The Emerging Democratic Divide
Conversations with liberal activists and labor officials reveal an unmistakable hostility toward the pro-business, free-trade, free-market philosophy that was in vogue during the second half of the Clinton administration. Former White House Chief of Staff William Daley, who tried to steer the Obama administration in a more centrist direction, is the subject of particular derision. Discussion of entitlement reforms, at the heart of the GOP governing agenda, is a nonstarter. The fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats are now nearly extinct on Capitol Hill.
Moderate Democratic groups and officials, meanwhile, privately fret about the party’s leftward drift and the Obama campaign’s embrace of an aggressively populist message. They’re disappointed that the administration didn’t take the lead advancing the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction proposal, they wish the administration’s focus was on growth over fairness, and they are frustrated with the persistent congressional gridlock. Third Way, the centrist Democratic think tank, has been generating analyses underscoring the need for Democrats to appeal to middle-of-the-road voters, to no avail.
Booker is a leading figure in the centrist faction, and he didn’t hide that fact when he called out the Obama campaign attacks against Romney’s private-equity work. He first made a name for himself by challenging the party’s establishment in the 2002 Newark mayoral race, taking on the cronyism that was endemic in city government. After being elected in 2006 on his second try, he’s worked closely with the business community to revitalize Newark. He’s developed an unlikely odd-couple relationship with Republican Gov. Chris Christie, and the two have rallied behind education reform, taking on the teachers’ unions in the process.
The Booker governing model, premised on bipartisanship and taking on ideological party factions, runs contrary in many ways to Obama’s record. It’s why Booker’s call for Obama to elevate the rhetoric drove Chicago batty: It was a stinging reminder that the candidate’s promise of a post-partisan approach in 2008 had given way to the reality of governing in a polarized Washington and the necessity of running a highly negative campaign against Romney.