It is fitting that the news of Cory Booker quitting the race was completely overwhelmed by other, pettier news items on Monday. That was the story of his whole campaign after all.
I didn’t think he was going anywhere. “Impossible” is a strong word but a word that applies to someone seeking the Democratic nomination while being a big fan of charter schools and having to wear the label “Betsy DeVos’s favorite Democrat.” Unions aren’t what they used to be as a political force and there are plenty of Rahm Emanuel types among Democrats who are perfectly willing to tell them to fuck off. Teachers unions, though, are still a pretty heavy hitter. We’ve seen countless examples over the past 4 years of teachers unions, even in places like WV and OK, throw their weight around.
That said – and I certainly wasn’t going to vote for him, believe me – I’ve always had the feeling that his views on charter schools made sense in the context of his political career. Imagine spending your life seeing (up close) the state of public schools in places like Camden, Newark, and Trenton. You’d probably be ready to try just about anything to fix them, even “anything” in the form of privatization hucksters with a lot of financial backing and promises they won’t keep but sure sound pretty. You might even, at one point, think that it’s a worthwhile improvement to serve 5% of the student population and write off the other 95% if you start to believe that the current write-off rate is closer to 100%.
His candidacy also shows the ceiling to the “I’m a Nice Dude!” approach to politics. His few supporters are lamenting that he tried to run a “positive campaign” and went nowhere. Being a nice, agreeable, physically attractive, fun Dude will in fact get you very far in life, and as a US Senator it’s hard to argue that he did not indeed go very far. But going all the way to the top is another matter, because eventually you rise high enough that you get to the level at which the most ambitious, the most venal, the most wealthy, and the most driven people are your direct competition. If you’re Nice Dude and the others are bloodless, fake-smiling careerists who would literally cut your throat to get all the way to the top, you are not going to win.
Nobody should shed tears for Cory Booker – or Harris, who’s in a similar position. Both have “Senator for Life” privileges in their home states. They’re going to do just fine in life, and already have. Maybe it’s laudable that they didn’t have the kind of back-stabbing killer instinct that’s needed to succeed at the very top, or maybe it’s not useful to laud people for their inherent personality characteristics. As we are starting to see very, very clearly this week, running for President is not something you can do if your goal, and your default worldview, is to emerge from the process with everyone as friends.