There are important differences—and even more important similarities—between Barack Obama’s announcement for president in 2007 and Cory Booker’s announcement last week. The similarities could sink Booker’s chances of winning the Democratic nomination.
One obvious difference is that Obama downplayed his ties to the African American community. Obama launched his campaign in Springfield, Illinois, which is almost 75 percent white, rather than Chicago, where he actually lived. After initially inviting his longtime pastor, Jeremiah Wright, to deliver the invocation, Obama at the last minute disinvited him. And Obama described his experience in Chicago in largely race-neutral terms. He talked about working with “pastors and laypeople to deal with communities that had been ravaged by plant closings” and learning that “the decisions to close a steel mill was made by distant executives, that the lack of textbooks and computers in a school could be traced to skewed priorities of politicians a thousand miles away.” Obama did not see fit to mention that he had moved to Chicago because he wanted to work in a black community and was inspired by the election of Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington.
In this regard, Booker’s announcement video could not be more different. It begins and ends with, and is repeatedly punctuated by, images and sounds of young black men in marching bands. It depicts Booker walking through city streets, past graffiti-covered walls, while explaining that he moved “into the central ward of Newark to flight slumlords.” While showing Booker in a black barbershop, it declares that he’s “the only senator who goes home to a low-income, inner-city community.”