Democratic Mayor of Newark Cory Booker has stirred up quite the kerfuffle in the presidential campaign. On Sunday he went on Meet the Press and had this to say about Team Obama's treatment of Mitt Romney's experience at Bain Capital:
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.
But the last point I'll make is 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. This stuff has got to stop because what it does is it undermines, to me, what this country should be focused on. It's a distraction from the real issues. It's either going to be a small campaign about this crap or it's going to be a big campaign, in my opinion, about the issues that the American public cares about.
To Cory Booker, attacking Romney for Bain Capital is the equivalent to Republicans attacking Obama for toxic former pastor Rev. Wright.
Once Republicans seized on Booker's remarks to make trouble for Obama, Booker followed up with a video trying to backtrack on those remarks. Some referred to this video as a hostage tape, with Jim Geraghty specifically claiming that it is Booker's conscience being held hostage:
"Analysts note that in his hostage tape, Booker blinks in Morse code, ‘MY CITY STILL NEEDS A THRIVING FINANCIAL SECTOR.’ … A figure with ties to both the Obama camp and high finance, like Jon Corzine, may be permitted to visit Booker’s conscience in captivity…"
So, did the Obama campaign lean on Booker to get him to backpedal? Seems obvious. Team Obama is denying it, but no one really believes that.
It's hard to imagine a more instructive couple of days for those who want to know where the Democratic Party's head is at: its only high-profile African American moderate just got a brushback pitch for leaning in too close to the Independent thought zone; the Obama camp looks ominously like a cult of personality that tolerates no dissent
The Obama campaign not tolerating dissent? That's a far cry from the hope and change of 2008, isn't it?
Well, no, it isn't. I covered this almost exactly four years ago in this post: Stifiling dissent is the highest form of patronization.
At that time we had competing views into the Obama campaign. First, from Newsweek, it was the No Drama Obama Narrative:
“If you haven’t said anything, he’ll call on you,” says Strautmanis. “He’s never said it, but he usually thinks if somebody is very quiet it’s because they disagree with what everybody is saying … so Barack will call on you and say, ‘You’ve been awfully quiet’.” There are no screamers on Team Obama; one senior Obama aide says he’s heard him yell only twice in four years. Obama was explicit from the beginning: there was to be “no drama,” he told his aides. “I don’t want elbowing or finger-pointing. We’re going to rise or fall together.” Obama wanted steady, calm, focused leadership; he wanted to keep out the grandstanders and make sure the quiet dissenters spoke up.
Then, from the Washington Post, there was a different version of how Obama ran his meetings. Of course the WaPo being WaPo the portrayal was in service to the narrative of Obama the Great and Confident Leader (and though they would never admit it, it almost resembled an effort to make Obama an almost Bushian-like "Decider"), but it was certainly a contrast to the Newsweek version, and cast Obama as disfavoring discussion or dissent:
"It wasn't like 'Let's have a discussion.' It was 'One, two, three, four, here's what we're going to do,' "a staffer said. "When things don't go well, [Obama] doesn't yell and scream. He's very prescriptive. Everybody understands this isn't about having a discussion. He's got 99 percent of the voting shares. There's no point in taking a vote."
In trying to make sense of it all I ended with this:
Does Obama actively court quiet dissenters in the exercise of the highest form of patriotism, or does he only pretend to encourage dissent, so that he can more effectively stifle it in the benevolent dictatorship of his campaign?
I think Artur Davis and others are coming around to my way of thinking. Although perhaps I was too kind four years ago to throw in "benevolent" in my description for their tastes (but then again, it only took one day for me to retract "benevolent" because Mr. 99 percent of the voting shares had a nasty habit of blaming staffers when things went wrong).