Cory Booker, the Senator from New Jersey of the Closed Beaches, has decided to stop taking money from Big Pharma. For the time being.
Big Pharma loves Booker. Booker loves Big Pharma. But for now, their romance must be the love that dare not speak its name. Booker wants to be President. He needs the base to support him. Hence the freeze-out.
To heal his career wound, Booker needs a medicine more expensive than the ones he helps Big Pharma with. This would be delicious irony, except this sort of thing keeps happening to a certain set of progressive politicians: they are boosted as the last best hope of Earth, before being found out as centrist sellouts. If Booker’s disgrace is poetic justice, then it is poetry which rhymes—no matter how these plastic reformers start, their ends are the same. We need a term to describe the interval of time between initiation as a progressive politician and discovery that the politician is not so progressive.
I call this concept the Booker Window.
Senator Booker has a limited number of hours on the national stage to gain support and adoration, before the scrutiny of electoral politics focuses in too close. Collecting drug money shortens this duration. Every cry of “sell out” puts a dent in his future. As The Intercept reports, the Pharma freeze-out came after “activist criticism for his vote against allowing drug reimportation to the United States.” “We’ve put a pause on even receiving contributions,” Booker told NPR. Zaid Jilani writes:
As Booker noted, he received “much criticism” specifically for his January vote against drug reimportation and his heavy fundraising from the industry alongside it. Both support for, and opposition to, drug reimportation has long been bipartisan — and the divide is more about financial backing from the industry than party. And that financial backing is largely correlated with whether Big Pharma has a sizable concentration of jobs and industry in a particular state. Booker’s New Jersey has a heavy concentration of the pharmaceutical industry. “I come from a Big Pharma state,” said Booker, “and I understand that pharmaceutical companies are making innovations that are life-saving, but something has become terribly twisted if you can go to other countries who can buy drugs that are made and innovated on in the United States and find them for dramatically less costs.”
The actual story is more complicated. The Prophet Sanders proposed an amendment which would have authorized drug importation from Canada. These medicines would have been much cheaper. Thirteen Dems, including the Senator from Pharma, railed against it. Booker attempted to explain away his vote: he had supported it in concept but had not in practice. Some people bought it, but the world soon realized Booker and Martin Shkreli had a common interest. Eventually the muckrakers found out who Booker’s waltz partner was. Booker’s untarnished star descended into the ocean, right next to the late Governor Christie’s private beach.
Distancing himself from the drug kingpins is the smart move. But Booker is not trying to win the left back to the fold: they already know what he is, and prefer Bernie. The left are more expensive to recruit: they need evidence to support him. But the mass of Democrats are not so weighed against the Senator. They don’t require a strong reason to like him; they just need not to hate him. That’s the difference. Booker would have to change his entire plan to court the left, but the rest of the base can be had for far cheaper.
Bad news travels fast, but arrives sooner to some doors than others. The question for Booker, and politicians like him, is this: How long can you fool progressives?
Corporate Democrats of Booker’s type have a contradiction at the heart of their existence. The leadership and donors love the status quo. But the base hates it. You cannot live without the base. So you must talk left but practice centrist. You hope to never be discovered. If you are clever or eloquent, you can avoid detection for nearly forever. If you must be found out, it is best that this happens as late in your career as possible, so you cannot be dislodged. Rahm Emanuel is Mayor of Chicago for this reason.
The Booker Window is Jumping the Shark applied to politics. Like television, politics is inherently a lurid business where value must be proven episodically. To be a progressive, a politician must vote for progressive legislation and back progressive causes. Progressive politicians can wait, they can vote strategically, they can trade favors, but when push comes to shove, they must deliver. A television series has to prove itself every episode. A politician has to prove himself with actual policy. If you cannot do that, then you are not a progressive, and are racing against the Booker Window.
The closing of the Booker Window is not the same as failing due to incompetence. Jimmy Carter talked a good game about poverty and justice, but could not achieve his goals for reasons of skill. The Booker Window deals exclusively with bad faith.
The Window can close on you a number of ways. It can slam shut when the politician commits an act which cannot be explained away to the public. Booker’s veto of the pharma bill is one such act.
The Window can close when the politician, despite all the resources available to them, will not advocate for progressive policy. The Congressional Democrats closed it in 2009, when they declined to pass government-sponsored health care. The Democrats of California recently closed the Window. Despite their supermajority, Speaker Rendon vetoed single-payer.
The Window can close at conception, if a politician refuses to run on the most tepid version of progressivism. The recent contest in Georgia’s Sixth District is illustrative.
Some fortunate TV shows never jumped the shark or have not yet: Breaking Bad, Always Sunny, C-SPAN. And sometimes the Booker Window does not close on a pretend progressive. Obama was the absolute master of the Booker Window.
Here we get to the other important point about the Booker Window. It cannot be the loss of faith of one progressive, but a majority of them. The Booker Window applies neither to the single individual nor to the general public. It applies to the base, who have enough time to be involved in politics, but not enough time to study every single aspect of the politician’s votes. They provide seed money, go door to door, and you must have them if you wish to thrive. The Booker Window is determined by the base.
There is always a sell-by date in politics. The Booker Window establishes it. The Window is not a measure of the corruption of elected officials. Rather, it is a metric of the base’s wisdom and watchfulness. In the old days, the Booker Window could stretch for months or years. But in an age of social media, the feedback loop between politician and base is smaller, tighter. Politicians must prove their mettle quickly. The shorter the span of the Booker Window, the quicker the understanding of the people.
There are real progressives in America, just as there are real conservatives. As in medieval currency, there are true coins and false ones. No system of exchange can survive long or be of real use when counterfeits are undetectable. The narrowing of the Booker Window—the discovery of half-hearted reformers—should be our constant goal. The sooner we put the Bookers of the world to the test, the faster they may be proven false. The shorter the Window, the higher our standards.