When Cory Booker makes history today as the first sitting senator to testify against a fellow senator nominated to a White House cabinet position, it would be wise to keep in mind his record of weaving fictional tales to serve his political goals.
Throughout his career, the New Jersey Democrat has displayed an extraordinary talent for urban story-telling, manifest in a Jimmy Breslin-like Newark drug pusher character named “T-Bone,” who Booker would often refer to in his speeches and campaign events. “T-Bone” was a compelling figure who represented the dangers of the mean, decaying urban streets Booker managed as mayor of Newark while at the same time standing for the hope and humanity only a transcendent leader like Booker could bring to New Jersey and the country at large.
“T-Bone” was too good to be true. And, as Eliana Johnson uncovered at National Review in 2013, he was completely fictional:
The tale is one Booker admits he’s told “a million” times, according to the Newark Star Ledger. Ronald Rice Jr., a Newark city councilman and Booker ally who has known the mayor since 1998, says the T-Bone story was “a fixture” of Booker’s unsuccessful 2002 mayoral bid against corrupt Newark political boss Sharpe James, perhaps for its symbolic value. In Booker’s mind, according to the city councilman, “It’s not so much the details of the story” that matter, but the principle that “these things happen, they happen to real people, they happen in the city of Newark.” Rice, a Newark native, says he doesn’t know whether T-Bone exists. But, he explains, “if Cory had to tell a story or two and mix details up for Newark to get the funding for it, I see that as something that’s taking tragedy and doing something productive for it.”
The T-Bone tale never sat right with Rutgers University history professor Clement Price, a Booker supporter who tells National Review Online he found the mayor’s story offensive because it “pandered to a stereotype of inner-city black men.” T-Bone, Price says, “is a southern-inflected name. You would expect to run into something or somebody named T-Bone in Memphis, not Newark.”
Rice went on to tell Johnson that Booker told these stories about “T-Bone” to serve a political end with a particular audience. “Upper-middle-class white people love to hear these stories, you know, somebody who cares. So Cory Booker gave it to them and is still giving it to them,” Rice said.
That “upper-middle class white” audience is just who Booker was speaking to Monday night on the very white upper-middle-class” Chris Hayes’ All In program on MSNBC. Booker bragged about the fact that he was breaking over 230 years of Senate presedence to testify against his colleague:
Booker’s office said Monday that the Senate historian had been unable to find any previous instance of a sitting senator testifying against a fellow sitting senator nominated for a Cabinet position.
“I’m breaking a pretty long Senate tradition,” the New Jersey Democrat said Monday on MSNBC’s “All In”: “We’ve seen Jeff Sessions — that’s Senator Jeff Sessions — consistently voting against or speaking out against key ideals of the Voting Rights Act, taking measures to try to block criminal justice reform.”
“He has a posture and a positioning that I think represent a real danger to our country,” Booker said.
The fact that his office sought out the senate historian to confirm “T-Bone’s buddy” was making history gives a little insight into the weighty historical burden the Garden State’s junior senator is carrying by denouncing his colleague.
Which makes Booker’s past praise of Senator Sessions all the more puzzling.
Less than one year ago, Booker gushed that he was “blessed and honored” to work with Sessions. While receiving an award for crafting legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to civil rights leaders:
“I am humbled to be able to participate here and pay tribute to some of the extraordinary Americans whose footsteps paved the way for me and my generation. I feel blessed and honored to have partnered with Senator Sessions in being the Senate sponsors of this important award.”
Eleven months later, what did Sessions do to earn the dubious distinction of being the first U.S. senator to be denounced in sworn testimony by a colleague during a confirmation hearing? According to Roll Call, Booker has always had misgivings about the Alabama senator:
“Sen. Sessions’ decades-long record is concerning in a number of ways, from his opposition to bipartisan criminal justice reform to his views on bipartisan drug policy reform, from his efforts earlier in his career to deny citizens voting rights to his criticism of the Voting Rights Act, from his failure to defend the civil rights of women, minorities, and LGBT Americans to his opposition to commonsense, bipartisan immigration reform.”
It’s all quite confusing. Booker was “blessed and honored” to craft civil rights legislation with Sessions last year but now will break hundreds of years of Senate comity and decorum by testifying against Sessions because of his “decades-long record.”
Perhaps Booker is once again telling stories “upper-middle-class white people like to hear.” After all, the newly appointed deputy minority whip has to keep Chuck Schumer, Patty Murray, and Elizabeth Warren happy. And you don’t get more “upper-middle-class white” than those three.
This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard