CHICAGO -- This far outside the Beltway, it's easy to see why regular people are so put off by politics -- our endless 24/7 stream of dysfunctional statecraft has become so toxic that it is even making politicians sick.
Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, N.J., and a young, rising star among the Democrats, made the huge mistake of using a national TV appearance to say the same thing that's on most voters' minds: The negative tone of the presidential campaigns is "nauseating."
Booker was referring to reports that a rich, independent Republican activist was considering launching an attack on President Obama by resurrecting the controversy over his fiery ex-pastor, Jeremiah Wright. But Booker went bipartisan with his complaint, calling out the Obama campaign for ads condemning Republican challenger Mitt Romney for the money he made at private equity firm Bain Capital.
"This kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides," Booker said. "It's nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright."
Oooooooh, I thought as I watched him tell it as it is, Cory Booker's gonna get in trou-ble!
Booker sure did get in trouble. Social media lit up with lamentations that he went dangerously off-message and angry declarations that he was a Democratic traitor, possibly brainwashed or working for the other team. But then the Obama administration made the situation even worse (they're getting really good at this sort of thing).
Later in the day, Booker posted a video to YouTube spelling out his support for the president but reaffirming his disdain for negative attacks. Shortly after, a Washington Post blog reported, the Obama campaign sent out a selectively edited version of the video, making it appear that Booker was going back on his earlier comments.
OK, right about now those of you who don't follow politics like teenage girls follow the Kardashians' shoe purchases are rolling your eyes. So I won't elaborate much on the related debates that Booker's short TV appearance has inspired, such as: Why in the world would it be bad that a private equity firm actually made money for its investors? And if it was so bad, why do candidates from both sides of the aisle so happily take money from well-off investors?
These are good questions, but they obscure how telling a moment Booker's gaffe truly is. The real takeaway here is that if politics is turning off the very people who have committed to enduring it for a shot at trying to bring about real change, who can blame voters for just tuning out the whole petty mess?
There are still five months left until this two-year election cycle marathon finally ends, yet how many more stories will we have to endure about the presidential pet Bo, Mitt Romney's infamous dog-on-the-car-roof scandal, or the president's experiences eating dog meat as a child in Indonesia?
And those are just a few of the items in the pet category. Never mind the ever-popular and intensely polarizing topics of hating and taxing the rich, or the transparent and demeaning race to prove who would be better for the poor, Hispanics, women, senior citizens, college kids or veterans.
Neither candidate is talking about issues that really matter. Both are simply delivering applause lines day after day, measuring how they play in the media and going back to the drawing board for something zingier. And this could bite them come November.
For one, people usually don't dash to the polls to cast a vote for the lesser of two evils.
And as politicians are vilified by their own parties, down goes the desire of regular people to participate in public service.
It has been said that Booker -- who just last month rescued one of his neighbors from her burning house -- is too nice a guy to be in such a dirty game. And we all know where nice guys finish: last, along with scores of tired and disillusioned voters.
Esther J. Cepeda is a nationally syndicated columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.