Cory Booker Likes to Humblebrag

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Cory Booker is famous for being an early and enthusiastic adopter of Twitter. So it's only natural that Booker, who is likely to be the next senator from New Jersey, would express himself in the way the site is infamous for: the false modesty of the humblebrag.

Objectively speaking, Booker has much to be proud about in his life: he graduated from Stanford and Yale Law School, received a Rhodes scholarship, became mayor of Newark, has a large audience of devoted followers on Twitter, and is a rising and prominent Democratic politician. Despite all this, Booker ruffled some feathers this morning in a profile in The Washington Post with a series humblebrags — or the not-so-subtle attempts at self-deprecating comments on something of particular pride — and ostentatious word choices. As the piece's author Jason Horowitz writes, "Some people drop names; Booker drops past exploits." And there are plenty of them.

Those exploits are sometimes told through overly-casual humblebrags, though. For example:

  • "When I had the incident with the fire," refers to when he rushed into a building building to save a woman inside.
  • “I am a geek nerd who happened to have a temporary period of jockiness,” explains his football career at Stanford.
  • Horowitz says Booker "lets slip" a college story in which he talked down a potentially suicidal jumper "in front of the entire campus." You see, Booker wasn't talking about it himself, but everyone else was, so he's only saying that they were talking about.

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On the other hand, Booker was certainly no stranger to outright bragging, particularly with some high-minded language:

  • Booker admits to quoting Winston Churchill and speaks "using rhetorical flourishes, such as 'Touché, mon capitaine.'"
  • After being personally invited by influential Democratic political boss George Norcross III to a comedy charity event in Pennsylvania, Booker says that he chose to attend the out-of-state event because of, in his own words, the "perfunctory profession of prodigious pandering.” (Basically, for easy political points).
  • Booker talks plenty about combatting cynicism, although he has a strange definition of the term. He has been listening to the audio tape of Mark Leibovich's book This Town, which documents the ugly underbelly of D.C. government, because "I love to see the cognitive laziness — that is, cynicism — at its best." Laziness is not exactly an accurate definition of cynicism, which is better described as a skepticism and mistrust with a negative connotation. He also calls cynicism "the most cognitively debilitating state of being," which, well, okay.

The reaction to this high-minded language is well captured by this tweet from Nick Confessore, a political reporter for The New York Times.

Booker's extensive profile won't do much to shed the growing impression of him as a "showhorse," and not a workhorse, as the family of the late New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg termed him. In Booker's own view, the point of mentioning Washington's cynicism is to contrast it with his active, executive experience, but there is some doubt as to his effectiveness. "Cory Booker is going to be different. He is going to change things. Just don’t ask what, or how," Horowitz writes.

Columbia Journalism Review's Brendan Nyhan played press advisor after reading the piece, giving Booker some much-needed advice:

Booker's media strategy and self-promoting attitude has previously been questioned in an article by Roll Call's Niels Lesniewski and Kyle Trygstad, in which not coincidentally Booker refused to provide comment. "One way of gauging his interest in being a workhorse instead of a showhorse could come in his first hires as a senator," they write. "Two previous Democratic media sensations — Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton — both hired Senate insiders at the senior staff level for their Senate offices." Or he could be like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul — someone who gets on TV a lot, but doesn't affect legislation.

Though the New Jersey Senate job is Booker's to lose, this newest Post profile suggests that Booker has yet to hire a new advisor with a different media strategy. Until then, his detractors seem to have a point on the showhorse criticisms. Touché, Booker might say.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.