George F. Will: L.A.'s mayor deserves a look by Dems for 2020
The threat of pogroms and conscription into the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War led Mayor Eric Garcetti's Jewish great-grandfather to head to America. Another great-grandfather married a Mexican woman who, fleeing revolutionary ferment there, came to America. Which is why Garcetti, a fourth-generation resident of the world's most polyglot city, is as American as the kosher burritos available here.
Trim, natty and with the polish of one born to public attention (as district attorney, his father, Gil, prosecuted O.J. Simpson), Garcetti, like dozens of Democrats who have noticed recent presidential history, is asking: Why not me?
Good question. No mayor has gone directly from a city hall to the White House. But the 44th president effectively began running for president as soon as he escaped to Washington from the state legislature in Springfield, Ill. The 45th came from six bankruptcies and an excruciating television show. So, it is not eccentric to think that a two-term L.A. mayor might be as qualified to be president as was, say, the governor of a state (Arkansas) with a population smaller than this city's.
Recent history does not suggest America has such a surplus of presidential talent that it can afford to spurn an audition by a mayor who governs where over 40 percent of waterborne imports enter the country — through the L.A. and Long Beach ports — and more than 50 percent of residents are immigrants or their children.
He has standing to warn his party, addicted to identity politics, that “people do want a national identity.” We are “not an ethnic nation but a civic nation,” and Democrats must speak to “identity” rather than “identities.” He brings practicality to the ideological “sanctuary cities” argument: When a Korean immigrant who became a citizen and then an L.A. cop was shot, not fatally, witnesses and others, many likely illegal immigrants, provided information that enabled police to capture her assailant within hours. Such police-community cooperation is, Garcetti says, jeopardized when police are viewed as closely allied with federal immigration enforcement.
At 47, he is a generation younger than some progressives' pinups (Sanders, Warren, Biden). And living far from Washington, he is positioned to deplore the Beltway.
Democrats, he says, sometimes are “the smarty-pants party” that does not “speak plain English.” He seems, however, to try to avoid offending his party's easily offended keepers of litmus tests.
Asked last September if gun makers should be liable for their products' misuse, he said, “I think you have to be open to that.” Such mush does not move nominating electorates.
L.A. mayors are not powerful — others run the schools — and Garcetti must get along with 87 other mayors in L.A. County.
This is, however, training for the presidency, which must deal with Washington's rival power centers.
California's presidential primary, usually a June irrelevancy, will occur in March 2020. Garcetti deserves a hearing. America could do worse. It usually does.
And in 33 months, it probably will.
George F. Will is a columnist for Newsweek and The Washington Post.