SXSW

Cory Booker Wants America to Believe in the Power of Love

At South by Southwest, Cory Booker declines to say whether or not he will run for president.

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Credit—Peter Suderman

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker opened this year's South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin today with an extended meditation on the power of love. Love, he said, is the "most powerful force in the universe" and the guiding idea of America's founding: America is here because of "a conspiracy of love." Love, Booker said, is far better than mere tolerance. "Tolerance builds fences between people. Love rips them down." And only love, he argued, can fix what ails our broken nation. "It is the greatest force in our country right now," he said, "and our only salvation—and that is to love one another."

Booker's speech was earnest, heartfelt, and the crowd—well, it's fair to say they loved it. Perhaps surprisingly, however, for a sitting U.S. senator, his opening remarks were almost entirely devoid of any mentions of actual policy.

That would come later, though, in a question and answer session with Google Senior Counsel on Civil and Human Rights Malika Saada Saar. In the follow-up conversation, Booker talked more specifically about what, exactly, it would mean to pursue love as a political strategy. In part, Booker said, it would mean removing yourself from ideological bubbles and reaching across the aisle to work with individuals and organizations that aren't always your political allies. He mentioned, for example, an "incredible experience" he had at a conference hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, and talked about working with Sen. Jeff Sessions—who he recently blasted in a widely shared speech during Sessions' confirmation hearing—on legislation.

But Booker's politics of love turns out to cover a lot of other ground as well. For example: fixing America's food policy, which Booker called "tragically broken," because it allows tax dollars to fund beef industry advertising. Also, doing a better job of regulating drones and other technologies. The Federal Aviation Administration's regulation of drone tech amounted to a "horrific strangulation" of the industry. He's also worried about government procurement polices that are rough on small business, America being left behind on "next generation nuclear energy" tech, bipartisan criminal justice reform, and the treatment of women in prison (he said he's working with a coalition in hopes of writing a bill to reform the treatment of incarcerated women). He's also rather excited about the power of social media to empower activists—and legislators like himself.

Booker, who declined to say whether he would run for president in 2020, was typically charming and energetic, and many (though not all) of the ideas he sketched out were good ones. As for love, well, mostly it seems to to be a catchall term for policies that Cory Booker already likes.

SXSW Cory Booker