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Sen. Cory Booker on the spiritual dimension of American politics

Cory Booker Marries Same Sex Couples As NJGay Marriage Law Goes Into Effect Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images

"I've found divinity in places where people wouldn't normally see it. I've found magic. … If we see no angels, it's because we harbor none. I like to be able to see the divinity and the angelic nature of humanity. If we see that more, it becomes real, it becomes true." — Cory Booker

US Sen. Cory Booker doesn't sound like most other elected officials.

He speaks easily and eagerly about the spiritual dimension of government. He says fasting for 10 days and then smelling — yes, smelling — a political rival "freed me from the prison of circumstance that so contorted my feelings." He notes with pride that he's the only vegan in Congress. He is quick to talk about his own faults, failings, and shortcomings.

"Faith necessitates humility — you're actually grappling with conceptions of the divine, and that is uncapturable. It is the infinite, and you're just a finite set trying to comprehend the infinite," Booker says.

I recently hosted Booker on my podcast for a 105-minute conversation that ranged from how Booker's faith influences his politics to productivity apps to his thoughts on Ta-Nehisi Coates. (You can listen to our discussion by subscribing to my podcast or streaming it on SoundCloud.) Among the (many, many) topics we covered:

  • The remarkable story of how Booker's parents used a sting operation to prove that a real estate agent wouldn’t sell them a house in a white suburb
  • How Booker's parents were "constantly pulling [him] back and forth over the American color line," and what impact that had on Booker's upbringing and worldview
  • Booker's prom night, on which he had to pretend a friend was taking his white date to avoid arousing the suspicion of the girl's parents
  • How Booker came to realize, with the help of Henry Louis Gates, that he is the descendant of both slaves and slave owners
  • What it's like to be the only vegan in Congress
  • Why Booker would rather be described as a hopeful politician than an "optimistic" one
  • On why Booker did not mock Sen. James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, after Inhofe brought a snowball to the floor of Congress to demonstrate that climate change was not real. "I wanted to not accentuate my differences with Sen. Inhofe; I wanted to see him for his humanity and get to know him as a person," Booker says.
  • Why Booker hates penguins
  • Which book Booker gave to every single sitting US senator

Underlying much of our conversation is Booker's new book, United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good. I highly recommend it.

For more podcast conversations — including episodes with Rachel Maddow, Bill Gates, World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim, and conservative activist Michael Needham — subscribe to The Ezra Klein Show.