Why you should care

Because he was almost pegged to be vice president … and could top your ballot in the next decade.

“Let me be the first to say it — maybe a bit inappropriately, given the timing — but Cory Booker 2024!” shouted Carlos Watson, OZY’s co-founder, raising the hand of the New Jersey senator in triumph. It followed an impassioned conversation about Black Lives Matter, incarceration, felon disenfranchisement and the policy issues the Dems should focus on, and it was delivered at OZY Fusion Fest in Central Park this summer.

Let us note: The crowd packed into the festival tent went wild at the prospect of a Booker White House.

Never mind that the news had just broken that Booker had been passed over as Hillary Clinton’s VP pick (which Booker didn’t comment on, except to enthuse over VP nominee Tim Kaine). We’ve got our eye on Booker. Here are some choice nuggets from his conversation with Watson, curated for length and clarity.

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Cory Booker and supporters at OZY Fusion Fest 2016

Source Mark Madeo / OZY

OZY: There were a lot of good folks who said, as great as Secretary Clinton may be, she should have chosen you to be her running mate. Were you disappointed that you weren’t chosen?

Cory Booker: I gave an interview a year ago, where I was asked who should be the vice president. I was in South Carolina and I said it should be Tim Kaine. But you could ask anybody, on the right or the left in the Senate, and ask them to rank the top 10 people who have presidential timber, and you would probably get 75 to 80 of the senators who would say he was in the top 10. As a former mayor, he has been an executive and has that experience. But he’s also a guy with extraordinary character.

OZY: What two or three signature policies would you hope to see come out of a first term for Clinton, were she to win?

C.B.: We are a nation with a lot of urgent issues that just aren’t sexy, but we’ve got to get back to working on them. And when you look at the best government dollars spent, in terms of economic growth, infrastructure is probably one of the best ways to spend it. We’ve allowed our infrastructure to fall to the 16th best in the world, and now is the best time to do it, because the cost of capital is so low. Every dollar in this metropolitan area will give you two, three dollars back in economic growth. Education is the same way. In America, it takes 52 percent of the median income to go to college. We’ve seen college graduations as a percent of the population going down.

I think Clinton understands that we have a lot of the basic building blocks to economic growth that has become starved, I think, because of perverse policies in this country. We need to reinvest and get back to the basics. A tax policy that doesn’t incentivize investing overseas, hiding money in companies, but incentivizes investment and job growth here. She wants to get a lot of the basics done of economic growth and job creation.

OZY: What do you think about the Black Lives Matter question?

C.B.: The most dangerous type of privilege is the mindset that “If a problem isn’t affecting me personally, it must not really be a problem.” We are a nation at our best when even if something isn’t affecting me personally, we step up — your special-needs child should arouse my compassion, your friend struggling with drug addiction is a concern of mine.

There is no difference in America, at all, along race, or even socioeconomic status, in drug use and abuse. None. Blacks use drugs just as much as whites use drugs. But Blacks will be arrested for drug crimes almost four times more than someone who is white.

If you have an arrest record — I’m not talking about a conviction — if you are arrested in this country, most states will allow you to legally discriminate against that person when it comes to getting a job, getting a loan from the bank, even getting into college. You’re allowed to ask the question “Have you ever been arrested?” The fact that we are hyper-arresting in this drug war. If you want to judge the greatness of a society, don’t look at their halls of power or wealth — go to their prisons and see who they incarcerate. Because we are overwhelmingly incarcerating the mentally ill, poor, addicted and minorities.

The question shouldn’t be why is Black Lives Matter protesting in the streets. Why aren’t more of us protesting in the streets?

OZY: When you say this to your Senate colleagues, thoughtful people, what do they say?

C.B.: I have partnerships across the aisle that I never thought I would have. The chief counsel of the Koch brothers is a legitimate friend. Newt Gingrich, who I thought gave an awful speech the other night. Grover Norquist. These are all allies of mine. Because whether you’re a Christian evangelical, fiscal conservative, vote-public-safety Republican, all of those people, when they look at the data, they see that one of the greatest threats to those principles is the criminal-justice system as it stands now. We have great allies, a bipartisan bill. But we’re not getting it done.

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