Sen. Cory Booker's Rich Friends Will Win

The business-friendly politician can be expected to protect their interests in Washington.

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For all of America's talk of racial progress and the celebrations surrounding the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, we live in a nation with one black governor (Massachusetts' Deval Patrick, whose term ends next year) and one senator (South Carolina Republican Tim Scott). Booker's election will double the latter number but should be more cause for national shame than pride.   

Born in 1969, four years after the conclusion of the civil rights movement's heroic period, Booker came of age in an era of neo-liberal politics. It was an age in which Democratic President Bill Clinton favored "triangulation" and compromise over the unfettered liberalism that marked the New Deal and the Great Society.

Welfare reform and crime policy utilized the poor and black as mostly props in a political drama that gave even more power to the rich through policy (including ending financial regulation that led to the Great Recession) and a rhetoric that fetishized the "greed is good" ethos of the cinematic icon Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas in the classic film Wall Street.

Cory Booker, New Jersey's soon-to-be-elected senator, must have been paying attention. The muted response to his meteoric rise from a black community that, in its bones, realizes something is amiss is a testament not only to how far we have come since the civil rights era but also to how far we have fallen.

Peniel E. Joseph is founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and a professor of history at Tufts University. He is also the Caperton fellow for the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute at Harvard University. He is the author of Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America and Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama. His biography of Stokely Carmichael will be published next year by Basic Books. Follow him on Twitter.

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