredit is an effective way of eliminating the scourge of poverty.  The United States government should learn from these millions of examples.
In his section on the military, Booker briefly alludes to the importance of helping veterans when they return home.  Holt is more thorough and specific:
I firmly believe that we have a moral obligation to guarantee that our veterans receive the health care, disability compensation, readjustment counseling, and job training and placement services that they have earned through their service to our nation.  We also have a further obligation to help veterans cope with the mental strains of their service – an obligation that, right now, we are failing to meet.  In fact, on an average day, more than 20 veterans die by suicide.

After being contacted by a constituent whose son committed suicide following two tours of duty in Iraq and bureaucratic neglect by the Army, I wrote legislation to provide a total of $80 million in additional funding for suicide prevention to the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.  In the Senate, I will fight to ensure that these funds are a permanent fixture of America’s budget.


Cory Booker will certainly be a better senator than Christie's placeholder Chiesa.  But Holt is a much more progressive choice who would continue and improve upon the legacy of Frank Lautenberg.

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