The fall of midnight on December 31st, 2019, meant nothing to me—in part because we have spent every waking moment of the last three years and change awaiting it, thereby ensuring its impotent anticlimax; and in part because the work that I began in 2019, the work of pursuing the presidential candidates to force them to talk about Julian Assange, didn’t end when the drunks at the bar raised their glasses to their collective survival of another year. I was piecing together my interview with Sofia Zaldivar, barely even conscious of the impending shift, and I remembered that, somewhere on the eastern side of the Atlantic, the new year had already come for Julian Assange—though for him, and for me, the question was whether he would live to join those degenerates at the dawn of 2021.
This was not the time for celebration. It wasn’t the time for mourning, either—not yet, at least, and we must do everything we can to ensure such a time doesn’t come—but I had no reason to tip back my glass and congratulate myself on a job well done. There was so much work before me, and so little of it appealing, least of all the task awaiting me in thirty-six hours’ time: early in the afternoon of January 2nd, 2020, I would have another chance—my fourth chance, in fact—to ask Cory Booker what he would do to defend Julian Assange. The senator from New Jersey was scheduled to visit Room 282 of the Franklin Pierce School of Law in Concord, New Hampshire, and take questions fielded by the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.
For those outside the know, the NH-ACLU hosted another event in the same classroom at the same venue four months ago, that time for the then-as-yet-to-have-failed Democratic Party presidential candidate Tim Ryan. If I’m not mistaken, that event was held on the same day, and pretty damned close to the same time, as one of the masochistic debates, which, as you may have gathered, Ryan did not attend because he did not qualify for it. Proceed to the present, and Ryan’s campaign has noiselessly ended, but Booker’s endures, despite his own disqualification for the most recent, and the next, televised debate. Unlike Ryan, whose alabaster masculinity could not distinguish him in a multicultural field, Booker laments his own absence as a missed opportunity for ethnic diversity, though not for diversity of ideology.
As the manifestation of the failed neoliberal swindle, Booker brings the vacuous culture of political celebrity to its treacherous zenith—or treacherous nadir, as the case may be. We covered Booker’s cruel sophistry before, and I have little interest in microwaving those leftovers now, but perhaps I should disclose some of what I’ve learned since he blew me off in that driveway in Hampton four months ago. It has since come to my attention that Booker is a spirited cheerleader for the genocidal violence perpetuated by the Israeli government, a status which would not distinguish him from any number of prominent American politicians if it weren’t for his own admission, disclosed in March of last year, that he and Mort Friedman, the president of AIPAC, “text message back and forth like teenagers”. Incestuous transnational ties should sicken the liberals who abhor Trump’s imaginary pact with Putin, yet Booker’s documented conflict of interest hasn’t been documented by the press in the U.S., even after proof has emerged of his efforts to sucker black Americans into supporting apartheid.
Perhaps you have been deceived by the pervasive propaganda depicting Israel as the victim of the Palestinians’ aggression, in which case you see nothing wrong with Booker’s orgiastic enthusiasm for imperialist slaughter. If that is the case, then I would advise you to consider an argument raised by Jimmy Dore, who exposed him almost three years ago for defeating a law endorsed by Bernie Sanders to lower the cost of prescription drugs after he was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the pharmaceutical industry. There’s nothing remarkable about this kind of corruption, except that Booker is campaigning in the Trumpish Age, when the commonplace casuistry of the typical political is intolerably unsubtle. Booker’s brand of boilerplate bouillon, brewed supposedly to stem our spiritual bleeding, provides only an unpleasant reminder of a simpler time, when such a lowly con artist as he could convince us of his sincerity, if not of his doing.
Or so we would like to believe. Reality paints a striking contrast, as illustrated by the hundred-plus people who crowded into Room 282 to give Booker a standing ovation. I knew that, unlike Ryan, who had spoken to a largely empty room, Booker’s event would be a hot ticket, so I arrived forty-five minutes early to guarantee myself a seat in the front row. Doing so ensured that I would have to feign enthusiastic interest in the wisdom of the other early birds, bourgeois whites who love to tell each other how many of the candidates they’ve met. I listened to the expected debate between the man who had narrowed his choice to Biden-Warren-Klobuchar and the woman picking among Biden-Warren-Buttigieg, with all of the nuanced analysis of public personality that represents the best of the New Hampshire electorate.
However, this occasion furnished an especially frightening case of the sickness spreading on the campaign trail. A middle-aged woman, who told me she would not attend a Marianne Williamson rally “unless I was looking for drugs, and I don’t do drugs anymore”, insisted that I watch a video of her teenage daughter asking Cory Booker about gun control. Concealing my grimace, I tried to be polite and watch it, but when I realized it went on for eight minutes, I returned the phone and said, “That’s great stuff!” She explained to me, and to everybody else who would tolerate her, that her daughter asks all of the candidates this question because she’s scared to go to school, lest she perish in the latest massacre.
At this point, I suspected she wanted her daughter to become an Internet sensation, perhaps in the vein of Greta Thunberg. Knowing there would be little point in challenging the inspirational value of a candidate promising to revoke her daughter’s right to self-defense, I opted to press her buttons differently: “You know whom I saw in Portsmouth the other night? Tulsi Gabbard! It was a pretty good rally. Has your daughter talked to her?”
Before I could ask the question, this woman was grimacing so strongly that most of her lower lip was exposed. “Yeah . . . yeah . . . yeah,” she said, the smoky contempt pulsing through her lungs. “My daughter asked her what she would do about guns, and she mumbled something about, ‘Well, wehavetousetheresourceswastedoverseasbackhereathome.’” I cannot convey the chipmunk voice in which she imitated Gabbard, which was so immature and so unbecoming that I didn’t even think to ask what she thought about the children being killed by our weaponry in foreign countries, the Yemeni children being but one tragic example. We have gun control at home, but how can the rest of the world achieve America control?
Ah, but the woman was already on her way to another patron, showing her the same footage of her daughter, by the time I had contemplated these questions. I overheard her on occasion as the crowd began to swell, asking how she is supposed to explain to her daughter that a sexual predator resides in the White House. She could face the same dilemma a year from now, as Booker once wrote an interesting column about how, as a teenager, he groped a girl at a party. I would never suggest that this behavior, in which he engaged at the age of fifteen, should disqualify him from holding office, but the argumentative omissions I’ve heard at these rallies raise interesting and unsettling questions about how seriously these people research.
Two of Booker’s most trusted campaign members. The man staring at me stared me down in Hampton, too. The woman was the same woman Booker instructed to stand in front of me so I could not ask him a question.
Booker arrived almost on time, which is a minor miracle at a political rally, and told all of the same jokes I remember hearing in August, when I last saw him. Actually, I last saw him at the convention in September, and he told the same jokes on that occasion, too. “The older I get, the better I was,” he says of his time playing football in college, moments before admitting “March of the Dag-Nab Penguins” defeated his own film for Best Documentary at the Academy Awards. Somewhere in-between, he finds time to tell us about the Iowan who said, “Dude! I want you to punch Donald Trump in the face!”
[And he said, “Dude! That’s a felony, man!” What is your point, Dack? Are you saying Gabbard doesn’t do the same exact thing? How many times has she told that story about her mother making toffee? Has she ever showed up on time for her rallies?]
I wasn’t mocking Booker for his tardiness. He was only five or ten minutes late, which was likely deliberate, thereby allowing the stragglers time to arrive. I don’t mind him telling the same stories: the story about his parents hiring a white couple to speak to a real estate agent on their behalf is actually really good, even though I’m not convinced that the agent had a dog sitting in his office, let alone one capable of attacking Booker’s dad on cue. My issue, which is a pretty minor one, is that it’s just embarrassing and awkward to hear him tell the same jokes over and over. We’re almost half a year removed from the incident in Hampton and he’s still calling it March of the Dag-Nab Penguins.
[Yeah, but Gabbard always calls her dad the “quality control specialist” when she tells the story of the toffee.]
Right, but that’s a minor detail that is passed over as soon as she says it. It doesn’t constitute the substance of her speech, which is about specific issues, like military intervention, the cost of war, and so on. When Booker speaks, it’s obvious that he isn’t describing his own policy, which, as The Intercept and Jimmy Dore observe, is frightening in its dishonesty, which is the product of his own corruption.
[Oh, I see what you mean: Gabbard’s cheesy appeals are ultimately a garnish, whereas Booker’s entire offering is one massive empty calorie.]
That’s a decent way of putting it, yes—and, ironically as it may sound, there is ample vapidity for us to probe. Yet, we don’t need to examine all of his moral betrayals at this time. We will content ourselves with one, the one for which I came to see him in the first place.
I refuse to believe that he is as unfamiliar with the case against Assange as he claims to be. Booker was on Hillary Clinton’s list of finalists for the vice-presidential nomination in 2016, and when he answered a separate question during this event, he actually described her as a woman who spends every waking moment of her life making the world a better place. He has to be familiar with all of the terrible disclosures of the DNC leaks in the summer of 2016, just as he must know, by virtue of his friendship with Mort Friedman, the many sinister and corrupt practices of our intelligence agencies, which WikiLeaks exposes as often as it can.
Yet, the surest evidence of Booker tipping his hand is the uncomfortable similarity of the nebulous, meandering response he offered me to that which he gave when The New York Times asked him about Assange last year. His opportunistic mendacity, whereby he can pay facetious homage to the freedom of the press while simultaneously facilitating the overreach of the Pentagon, reminds me of Amy Klobuchar, who speaks out of both sides of her mouth, as well. Finally, his nonplussing and infuriating sideswipe to the non sequitur (and non-issue) of “Russian interference” calls Beto O’Rourke to mind, for that man fallaciously conflated Assange with Putin, as well.
By the time Booker finished pandering to the crowd and prepared to pose for pictures, an older woman asked me why “so many young people” are asking the candidates questions about Assange. She explained that she recently attended a Michael Bennet rally, where “another young man asked him the same question”. We had an extended conversation in which I tried, as best as I was able, to explain to her the ominous implications of the case against Assange, the dearth of evidence of Russian interference, and the differences between publishers and whistleblowers. As we chatted, several employees of the corporate media moved us from one side of the room to the other and then back, for it seemed that we were standing in the way of their cameras.
She promised to look into the problem further, and I made way out. I saw dozens of other people doing the same, expressing their delight in Booker’s presentation and their optimism to “restore dignity to the White House”. The event may not have moved the needle toward freedom for Assange, but it did convince me even more completely that, far from having been enlightened by the disastrous election of 2016, the American people are still more than capable of falling for an outdated political scheme: they just have to rely on increasingly self-destructive energy to fuel their political imagination.