I kept running into people on the streets of Seattle all day long who were on their way to see Cory Booker speak, and it seemed like all those people were going to see Booker at different events.The mayor of Newark was making appearances all around town. He was the keynote speaker at the Plymouth Housing Group's luncheon at the Westin. After he booked that event, the requests for speeches started flooding in. I caught my Booker speech at the Washington State Democrats office at 901 Rainier Ave S. Dozens of Obama campaign volunteers gathered in the main front room to hear Booker speak about voter fraud, about Election Day numbers, and about the chances that Hillary Clinton will run for president in 2016.
And it's no surprise why all these folks turned out: As I've noted multiple times before on this blog, Booker's a great speaker. He packs his speeches full of corny jokes—every time I've seen him speak, he's made a reference to spending time with his good friends "Ben and Jerry"—and catchy lines, and lots of optimism. "When I get around groups like this," Booker said, gesticulating out to the crowd of Obama volunteers, "I get jazzed up." Patriotism, he told them, is demonstrated by "your actions, not your words," and he admonished the volunteers that everyone alive in America now should know that they "eat lavishly at banquet tables" prepared by "your ancestors." That kind of thing. It was just the kind of energizing talk that a room full of people making calls and knocking on doors in their free time needed to hear; Booker worked them into a lather, and he seemed to feed on their enthusiasm as he went along.
But I always get a little itchy when Booker starts in on his bipartisan talk. It's what got him in trouble earlier this year, this impulse to not mention a flaw in Republican thought without marking an equal flaw on the Democratic side. He gives out compliments in much the same way, too. Today, he said Mitt Romney is a good man, and that "anybody who puts themselves up for that kind of scrutiny" by running a presidential campaign, deserves our respect. (What about the topics, like his tax returns, that Romney refuses to put up for our scrutiny? Is he really such a good man, in light of his 47% speech?) Booker always returns to the rah-rah party talk in a very convincing manner—"We know we have the better candidates," he says, and "we outnumber our opponents by a lot, actually"—but it seems that he always has to make amends with the other side first. But when the other side, as he suggested in his speech today, is so far to the right that the kind of Republicans Booker cites as the good ones—Snowe, Lugar, Kemp—are considered to be too liberal for the party, is that kind of centrism really helpful? Apparently, Booker believes so.
The best portion of the afternoon was the Q&A, in which volunteers asked Booker what he thought Republicans would do after the election. "When I watched the Republican primary, I felt sad. After they lose this election," Booker said, he hopes that the party comes back from the brink that the tea party has driven them to. Many of the volunteers were concerned about Republican-inspired voting restrictions. "This is a primary concern of the [Democratic] campaign," Booker said. Challenges to those ID laws are in force, and people will be on the ground to make sure every vote is counted. "We have lots of lawyers," he said, before he practically promised a questioner, "if we lose this election, it will not be due to voter suppression."
When answering a question about Bill Clinton, Booker all but threw his support behind Hillary Clinton. "I'm already starting to put my bets down on a certain lady in 2016," he said, to great enthusiasm in the room. One of the qualities that makes Booker such a popular speaker in this part of the country is his willingness to unabashedly cheerlead for the rights of women and marriage equality. Every time I've seen him speak, he always makes a compelling case for gay marriage, and he's one of the greatest advocates Planned Parenthood's got. I would go so far as to classify him as an out-and-out feminist. When the crowd finished a line from the Torah that Booker was quoting, he seemed impressed, because "people say Seattle is a godless place." Not so, someone in the audience said, adding that you can feel God everywhere in Seattle because "She's alive here." "She certainly is," Booker laughed.