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Sen. Booker Ends Presidential Bid ‘With Full Heart’

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Sen. Cory Booker is leaving the 2020 presidential race. “It’s with a full heart that I share this news—I’m suspending my campaign for president,” he tweeted. “To my team, supporters, and everyone who gave me a shot—thank you. I am so proud of what we built, and I feel nothing but faith in what we can accomplish together.”

His announcement video is as classy and upbeat as his campaign was. “It is my faith in us, my faith in us together as a nation, that we share common pain and common problems that can only be solved with a common purpose and a sense of common cause,” he said. “So I recommit myself to the work. I can’t wait to get back on the campaign trail and campaign as hard as I can for whoever is the eventual nominee and for candidates up and down the ballot.”

“But for now,” he concludes, “I want to say thank you.”

His departure leaves one person of color on the ballot, the one with independent wealth, Andrew Yang. It remains populated with random white men including Sen. Michael Bennet (yeah, him, he’s still there) and the two who can keep spending their way onto the stage, Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg. That’s an issue this party is going to have to reckon with. But for now, let’s thank Sen. Cory Booker for bringing his enthusiasm, his integrity, and his heart to this race.

UPDATE Monday, Jan 13, 2020 · 10:47:45 AM Central Standard Time

Forgot that Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is still “in” the race. For whatever that’s worth.

Wrong On Crime? Many Black Americans Agreed With Biden

Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and other Democratic presidential candidates believe that Joe Biden was wrong in helping to craft and pass the 1994 crime bill, which they blame for the damage it wrought among African Americans.

They have a point. What they fail to grasp is that if they had been senators then, they likely would have been wrong right along with him.

It’s easy in retrospect to see that the legislation was deeply flawed. In fact, it was not impossible to see it even then. I wrote columns at the time criticizing the bill for expanding death penalty crimes, mandating life sentences for repeat offenders (“three strikes and you’re out”) and locking up more criminals for longer periods.

The increase in incarceration that occurred in the 1990s did have a lopsided racial impact. But it was not the product of the crime bill, because the vast majority of felons are prosecuted and imprisoned under state laws. The federal crackdown played only a minor role.

“The proud architect of a failed system is not the right person to fix it,” declares Booker. Most of the provisions in the 1994 bill, however, have already been “fixed,” by expiration or repeal.

The people who opposed the bill had the better of the argument. But to understand the legislation and its broad support in Congress, you have to understand the frightening climate in which it was passed.

Between 1983 and 1992, the violent crime rate jumped by 41 percent. New York City had 2,245 murders in 1990, or more than six per day. Chicago had 943 murders in 1992. (By comparison, New York had 289 homicides last year, and Chicago had 572.) The crack epidemic was in full, terrifying swing.

Americans were keenly aware of the growing danger, and they wanted something done about it — whatever it took to make them safer. There was “a fabulously intemperate and angry mood among Americans,” recalls Franklin Zimring, a criminologist at the University of California, Berkeley. Politicians had to respond.

The crime bill was one response to that mood. It was a big package, including not only the provisions I mentioned before but also money to add 100,000 police nationwide, a ban on “assault weapons,” and inducements for states to lengthen prison terms (“truth in sentencing”). It adopted many Republican policies while helping Democrats shed their soft-on-crime label.

At the time, the racial politics were not quite what you might assume. Prior to becoming mayor of Atlanta in 1990, Maynard Jackson offered a plan to confiscate the property of drug dealers called “Kick Their Assets.”

As for murderers, Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry wanted police to “hunt them down like mad dogs.” Black leaders like these wanted stern action because it was African Americans who were most likely to be harmed by crime.

“At the height of the epidemic, black political and civic leaders often compared crack to the greatest evils that African Americans had ever suffered,” Yale Law professor James Forman Jr., who is black, wrote in his 2017 book Locking Up Our Own. One NAACP official called it “the worst thing to hit us since slavery.”

In his 1997 book, Race, Crime and the Law, Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy, an African American, argued that “blacks have suffered more from being left unprotected or under-protected by law enforcement authorities than from being mistreated as suspects or defendants.”

In many black neighborhoods, one thing scarier than having police around is not having them. The crime bill provided more of them.

Whites who favored punitive action may have been motivated partly by racial prejudice. But black sentiment also helped to produce these policies.

A 1994 Gallup survey found that 58 percent of African Americans supported the crime bill — compared with 49 percent of whites. The only black senator, Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, supported it. Of the 40 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, just 12 voted against it.

It may seem plausible that black Americans would blame Biden for his role in bringing about the incarceration of so many of their brethren. But that assumes they actually object to this outcome. In a 2014 poll by the Sentencing Project, 64 percent of them said that courts were too lenient in punishing criminals.

A generation ago, Biden made his share of mistakes when it came to fighting crime. If they had been in his place, would Booker or Harris have done better? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Are We All In This American Experiment Together?

Who doesn’t love Cary Grant, the debonair British-born, American acting legend, who wooed leading ladies, including the Hepburns, Katharine and Audrey, as well as generations of moviegoers?

But he was not so charming when his submarine commander character in 1943’s “Destination Tokyo” said: “The Japs don’t understand the love we have for our women. They don’t even have a word for it in their language.”

Demonizing “the enemy” in wartime as “the other,” incapable of emotion and not quite human is not unusual. But someone always pay a hefty price. Loyal Japanese American families, rounded up and shipped to internment camps, waited until 1988 for President Ronald Reagan to issue an apology; survivors received meager compensation. Though that was expected to be that, the trauma to those Americans and the nation lingered.

And despite that World War II-era lesson, and ones before and after, America continues to make the same mistake, a notion important to contemplate during the Fourth of July festivities, when we celebrate the ideal.

This year, a Washington, D.C., military parade and fireworks display with a speech by Donald Trump that places a national holiday squarely in partisan territory was both a distraction from and a reminder of our current plight.

The situation at the southern border offers a glaring example of that gap between promise and reality, as some members of the border patrol tasked with an admittedly difficult job — maintaining order and safe conditions as asylum seekers attempt to cross into the United States — were revealed by a ProPublica investigation of letting off steam with cruel and dehumanizing remarks that make light of the deaths of children and the concern of visiting elected officials.

It starts at the top, of course, with a president who shows little empathy for desperate families — try imagining the fear and despair that would fuel the decision to start such a dangerous trek — as he leeches money away from aiding the countries they are fleeing and still insists a wall is the solution.

Though Republican and Democratic lawmakers contentiously came together to approve $4.59 billion in supplemental funding to improve border conditions, that comity as a path to progress on bipartisan immigration reform is fading fast. With Trump’s re-election plan to stir up resentments, villains are needed — asylum seekers fit the bill.

The post-Democratic debate reactions also reveal who in America is allowed to feel and express pain and who is expected to grin and bear it.

It’s no surprise that Donald Trump Jr. shared (then deleted) a tweet questioning the identity of California senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala Harris. It’s a sadly unsurprising sign of a return to the birther lie Trump and company tried to pin on President Barack Obama.

What has been interesting, though, is how many Democrats are taking issue with Harris’ dust-up with former Vice President Joe Biden on his nostalgic statement about working with vicious pro-segregationist senators and his record of joining them in legislative efforts to fight busing to integrate schools.

The backlash from those who find the fact that she brought up the subject impolite offers a master class on who gets to be vulnerable, to make the political personal and to show preparedness and power in a venue — a debate — where that is actually the point.

You don’t have to support Harris to have been impressed with her debate performance. She did not raise her voice as she asked Biden to explain his long record (though being soft-spoken won’t protect a black woman from being called “angry”); Biden had a chance to respond, and he should have seen it coming. With years of experience and the same opportunity and obligation to prep, he was hardly a politician in distress. If he is the last candidate standing against Trump, Biden will face a far tougher grilling.

Yet, though her poll numbers show a bump, there have also been accusations that Harris took a cheap shot, landed a low blow, dealt the race card — name the cliché — as though race has not been a thread that is woven through every part of American life since the nation’s founding.

So many have dismissed her contention that Biden’s actions and associations hurt, deeming her upbringing too comfortable, her parents too educated, her academic and professional achievements too impressive for her to have ever felt any emotion that genuine.

New Jersey senator and fellow presidential hopeful Cory Booker faced a similar reaction when he said Biden’s recollections of convivial banter with segregationists hit him in the gut. How dare he actually bring into the conversation how Biden’s reminiscing made him and so many others feel?

If black folks in America let every slight or insult stop them from going about their business, they would never leave the house. That doesn’t mean we are impervious to the pain. Ask Barack and Michelle Obama if being leader of the free world and first lady of the United States — rising that high — makes you invulnerable from criticism or provides an impenetrable shield.

Now, note who does get the benefit of the doubt and a pat on the back.

In a not-quite-as-publicized moment on last week’s debate stage, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg was given high marks for merely owning up to his failure in two terms to diversify the city’s police department and to bridge a glaring wealth gap in his hurting city. This when he is asking the American people to elect him to lead a country, not a small Midwestern city.

When a black man was shot by a white South Bend police officer with a troubled racial history, Buttigieg faced questions from his community and  California Rep. Eric Swalwell  a 2020 rival, that he could not answer. (He has since unveiled a racial justice and minority investment program he said he would pursue as president.) But his less-than-adequate answer has been held up as a model for how Biden should have responded.

Harris had better be prepared to defend her own past as a California prosecutor and attorney general when it surely comes up; rather than seeing those attacks as a cheap shot, a lot of folks will surely say she had it coming.

The example of Buttigieg’s media celebrity and golden boy glow contrasts with how Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and Housing and Urban Development secretary in the Obama Cabinet, was covered until his own standout debate performance.

When Castro, who has put forward a plan promoting police reform, listed just a few of the people of color killed in interactions with police — “What about Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland, Pamela Turner, Antonio Arce” — it was startling just hearing out loud the names of Americans who seldom get even that measure of consideration and respect.

It’s so easy to listen to propaganda from a long-ago movie, cringe and move on. Just give Cary a pass. But as America has seen again and again, it doesn’t take a war for that ugly tactic of dehumanization and disregard to surface.

It could be a struggle over who matters and who does not, who deserves a slice of the all-American pie and who gets the crumbs, or lately, who falls on which side of political difference.

Are we all in this American experiment together? As the country pauses to mark this year’s Fourth of July holiday, it is a question that is as relevant as ever.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

IMAGE: U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA).


Like The Kentucky Derby: Democrats Face A Stampede, Not A Horse Race

Regarding “horse race” coverage of presidential primaries, the current Democratic contest quite resembles the Kentucky Derby. Coming out of the starting gate, there are at least twice as many entries as there ought to be. The majority have no realistic chance.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio? Crackpot new age guru Marianne Williamson? Former tech executive Andrew Yang? I could go on. All such long-shot, 500 to 1, vanity candidates can do is make a cluttered, potentially dangerous mess of things. Rather like this year’s actual Kentucky Derby, I suppose—more stampede than horse race.

Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden appears to be leading the field heading into the first turn. Which most often means he’ll fade in the stretch. Wire-to-wire winners are rare in presidential primaries. The most recent was Hillary Clinton, hardly an inspiring example. Many Democrats have their money on Biden largely because everybody knows his name, and he’s personally popular. Never mind that he’s something like 103 years old.

OK, that’s an exaggeration. Since the majority of Americans dislike Donald Trump, many Democrats think Biden’s the best bet to win next year, when his real age will be 78. Too old to be president, in my view as his marginally younger contemporary. And far too old for the even more exhausting job of campaigning. That applies to Uncle Bernie too, who’s a year older. For that matter, Trump himself is showing signs of wear.

But I digress. Democrats being Democrats, it’s considered discriminatory—the cant term is “ageist”—to mention the candidate’s advanced years. So instead, they decided to bicker about race, a topic that brings out the worst in almost everybody.

Joe Biden, see, was a U.S. Senator back in the 1970s, when Deep South segregationists, all Democrats, walked the earth and ran all the important committees. You wanted to get anything through Congress, you had to deal with them. Rattling on in his loosey-goosey way at a fund-raiser, Biden explained how the experience of working with odious specimens like Senators James O. Eastland (D-MS) and Herman Talmadge (D-GA) made him confident he could bargain with Trumpist Republicans.

Biden described his deep philosophical differences with the two, affecting a deep Southern drawl (rarely a good idea), and calling Talmadge “one of the meanest guys I ever knew.” He added that Eastland “never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.’ ”

Most people would call Eastland’s language patronizing, but short of offensive, which seemed to be Biden’s meaning. He certainly wasn’t bragging about “white privilege.”

“Well, guess what?” he continued. “At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done…But today you look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy. We don’t talk to each other anymore.”

Two of Biden’s more estimable rivals sensed a potential opening. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker announced himself hurt by the former vice-president’s flippant use of racist language and called for an apology. Biden then demanded a counter-apology for doubting his motives. Lame on lame.

See, I quite doubt anybody’s called Cory Booker “boy” since he turned twelve. He grew up a football star in a comfortable New Jersey suburb, played at Stanford, and became a Rhodes Scholar.

The first time he ran for mayor of Newark, incumbent Sharpe James called Booker a “faggoty white boy,” and accused him of “collaborating with the Jews to take over Newark.” In 2012, he became a folk hero by running into a burning apartment building to carry a neighbor to safety. Fire officials said he could have been killed.

So I think Booker’s not somebody whose feelings are easily hurt.

Ditto California Sen. Kamala Harris, whose parentage is Indian and Jamaican. She objected to segregationists being referenced positively at all. If Talmadge and Eastland had their way, she observed, she could never have become a U.S. Senator. True, although they couldn’t prevent African-American Sen. Edward Brooke (R-MA) from serving even then.

Harris spoke feelingly about seeing her mother, a medical researcher, treated “like she was a substandard person” by people who assumed “she was somebody’s housekeeper…based on how she looks.”

Painful, I’m sure. Unless your own mother was a housekeeper.

Anyway, it’s nothing to do with Joe Biden. “I don’t think his remarks are offensive,” said legendary civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). “During the height of the civil rights movement we worked with people and got to know people that were members of the Klan.  We never gave up on our fellow human beings.”

This can’t be news to black voters in South Carolina, most of whom attending Rep. Jim Clyburn’s annual political fish fry told Daily Beast reporter Hanna Trudo they regarded the whole thing as media nonsense. As a preacher she interviewed told her: “If you give the devil a ride, he will drive.”

IMAGE: Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) addresses the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Legislative Conference and Presidential Forum in Washington March 9, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque