Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker is a rising star in New Jersey whose record running the city has earned him applause on both sides of the political aisle. He’s also thought of as something of a superhero after personally rescuing two neighbors from their burning home last month. But as far as the Obama re-election campaign is concerned, he has no more right to think as he pleases than Winston Smith, the hero of George Orwell’s 1984. Just as Smith was forced to concede that two plus two equals five if Big Brother said it did, so Booker tamely walked back his criticism of the president’s re-election campaign ads lambasting Mitt Romney’s business record.

Speaking on “Meet the Press” Sunday morning, Booker was a political superhero blasting the excesses of both Republicans and Democrats as he decried some conservatives dredging up the Rev. Jeremiah Wright issue and was equally strong on his own party’s attempt to demonize Romney’s career:

I have to just say, from a very personal level, I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity. To me, it’s just we’re getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record, they’ve done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses. And this to me, I’m very uncomfortable with. …

The last point I’ll make is this kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides. It’s nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.

Coming from a prominent young liberal, this was refreshing stuff. Obviously it was a little too refreshing for the White House, but as bad as the “Meet the Press” comments were for the president, what followed didn’t help either. By the end of the day, a contrite Booker posted a video on YouTube walking back his comments about Bain and tamely claiming instead that it was “reasonable” for the Obama campaign to attack Romney on this score. It was as if it were a video from a hostage being held for ransom.

Needless to say, Booker was right the first time he opened his mouth on Sunday. Private equity firms such as Bain are the engine of commerce in this country. Though not all the decisions made by any such firm work out, in the long run they are what builds jobs, not Obama’s tax and spend policies. One suspects this is something most Americans understand, which is why the economy is Romney’s strongest issue and the president’s staff is determined to discredit him.

The embarrassing turnabout won’t do much to burnish the superhero politician’s reputation for independence, and many liberals will probably never forgive him anyway for an act of heresy, even one quickly recanted. But what probably really ticked off the president was that Booker’s original juxtaposition of attacks highlighted that the only way he can be re-elected is by tearing down his opponent. After all, the proposed ad campaign that was supposed to highlight the Rev. Wright issue was not the product of the Romney team or even one of the independent groups closely associated with him. It was something commissioned by Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, who actually renounced the effort as soon as it became public. But the attacks on Romney’s business career are something that is being undertaken directly by the president’s campaign.

Tearing down Romney in this fashion is bad enough, but the sinister fashion with which Booker was forced to not just back away from his original position but to directly contradict it speaks volumes about the way the White House seeks to ride herd on Democrats. To diverge from the party line even to decry the nastiness of politics in an even-handed way while stating your support for the president is clearly unacceptable behavior for a Democrat these days. In his recantation video, Booker speaks as though he is about to be sent to a re-education camp if he doesn’t get it right and say that it’s okay to smear Romney. It should be noted however that the Democratic National Committee wasn’t entirely satisfied with the video since it released an edited version of the recantation that contained his agreement that Romney should be attacked with everything else left out.

One suspects that while Booker and the Democrats would like to send this whole incident down Orwell’s “memory hole,” the public won’t soon forget the mayor’s humiliation or how his recantation only buttressed the truths he originally spoke.