Last night, U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) returned to Nevada to explain his vision of “justice for all”. While speaking to students and other local Democrats at UNLV, Booker addressed matters of criminal justice, social justice, economic justice, and intersectional justice across the board. Throughout his presentation, Booker stressed the need for Democrats to run on their morals and values: “This is a nation that has to go back to our values, not compromising them.”
So how exactly does Booker intend to restore true American values? It may seem like a wild dream. But according to Booker, it’s possible if we stop the vitriolic fighting and start listening to our better angels.
“What’s going to become of our dream, the dream of America? This is the time for us to take responsibility for that dream. Dare I say, this is the time for us to dream again.”
– Cory Booker
Chances are if there’s a criminal justice reform bill making waves on Capitol Hill, Cory Booker’s name is on it. Last December, he actually secured huge bipartisan majorities and President Donald Trump’s signature on the First Step Act, a sentencing reform bill he sponsored. In addition, he’s sponsoring bills to legalize marijuana nationally, form a commission to study reparations for African-Americans, launch “baby bonds” (beginning at $1,000, and adding up to $2,000 annually for children in low-income households) to help close the wealth gap, expand eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit, establish a federal jobs guarantee via a 15-city pilot program, and adopt an expanded Voting Rights Act that includes nationwide automatic registration (AVR), make Election Day a national holiday, end partisan gerrymandering, and guarantee voting rights to rehabilitated ex-offenders nationwide.
Oh, and all this is in addition to Booker joining with several other progressive Democratic Senators and 2020 contenders who’ve endorsed “Medicare for All” single-payer health care, some kind of “Green New Deal” climate and jobs program, and stronger gun safety laws. So really, Booker has some big ideas and policy proposals on a wide range of issues.
In this aspect, Booker’s pursuit of sound policy reminds me of fellow U.S. Senator and “policy wonk extraordinaire” Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts). Yet while Warren calls on Democratic voters to “dream big, fight hard, and win”, Booker offered his own unique twist on how to reclaim the American Dream at UNLV last night: “What’s going to become of our dream, the dream of America? This is the time for us to take responsibility for that dream. Dare I say, this is the time for us to dream again.”
“What’s lacking is an urgent sense of common purpose. We have to understand that we’re all in this together.”
– Cory Booker
So what kind of America is Cory Booker dreaming of, and how exactly does he plan to make that happen? For starters, Booker urged the need to deescalate the rising tension throughout the nation, the kind of tension that It Could Happen Here podcast host Robert Evans is warning could lead to something (even) more severe and dangerous.
“In America today, we are suffering so much common pain,” Booker told the audience at UNLV’s Student Union. He continued, “What’s lacking is an urgent sense of common purpose. We have to understand that we’re all in this together.”
Booker then warned, “We have deeper and deeper tribalism. We hate each other over how we vote. […] We have to come together.” This may sound like something one of the more moderate candidates would say, yet Booker has one of the most progressive voting records in the Senate. So how does Booker plan to bridge the divide?
“Patriotism is love of country. You can’t love your country unless you love all the people of this country.”
– Cory Booker
When he campaigned in Las Vegas last week, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg told his crowd of supporters, “We’ve got to talk about our values [… and] we’ve got to talk about our lives.” While speaking with his supporters, Booker also stressed the need to stick with strong values as he spoke of the nation’s well-being: “Patriotism is love of country. You can’t love your country unless you love all the people of this country.”
Booker stuck to this theme throughout the night, including his replies to questions from the audience and the press on immigrant rights. When answering a question from the audience on how to do better for refugees at the border, Booker cited America’s infamous rejection of the St. Louis refugees who were escaping the horrors of the Holocaust as implored upon the nation not to repeat such a deplorable mistake by rejecting Central American refugees now and cutting our foreign aid budget instead of utilizing all our diplomatic tools to obtain a long-term solution. As Booker put it, “We should be leaning forward and working with these countries to stabilize their societies and end the violence.”
(Warning: The video below contains moments of flash photography.)
Moving even closer to home, I asked Booker about our own debate here in Nevada over ICE’s integration of local law enforcement agencies into President Donald Trump’s deportation regime. As he answered this question, Booker cited his experience as Mayor of Newark in debunking the purported value of such an arrangement: “What this President is doing is undermining the safety of local communities by pushing local law enforcement into doing [federal] immigration enforcement. What that’s doing is creating an environment where immigrant communities are afraid to come forward to report crimes to police.” He continued, “That creates a very bad environment for public safety. It threatens the safety of the entire community.”
“People tell me we can’t beat Donald Trump with love, [but] it’s the only thing that will. He wants us to fight on his terms. Fighting fire with fire is not a better strategy.”
– Cory Booker
Also during Booker’s brief conversation with reporters, he answered questions about the just released (yet still very redacted) Mueller Report. While he declined to endorse impeachment of Trump and claimed that voters he’s been engaging on the campaign trail are not invested in the Trump-Russia investigation, someone in the audience asked Booker about Mueller moments later.
In answering that question, Booker stated, “We have a president who wasn’t exonerated. Rather, it casts a shadow over this presidency.” He then promised, “We are going to have hearings. I want to make sure we hear directly from Mueller.”
Perhaps this response feels a little perplexing considering Booker’s overall message of moral clarity and uncompromised values. But then again, considering Booker’s call for truth, reconciliation, love, and hope, it may make more sense in this light.
In fact, when asked how he intends to defeat Trump next year, Booker replied, “People tell me we can’t beat Donald Trump with love, [but] it’s the only thing that will. He wants us to fight on his terms. Fighting fire with fire is not a better strategy.” Ultimately, Nevada Democrats will weigh in on this next February. And if they truly are sick and tired of “fighting fire with fire”, they now know who’s offering a different strategy, one that includes this call to let America dream again.