Video of the Day: Cory Booker Out-Obamas President Obama

In criticizing the president's attack on Mitt Romney's Bain Capital record, he gives an uncomfortable reminder of how voters saw Obama four years ago.

This weekend, a young black politician -- handsome, charismatic, and hipper than the average elected official -- took the national spotlight and made a dramatic show of defying his party's old guard, complaining about the divisive, negative, business-as-usual attitude emanating from Washington. It could have been Barack Obama four years ago -- but instead, Obama was the target of the attack.

His assailant was Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey and an Obama surrogate. It's worth reading the transcript for context, but here's the controversial quote:

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. This stuff has got to stop because what it does is it undermines, to me, what this country should be focused on. It's a distraction from the real issues. It's either going to be a small campaign about this crap or it's going to be a big campaign, in my opinion, about the issues that the American public cares about.

It's notable that he went after private equity first, undermining the Obama campaign's key message from last week. The reelection team says it is focusing on the economy -- talking about Bain Capital isn't a distraction so much as a distillation of Romney's economic philosophy -- although there's reason to be skeptical about that explanation. Booker may have ulterior motives of his own: He's an up-and-comer in a state where private equity and other major business concerns that Obama has criticized are major players, as Steve Kornacki notes.

In any case, Booker was backtracking by nightfall, sending out the following video on Twitter:

Booker makes very clear that he strongly supports Obama's reelection, and he again mentions conservative pushes to remind voters about Jeremiah Wright. He says it's fair for the Obama campaign to "examine [Romney's] record and discuss it," although he doesn't really make clear where the line is between a legitimate discussion of Romney's resume and an unfair attack on private equity. (Democrats say they don't want to demonize private equity, but they also need to attack Romney's executive experience, his key credential. As a result, figuring how to walk this line will remain one of their key challenges throughout the campaign.)

Meanwhile, pundits on both the left and right quickly derided the video as a frantic walkback orchestrated by the Obama campaign. It's easy to see why even a sloppy reversal seems necessary. Booker's comments don't just make it hard for Obama to attack Romney on Bain -- they offer an uncomfortable reminder of how voters used to see the president.

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David A. Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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