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Cory Booker's false-equivalence problem

Newark, NJ mayor Cory Booker had a little fun last week with his state's governor, Chris Christie, in a web skit.

Newark, NJ mayor Cory Booker had a little fun last week with his state's governor, Chris Christie, in a web skit. Booker, who recently suffered minor burns when he rushed into a burning building and helped save his neighbor's life, is depicted more or less as a political Superman: solving any number of problems from fires, flat tires, cats in trees, and replacement guitars for Bruce Springsteen. It offers a few chuckles, but the skit comes off like something Funny or Die rejected -- but it gets good at the end. At least, interesting.

The skit ends, oddly, with Booker (acting as if he's) fielding a call from Mitt Romney, who is asking him to be his VP candidate. After having "gotten" every issue up until then, the Republican Christie steps in, takes the phone from Booker, and says, "I got this." What I'm not sure they meant to imply is that Romney's candidacy is the latest emergency Booker is asked to rectify. That's actually funny, considering that Booker, on NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday, addressed one of the most problematic aspects of Romney's record in a way that one wouldn't expect from an Obama campaign surrogate.

The roundtable discussion had turned to the stinging new Obama ads criticizing Romney's record at Bain Capital (TPM's Pema Levy offers a good write-up here). Unprovoked, the Newark mayor said:

"As far as that stuff, I have to just say from a very personal level, I'm not about to sit here and indict private equity. To me, it's just this--we're getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know. I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital's record, it ain't--they've done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses, And this, to me, I'm very uncomfortable with."

In a YouTube comment (embedded above) posted later on Sunday afternoon, Booker walked the comment back, and undermined his earlier sentiment, not only claiming that the Bain Capital attack was fair game, but also endorsing the message behind the Obama ads. That came a little late, as it was evident this morning that he'd opened the door for people like Harold Ford, Jr. to step through, and keep wide open:

“I would not have backed off the comments if I were Mayor Booker,” [Harold] Ford, a Democrat, said on msnbc’s “Morning Joe.” “The substance of his comments on ‘Meet the Press,’ I agree with the core of it. I would not have backed them out… private equity’s not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, private equity is a good thing in many, many instances.”

Two points to make here. First, whether or not the attack is a viable one (CNBC's Jim Cramer predicted at the roundtable that it "sticks"), it is one thing to allege that the ads were critical of private equity -- the very business practice seems to be a target of the ads. But it's not that simple. Romney is not simply applying for another job, in another field, with Bain Capital as a stain on his resumé. Romney is asking Americans to give him a job so that he might create more jobs, when his private-business record indicates that he is skilled in doing the exact opposite.

To the extent that it helps the President for the media to discuss Bain Capital for another day, and not the economy, Booker may have actually done the Obama campaign a favor. But it's the second issue, what Booker went on to say on "Meet the Press," that is even more problematic.

He piled onto the private-equity comment by saying:

...this kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides. It's nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity, stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.

Steve Benen thinks Booker, as a surrogate, will be "riding the bench for a while" after this, and I'm inclined to agree. Adam Serwer gets it right correct in Mother Jones today:

This isn't the worst example of disloyalty or veering off message, but if you're a Democrat who finds it "nauseating" to even discuss how some people end up needing the social safety net, you may be in the wrong party.

While we're talking nausea, that kind of false equivalence from Booker is sickening. (He didn't back off of that in his apology video, either.) In lieu of his record as Massachusetts governor, Romney is running on his record of "job creation," based to a significant extent in his experience in the corporate world with Bain Capital. As I recall, though he did it elegantly, then-candidate Obama kept his distance from Rev. Wright in 2008, and since.

He has a point that this kind of stuff poisons our politics. But I'd argue that it is perhaps even more poisonous to say that a conservative attack on the President for going to a certain church with a certain preacher is in the same ballpark as criticizing Romney's record at Bain Capital. Paraphrasing Jules Winnfield, it isn't even in the same league; it's not even the same sport.

Postscript: Melissa, in her Saturday discussion about the stunted effort to revive Rev. Wright as a campaign bogeyman, I thought got to the heart of what is misunderstood about that particular line of attack -- the folks using it don't even understand black liberation theology, or care to. That, to me, is the issue -- not anything so simple as what Booker is worried about here. See below Melissa's Saturday discussion, which includes current Trinity pastor Reverend Otis Moss III.