Image 01 Image 02 Image 03

“I am Spartacus” will stick to Cory Booker

“I am Spartacus” will stick to Cory Booker

Why some mistakes, like “I am Spartacus,” stick to politicians and others don’t

Political rule number 1: Don’t take a selfie with Bozo the Clown. Your opponents will use it forever in political ads.

Political rule number 2: Don’t call yourself Spartacus. You will be ridiculed today, tomorrow, and forever.

Somebody forgot rule number 2, and the man who forgot it, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), will pay a price.

The junior senator from New Jersey is looking ever-more junior by the day. He is now the butt of every prankster with Photoshop and a picture of Kirk Douglas in a gladiator’s costume.

True story. Today, when I Googled “Spartacus,” the search engine helpfully added a second word, “Booker.”

Although the ridicule will fade, it will return every time Sen. Booker seeks the presidency, which will probably be for the rest of his life. Breathtakingly stupid comments like Booker’s “I am Spartacus” are like red wine spilled on a white carpet. You can mop and scrub them, but they don’t really disappear.

Why do some mistakes like this live so long and others fade away so quickly?

The ones that live are those that reveal—and congeal—our deep-seated images of the person who made them. They do so succinctly, memorably. Their opponents know that and seize upon them. So do comedians and editorial cartoonists, unless they are unwilling to joke about a candidate they support (an all-too-common ailment these days).

Consider a few Great Fumbles from recent U.S. political history.

The two most consequential were:

  • Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables,” referring to Trump supporters, and
  • Mitt Romney’s “47 percent,” referring to people who “are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” Not a smart thing to say at a high-priced fundraising dinner, especially when your opponent is saying you are rich and out-of-touch with ordinary Americans. Even worse when your opponent points out that the 47% figure includes people on military pensions.

These were deep, self-inflicted wounds—and they never healed completely. Both were secretly recorded, like Donald Trump’s “grab them by the p*%^y” comment. Everyone wants to know a secret, which made their release even more powerful. They revealed a candidate’s unscripted side, which seemed truthful for two reasons. First, it was unguarded and said “in confidence” to a select group.

Second, it matched and reinforced our prior misgivings about the candidate.

Hillary’s comment showed that she not only loathed her opponent, she loathed the people who supported him. In half-a-sentence, she revealed what she was so often charged with embodying: the coastal elite’s contempt for ordinary Americans. Since Donald Trump was running hard against those elites, he seized upon it. His supporters loved it. They began wearing “I am a deplorable” hats and filled the internet with that meme, worn as a badge of honor. It was reminiscent of a 1911 gubernatorial campaign in Mississippi, where supporters of one candidate began wearing red neckties after an adversary called them rednecks.

Hillary’s mistake was especially dumb because Barack Obama made the same one in 2008. As one newspaper described it, “Referring to working-class voters in old industrial towns decimated by job losses, the presidential hopeful said: ‘They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.’” Obama’s opponents painted that as elitist contempt for rural America and a frontal attack on their religious faith and the right to bear arms. Obama was able to blunt that attack with his engaging and sometimes-folksy style, but he never entirely erased the supercilious image, condensed in that statement.

Hillary, Mitt, and Barack are not alone. Pres. Gerald Ford never erased the image of himself stumbling down the stairs of Air Force One. As a former football player and coach, he was actually as athletic as anyone ever to hold the Presidency. But Chevy Chase’s Saturday Night Live parody of the president used that clumsiness as Ford’s only characteristic. Chevy made no attempt to look or sound like Ford. He just stumbled around, knocking over everything and looking befuddled. It worked, and not just because
Chevy Chase was a gifted physical comedian, starring on a popular show. It worked because Ford seemed to be stumbling in office. Remember his goofy, fruitless effort to stop inflation by wearing a lapel pin that said “Whip Inflation Now”?

Michael Dukakis made an entirely visual flub, the equivalent of embracing Bozo. He attended a military exercise and was photographed exiting a tank wearing an army helmet that looked too large and utterly inappropriate. To compound the problem, his opponent was running on the urgent need to rebuild the military. That one photograph seemed to say, “There is no way Dukakis can project American armed power against the Soviet Union.” Ronald Reagan could.

Cory Booker’s flub will stick, too. It is concise and memorable, and it captures a side of Booker that seems revealing. It says, “I am grandiose, self-inflating, and narcissistic.” Every candidate for President probably shares those features. So, obviously, does the current occupant. It’s just that most politicians don’t make them the centerpiece of their campaign rallies. Or high-profile Congressional hearings.


Charles Lipson is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Chicago, where he is founding director of PIPES, the Program on International Politics, Economics, and Security. He can be reached at [email protected]


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.


The point is accurate but I believe Dukakis was running against George H. W. Bush, not Ronald Reagan.

    A bridge too far in reply to Christopher B. | September 11, 2018 at 6:14 pm

    We are probably stuck with this silly little man child. The author is correct. Splart-acus will run for President for the rest of his life. Good laughs ahead.

The funny thing about the perpetually grandstanding Booker referencing a line from “Spartacus” is that it’s a pretty obscure pop culture reference for today’s audiences — especially millennials — given the film’s age (58 years old). If vainglorious Booker wanted to revel in the glory of “sword and sandal” epics, he should’ve referenced “Gladiator;” but, even that more recent film is eighteen years old, already.

Twitter is having a field day with everyone sharing their I am Spartacus moments….twitchy has grabbed a bunch…hilarious. The author is correct…this isn’t going away ever for Booker.

Dems 2020. Spartacus and Pocohantas
Make History Fake Again

Cory Booker can’t possibly be Spartacus! Because I am Spartacus!

Local Atlanta air personality Erick Erickson called him “Farticus”. Nothing I can say will top that.

This. is. Jersey.

We need memes.

Corey is being linked to some greasy real estate deals in Tallahassee involving Dem Gubernatorial candidate, Andrew Gillum, who voted in favor of approving a deal involving Spartacus Corey which permitted the NJ Senator to convert an old power plant into a Corey restaurant named “Edison.”

But the FBI has evidence from meetings which involved Corey, Gillum and an FBI Agent supposedly named Mike Miller, who pretended to be a “developer.”

So since Trump knows well how these deals work, he will soon loose the information which will destroy Gillum’s campaign and ruin Corey’s plans for a 2020 Presidential run.

    artichoke in reply to gad-fly. | September 11, 2018 at 1:56 am

    That would be fun, hope it happens!

      It will. Just as the Democrats went after Al Franken in hopes of disguising their plan to pay accusers of Trump, the FBI needs a lower level Democrat for “non-partisan” bona fides.

        artichoke in reply to SDN. | September 11, 2018 at 4:06 pm

        He’s the only credible black presidential prospect. Kamala Harris is out, I’d say permanently, after her disgraceful behavior in the Kavanaugh hearings, including trying to get him to “lie under oath” by posing and pushing unreasonable questions that he could not know the answer to. I was a bit afraid of Harris, but not any more, so Booker’s it.

        Or maybe Tim Scott from SC? He seems to be in favor of special stuff for blacks, but he’s coonservative in some ways and better than either of the other two.

That was Booker’s “Howard Dean” moment. Remember this?

In the alternative,call him ‘obama.’ It’s worse.

When Mitt Romney made his 47% comment, I thought that meant the percentage of people who don’t pay income tax. I don’t remember any mention of Government dependence.

Why is it that whenever I see Cory Booker, he seems like a high school freshman who got lost on a tour of the Capitol?

Spartacus Booker is as transparent a demagogue as there ever was. Even his own side can see it.

Its hard to win if they are laughing at you

It will make great memes next time Booker (Booger) runs for office. I have some great ones in mind already with – I am Shartacus (with some poo emoji additions)

You can still win in NJ even if everyone is laughing at you, especially if you’re a Dem. That’s the sad part.

However, making fun of this affirmative action ivy-leaguer is going to be great sport. This is not the first time, nor will if be the last time, he has beclowned himself.

Char Char Binks | September 11, 2018 at 11:25 am


My favorite is, “I cut the tags off of pillows and mattresses. I am Spartacus! – Cory Booker”

Is calling Booker “Spartacus” a thracist comment?

Spartacus C. Booker of Newark, NJ

Romey – You may be right, but whether the reference was to those who don’t pay any income tax or those that get a government check, the remark was TRUE. He wasn’t disparaging them, he was merely observing that a tax-cutting, government-reducing Republican was very unlikely to get their vote away from the party of big government, and that’s a problem for everyone. (Cay we say Entitlement spending problems, or DEFICIT?) That this TRUE remark of Romney’s was treated in the media and even here as equivalent to Hillary’s “deplorables” remark is, well, it’s why we have the Alt Right. (V Dare is the Alt Right to me, don’t be digging up some real deplorables and throwing them in as alt-right just so you can justify your defining the Alt Right as bad.) The Alt Right is just a place where those fed up with being derided for telling obvious disquieting truths can speak freely in pursuit of TRUTH and real solutions to real problems. It’s a place for those who actually CARE, as opposed to virtue-signalers.

This true remark stuck to Romney because he is famously wealthy, we are saturated in PC, and it fit the media’s “rich=bad,” “rich vs poor” template. “He said that because he hates the poor.” It’s a template that divides, it needs taking down, and don’t look now, but Trump? I’m no Romney fan, but this is a good example: Who do we want addressing society’s problems, protecting us from enemies foreign and domestic? Someone with clear eyes who can see straight, or someone who denies reality when it doesn’t look great?