12:17 p.m. September 21, 2013

Harper's Magazine: Progressive Dupes

Harper's magazine proves a perfect liberal mark for a charlatan like Cory Booker.

I got home yesterday after a week in the Bay Area and settled into my armchair with a stack of new magazines from the mailbox. I only made it a couple of pages into Harper's magazine before I found myself staring in shock at an article endorsing Cory Booker…

Is Harper's publishing linkbait now?

But no, it was a serious endorsement, from economic columnist Jeff Madrick. Its strange logic went something like this:

  • Cory Booker came to Jeff Madrick's office to talk about economic policy.

  • They talked about child poverty.

  • Child poverty is a serious problem that does not get discussed often.

  • Presidential candidate Romney admitted that he did not worry about child poverty.

  • Jeff Madrick thinks that probably the best way to reduce child poverty is for the government to offer unconditional cash allowances (aka straight up welfare payments) to poor families with kids.

  • Cory Booker does not support cash allowances, but he once promised in a political speech that he wants to eliminate child poverty.

  • That is why you should vote for Cory Booker.

So, yeah, Madrick's endorsement doesn't make much sense, especially as he dedicated most of the column space to arguing that the only sensible way to tackle the problem of child poverty would be for the government bring back traditional welfare payments to poor families with children, without any of the crazy welfare-to-work time limits that are put on these programs today.

It's a sensible plan and a straight-up expansion of welfare. It's also something that Cory Booker explicitly rejects in favor of bullshit freemarket reforms like school vouchers and Section 8 programs. And yet Madrick praises and endorses him anyway, all because Cory Booker says he genuinely cares.

Is Jeff Madrick really that much of sucker?

What politician doesn't talk about wanting to end child poverty? Hell, even Ronald Reagan talked about wanting to end child poverty — and that's why he pushed to gut America's welfare system: to help kids get out of poverty. Because to the warped rightwing mind, welfare is cause of child poverty, not the solution. "In the welfare culture, the breakdown of the family, the most basic support system, has reached crisis proportions — in female and child poverty, child abandonment, horrible crimes and deteriorating schools," mumbled Reagan in 1986.

I'm just a simple Soviet immigrant, so I might not understand how all this democracy stuff works. But it seems to me that what's important is not that a politician talks about wanting to end child poverty, but how that politician plans on delivering that end. And it's in the "how" where Cory Booker's political problems come into stark relief.

The New York Times might have endorsed Cory Booker as a progressive Democrat, but his rightwing politics are well-known to regular readers of NSFWCORP. If you're a newbie who wants to understand where Booker stands ideologically, the talk he gave at a Manhattan Institute luncheon in 2000 is a good place to start. Back then Booker was just a lowly Newark City Council Member and much more candid about his views. He felt free to rail against public pensions, wealth redistribution and the need to privatize public education.

Here's a short excerpt from the talk:

"The old paradigm was an entitlement paradigm, in which large big city mayors controlled race-based machines. What that was really about was capturing big entitlements from the state and federal governments and divvying them up among their cronies or among the people within their organizations to protect and preserve their organizations. It was about distributing wealth.

"The new paradigm is about quick thinkers, people who are trying to make their governments engines of economic opportunity and judge them not by how many jobs they can provide but by how much wealth they can create and how efficiently they can deliver services within their own city.

"…charter schools made me a little uncomfortable when I first heard about them.

"But after four or five years of working in inner city Newark, I began to rethink my situation, rethink my philosophy, rethink my views on public education, simply because of the realities I saw around me. Being outcome-focused started to change my view in favor of options like charter schools, contract schools and, yes, vouchers….

"Public education is the use of public dollars to educate our children at the schools that are best equipped to do so—public schools, magnet schools, charter schools, Baptist schools, Jewish schools, or other innovations in education. That is where public dollars should go."

The Manhattan Institute crowd ate that kind of talk up. You have to remember that the Institute played a huge role in pushing through legislation in the 1990s that destroyed traditional welfare programs and targeted single mothers in particular with the harshest cuts. That legislation is known as "welfare-to-work" and was passed in 1996. When President Bill Clinton signed the law, he praised Manhattan Institute's anti-welfare guru, Charles Murray, for helping lead the way. "He did the country a great service" Clinton told NBC News.

That legislation is credited with plunging over a million children into third-world-level "extreme poverty," defined by the World Bank as subsisting on "$2 or less, per person, per day."

This is, in part, the handiwork of Cory Booker's early supporters at the Manhattan Institute. And Booker's relationship with the Manhattan Institute only got tighter as his political star rose.

During his term as mayor, Booker worked closely with the outfit on police, prison and poverty programs. That earned him the admiration of Manhattan Institute President Lawrence Mone, who wrote an op-ed in the New York Post praising Booker for being "at the vanguard of an important new effort to apply the lessons of welfare reform’s success" to other government services. And that he did: During his tenure as Newark Mayor, Booker privatized garbage and sanitation services, pushed to deregulate Newark's water supply, battled public sector unions, gave out corporate tax breaks and peddled all sorts of toxic school privatization schemes. The Manhattan Institute crowd loved his work so much, some of them are financially supporting his current run for the Senate. You can read about it in my NSFWCORP Print Edition feature

Yep, Cory Booker is a freemarket groupie backed by the same political forces that gutted welfare in this country and plunged the poor deeper into poverty and squalor. So it makes total sense for Jeff Madrick and Harper's to endorse him as a prog champion of America's young and helpless underclass…

Madrick seems like decent guy, with a respectable bald pate and a crown of grey hair. He regularly contributes to the The New York Review of Books, used to be an economics columnist for The New York Times and is part of the left-leaning/progressive academic/thinktank world. But his political logic in backing Booker is so skewed and tortured that I figured that he had to be somehow involved with the Booker campaign, especially because he mentions on his homepage that he works as a "policy consultant" to politicians.

I mean, he can't be that much of chump, for free, can he?

So I sent him a note:

Jeff Madrick,

I'm a reporter from Las Vegas-based NSFWCORP magazine, and have been covering Cory Booker's Senate campaign for the past few months.

I read your column about child poverty and Cory Booker in the last issue of Harper's. In it, you mentioned that Cory Booker came to your office with his staff to discuss economic issues.

I'm curious… In your official bio, you state that you have "served as a policy consultant and speech writer for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and other U.S. legislators." Were you acting in this capacity when Cory Booker and his staff came to your office? If so, were you paid or compensated in any way for your work?

Thank you for your help, YL

Yasha Levine
Roving Correspondent, NSFWCORP

Madrick replied just a few minutes later, writing:

No, not paid or hired. Completely informal. He asked to get my views on economic issues. I think he talked to many people... JM

So that settles it. I'm glad that Jeff Madrick is not on the take. Rather, he's simply a tool and a dupe, a perfect liberal mark for a huckster like Cory Booker.