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Cory Booker and the Problem with Social Media-Savvy Politicking

As Jonathan wrote earlier, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s reputation among Republicans in his home state has begun to diverge from his reputation among Republicans elsewhere. Nationally, Republicans are bitter about Christie’s embrace of President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which also happened to be in the last week of the presidential election campaign. But there is another popular New Jersey politician who is also perceived differently at home than on a national level: Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

Whether it’s pursuing unpopular policies by having the courts, rather than voters, on his side, or grumblings that Booker’s hyperactive Twitter feed is a strategy to cover for the fact that he spends as much as one in every five days out of his state, Booker’s rock-star status among national media occasionally obscures his less sainted image in Newark. Like Christie, that has a lot to do with the difficulty of impressing a national constituency and a local one at the same time. Unlike Christie, however, in Booker’s case it reveals a politician who sometimes seems more interested in national stardom than local governance.

Booker’s Twitter feed isn’t the only reason for his national fame. He’s a good-humored, well spoken politician willing to tackle persistent, endemic problems and break from the city’s corrupt past. His mastery of social media has also been evidence of a City Hall with a new dedication to responsiveness and good governance.

But it also often descends into gimmickry and hectoring, as it did yesterday. As New York magazine reports:

Cory Booker’s interactions with the denizens of Twitter started out pretty typically on Sunday. First, he told a man whose transgender friends are nervous about moving to Newark that he’d be happy to give them a call, and by the evening he was offering to help a student staying up all night to write a report about him. However, things grew more contentious when he tweeted a bit of ancient Greek wisdom, courtesy of Plutarch: “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” Booker was accused of plotting to redistribute wealth and told “nutrition is not a responsibility of the government.” Since simply debating the merits of providing food assistance to impoverished Americans doesn’t fit into Booker’s ridiculously hands-on approach to governing, by the end of the night he’d challenged the Twitter user to a contest in which they’d both try to live off of food stamps for a week.

A challenge to live off of food stamps for a week seems like a great way to gain attention for a cause–until you realize that there’s nothing Booker is really advocating here except more government involvement, this time because the mayor doesn’t believe kids are eating a wholesome breakfast before school. Is he trying to show that you can’t live comfortably on food stamps? I would think that’s a no-brainer; is the purpose of food stamps to give recipients a middle-class living standard?

Is it Booker’s contention that more wealth redistribution is necessary for parents to feed their children healthier food? How does Booker know what parents spend their money on now, and how does he know how they’ll reallocate it if they get a bit more of it?

An energetic, responsive government is supposed to be the attractive alternative to Michael Bloomberg’s nanny state governance next door. At this point, both big-city mayors are advocating for liberal policies and aggressive and invasive paternalism, but the difference is that Bloomberg isn’t hounding his citizens on Twitter, shaming them for daring to dispute the wisdom of a meddlesome government with designs on more of the private sector’s cash.



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