Yesterday I did this post about how refreshing it was that Newark Mayor Corey Booker seemingly deserved to be displayed in a museum for his criticism of the Obama’s use of the Bain Capital issue against presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney. And I was not doing so as a conservative Republican blogger (I am not one) or someone who is an activist for anyone in this campaign (I’m not). But as an independent voter who has concluded that our partisanship is erasing any vestige of credibility from many broadcast, cable, print and Internet pundits. You get emails now and can tell exactly what it’ll say by the name on the email before you read the title of contents. It’s like looking at a can of peas in a grocery store.
Booker had called use of the issue “nauseating”. But Talking Points Memo reports that within hours of his comment Booker had furiously walked back his comments. The clear reason: in hard-nosed political terms they were damaging to Team Obama because how GOPers a Democrat to point to who said he was upset about the Bain issue — and, eventually, a TV clip. Place money in Vegas that Republicans will never mention his clarification or show that clip in ads.
Here’s Booker’s but-what-I-really-mean-is-this You Tube:
TPM’s account of the above:
“Let me be clear. Mitt Romney has made his business record a centerpiece of his campaign,” he says in the video. “He’s talked about himself as a job creator. And therefore it is reasonable — and in fact I encourage it — for the Obama campaign to examine that record and discuss it. I have no problem with that.”
For good measure, Booker goes on to endorse the Obama ad’s message.
“In fact, I believe that Mitt Romney, in many ways, is not being completely honest with his role and his record even while a businessperson, and is shaping it to serve his political interest — and not necessary include all the facts of his time there,” continues the mayor, sitting at his desk with a flag draped in the camera shot.
The Obama ad in question came in part as a response to the Romney campaign and its allies touting the candidate’s job-creation record at Bain, claims that fact-checkers say are shaky, if not worse.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt tweeted a link to a condensed, 35-second version of Booker’s 3:42 minute video which included the mayor’s criticisms of Romney.
Booker’s initial comments were politically problematic for Democrats not only because they were directly at odds with Obama’s message but also because they reinforced the GOP argument that the president is bashing the free market.
RNC spokesman Tim Miller, who quipped on Twitter that Booker filmed his follow-up video under duress, claimed that the Obama campaign muzzled Booker.
1. Booker clearly created a problem for the Obama campaign — and one reason is comments like this are then picked up and seized by GOPers who will then morph it into Booker really not supporting Obama. First Read:
*** Is Bain fair game? Early last week, former White House “car czar” Steve Rattner said it was “unfair” for the Obama campaign to spotlight the layoffs, reduced benefits, and lower salaries that took place under Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital. As Rattner put it on MSNBCs’ Morning Joe, “This is part of capitalism. This is part of life.” (But Rattner also said, “Mitt Romney made a mistake ever talking about the fact that it created 100,000 jobs. Bain Capital’s responsibility was not to create 100,000 jobs or some other number. It was to make profits for its investors.”) And yesterday on “Meet the Press,” Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) also criticized the Obama camp’s hits on Bain. “I have to just say from a very personal level I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity… If you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record they’ve done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses. And this to me, I’m very uncomfortable with.” So in these tellings, attacks on Romney’s business record aren’t fair game. Bain is a successful business — end of discussion.
*** Obama camp keeps playing the Bain card: Yet in the Obama campaign’s telling, Bain is more than fair game. If Romney is going to make his Bain record the central rationale of his candidacy — more so than his four years as Massachusetts governor — and if he’s going to take credit for job gains created under Bain, then it’s only fair to point out examples when Bain-controlled companies took on huge debt, slashed worker pay and benefits, laid off employees and filed for bankruptcy, all while Bain investors made money, they argue. Think of it this way, they say: If a presidential candidate says that the education reforms he enacted as a governor are the centerpiece of his presidential bid, then it would be only fair to examine those reforms. Did they work? How well? Can that experience work at the federal level? Those are the kind of questions the Obama campaign wants to raise with Bain, and they’re back today with a new video and conference call (at 11:30 am ET today) on Bain Capital’s layoffs at SCM/Ampad in Indiana.
*** But what Booker said hurt Team Obama: As it turns out, that’s the message that Booker eventually said in a follow-up video. (Think someone in Obama World gave him call? He doesn’t make a YouTube simply to deal with angry Tweeters does he?) “Mitt Romney has made his business record a centerpiece of his campaign. Therefore, it is reasonable — and I encourage it — for the Obama campaign to examine that record and discuss it,” Booker said in it. But make no mistake: What Booker initially said on “Meet the Press” did no favors for Team Obama, and it had to make Team Romney smile. Mitt Romney and his surrogates can now say, “Even Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker has called these types of attack unfair…” (*** UPDATE *** Indeed, here’s the Romney camp’s response to the new web video: “President Obama continues his assault on the free enterprise system with attacks that one of his supporters, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, called ‘nauseating’ and a former adviser, Steven Rattner, called ‘unfair.’… Americans expected a different kind of politics from Barack Obama but, sadly, this is just more of the same failed politics that dominates Washington.”) More than anything else, Booker’s initial comments are proof that Republicans know how the play the message game better than Democrats. Does anyone think Chris Christie (R) would contradict a central Romney narrative?
2. Booker is correct about what happens in our politics on both sides — forgetting who started it, and not getting into a debate over which side is worse.
3. As I noted in my other post, the problem is that it’s like the Super PACs. Democrats can decide just not to use them but now under the law that is the way the system operates. There are issues related to Bain that weave into larger issues the Democrats are hammering so from their standpoint it’s useful to use it; part of the issue is as EJ Dionne notes today that the campaign is a battle about two capitalisms.
4. As for my other post and what I said about Booker?
UPDATE: Corey now joins Buzzfeed’s list of the 10 worst Obama surrogates.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.