Running for president -- for any elective office, really -- is an extended job interview. And as in any job interview, some questions are out of bounds. Why is your butt so big? Are you single? Do you have any embarrassing health problems? And do they explain why your butt's so big?
Instead, you stick to relevant details: education, interests, and work history. It works much the same way when you're running for president. Mitt Romney knows this, and Cory Booker should.
Romney served a term as governor of Massachusetts, but he ignores that part of his record entirely in favor of talking ad nauseam about his time as founder of Bain Capital, a private equity firm. When Romney says, "I understand how the economy works because I lived in it," he's talking about being the King of Bain.
"His main calling card for why he thinks he should be president," Obama recently said, "is his business experience."
This could become a Bain in Romney's neck. At its best, private equity invests in businesses that create jobs. At worst, private equity firms suck money out of failing businesses, enriching investors and putting people out of work. Private equity is amoral, neither good nor bad. It serves the bottom line, not the greater good. The whole point is making rich guys richer. Any jobs created in the process are beside the point. It's this kind of thinking that drove Romney to write the New York Times column, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." He didn't see any point in saving the jobs of autoworkers, and that, says Obama, is the point.
"When you're president, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits. Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot," said Obama.
For all of you who say you hate politics, take note -- this is how you want politicians to behave. Dude #1 wants Dude #2's job in the Oval Office. Dude #1 offers his job experience and explains how it informs his worldview and how he thinks that differs from how Dude #2 sees the world. Dude #2 responds by citing Dude #1's relevant job experience as an example of how Dude #1 doesn't understand what big job requires. No one's insulting anyone's religion, ethnicity, or big butt. Without anyone really noticing, America is being treated to a relatively fair-minded campaign, a fact reinforced by Romney's disavowal of a Super PAC's plan to smear Obama with the words of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's ex-preacher of "God damn America" fame. The fact that both sides disagree with each other doesn't change that both sides are behaving well.
This is why what Newark Mayor Cory Booker said last Sunday made no sense. Speaking on Meet the Press, Booker -- an African-American Democratic darling -- equated the actions of Bain Capital with the words of the Rev. Wright, calling the attacks "nauseating to me on both sides. It's nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity, stop attacking Jeremiah Wright."
Booker walked back his remarks later that evening on YouTube, but people are still unpacking the stupid from what he said on Sunday morning. Obama isn't attacking private equity any more than Romney is attacking the presidency, and only right-wing blogs are attacking Rev. Wright. But the big bass note of dumb that Booker struck was this: Obama disavowed Wright in 2008, while Romney is claiming that Bain qualifies him to run the country.
Booker would probably like the kerfuffle to end before people find out he raised $562,000 from Bain Capital and others in the financial sector for his 2002 mayoral run. Booker probably doesn't want to talk about the $240 million he raised from Wall Street to rehabilitate Newark, especially since some of that money came from major contributors to Romey's Super PAC. If Booker's not careful, he's going to give New Jersey politics a bad name.
Instead, Booker probably wants us to focus on what he said on his YouTube mea culpa: "Mitt Romney has made his business record a centerpiece of his campaign. He's talked about himself as a job creator, and therefore it is reasonable, and in fact I encourage it, for the Obama campaign to examine that record."
Now that we have Booker's permission, let's continue the job interview.