In 2013, The Atlantic ran a piece titled “Why Do Liberals Hate Cory Booker?” The article searched for the sources of progressive distrust of the senator from New Jersey. It scoured his policy positions to find his transgressions of party orthodoxy—and it couldn’t find any substantive deviation. It concluded, “The case against Booker seems to rest chiefly on tone and approach. Like Obama, he has positioned himself as a conciliator willing to work across the aisle.”
When I met with Booker this month, he reminded me several times that he had recently returned from New Hampshire. His barely concealed preparations for a presidential run have included the unveiling of large-scale, creative policy proposals that should put to rest any questions about where he resides ideologically. He has crafted a piece of legislation to provide low-income kids with a nest egg of $50,000, what he calls “baby bonds.” Another Booker bill would guarantee a job to anyone who wants one. Earlier this fall, he spoke passionately about the problem of economic concentration.
Despite all this aggressive legislation, his tone remains stridently conciliatory. A recurring theme in his speeches is love—or as he once put it, “unreasonable, irrational, impractical love.” I met him in his office, where he sat on a sofa underneath a photograph of Martin Luther King Jr. We spoke at length about, well, love. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.