Leonard Pitts: An open letter to Sen. Booker of New Jersey

Published 11:59 pm Saturday, March 26, 2022


ear New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker:

Some days, you are really irritating.

That’s because you insist on being a happy warrior in grumpy times. With that eternal, internal and, yes, infernal sunshine of yours, you are to the body politic as that 1-877-Kars4Kids ad would be to a man with a hangover.

You float on pink clouds of bipartisan bonhomie, making friends of opponents, shoveling constituents’ driveways, racial slights bouncing off you like bullets off Superman, so upbeat, you make Fred Rogers look like Lewis Black. Even one of your former aides once said, “Sometimes it’s like, give me a break, Cory, take it down a notch.” This was in a Politico profile under the headline, “Is Cory Booker For Real?”

So yes, senator, some days you’re quite annoying. But there are other days, too. Wednesday was one of them.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee weighing her ascension to the Supreme Court, where she would be the first African-American woman in its 232-year history. The clownish grandstanding of senators like Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham were in full flower, displays of performative distress over phantom issues having nothing to do with her fitness, and everything to do with making their contempt palpable.

Why contempt? Does it even need saying?

If so, turn to conservative troll Charlie Kirk, who told his audience Brown represents “your country on CRT.” As if that was somehow too subtle, he went on to warn that, “Your children and your grandchildren are going to have to take orders from people like her.”

People. Like. Her.

“And what’s amazing,” he added of this woman who had spent hours quietly answering inane questions asked in bad faith without once snarling about her love for beer, “is that she kind of has an attitude, too.” By which, of course, he meant that she is uppity.

One felt debased by it all. One felt exhausted. And one had to wonder: When will this country ever, as a great man once put it, “rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed?” The feeling and the question have become sadly familiar.

Then, you started talking about resilience and faith. “I’m not letting anybody in the Senate steal my joy,” you declared, calling the Black church into this moment of historical reckoning. You invoked an African-American woman who stopped you on the street to say what it meant to see Brown poised on the cusp of history. And an African-American janitor who cried at the sight of you, a Black man, in the Senate. You spoke of what it means to love a country that doesn’t love you back.

You even subpoenaed the ancestors to testify: Langston saying, “America never was America to me, but I swear this oath: America will be;” Harriet, finding in a sky full of stars, one you said she took as her “harbinger of hope for better days — not just for her and those people that were enslaved, but a harbinger of hope for this country.”

“Today, you’re my star,” you said. “You are my harbinger of hope.”

“Don’t worry, my sister,” you told her, and right then, there was nobody in the room but the two of you, Black senator counseling Black judge, Black man uplifting Black woman. “Don’t worry. God has got you.”

Senator, you did well. You found a way to turn ugliness into light, to remind America of itself. Small wonder the judge wept. After days of this, years of this, a lifetime of this, she surely needed what you had to offer.

She’s not the only one.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.