A few recent stories got me thinking.
First, the recent Senate approval of former Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s nomination to serve as United States ambassador to India.
This was a classic story of a mediocre politician failing up.
Garcetti, as mayor of Los Angeles, did little to shake up a status quo in need of serious reform.
The homelessness crisis in the city continues to fester, even worse than when he first took office. And then there’s the rampant corruption in city government, with numerous city officials convicted so far.
What mattered, though, wasn’t Garcetti’s competence (or incompetence), but his political loyalty. The White House stood by Garcetti simply because President Biden owed Garcetti a political favor. Ahead of the 2020 elections, Garcetti abandoned thoughts of his own presidential campaign and became an early backer of Biden.
Garcetti would’ve ended up a cabinet member if not for the myriad problems and scandals brewing in Los Angeles. This includes accusations he knew about but ignored alleged sexual misconduct by his top aide Rick Jacobs.
Alas, he ended up ambassador. And on a bipartisan vote, too, with several Republicans deciding to help out Garcetti. It just goes to show that in politics, it’s not competence or integrity that matters, it’s loyalty.
Which then brings me to another Californian who failed up, Vice President Kamala Harris. Five years ago, if you told me (or really any California journalist) that Kamala Harris would end up as vice president, I would’ve said that you’re insane.
But here we are.
On Thursday, Reuters reported that many in the White House, including Biden, have some serious gripes about Harris. “While the pair have a good working relationship, Democratic sources say Biden has frustrations about some of her work. He is also convinced that neither Harris nor any other Democratic hopefuls would be able to beat former President Donald Trump if he is the Republican nominee, a factor that has influenced Biden’s inclination to run again,” reported Reuters.
Kamala Harris is so terrible, in other words, that Biden feels obligated to run again.
None of this is any surprise to anyone who followed Kamala Harris’ political career in California. She proved even more capable than Garcetti at failing upward, from San Francisco district attorney to California attorney general to U.S. senator to somehow flipping a bombed presidential campaign into the vice presidency.
As San Francisco DA, she was blasted by the courts for failing to disclose serious issues at San Francisco’s crime lab. As California attorney general, Harris made a name for herself fighting the release of Daniel Larsen, who had been exonerated by the Innocence Project. Then there was her presidential campaign. We know how that went. And yet, somehow — well, we know why — she failed up.
And now there’s the story of Julie Su, former California secretary of labor, who oversaw the state’s Employment Development Department.
You know, the department that oversaw tens of billions of dollars in improper unemployment payments to criminals. The department that mailed out people’s full Social Security numbers. Yet she failed up and is now acting U.S. secretary of labor, though some Senate Democrats are reportedly concerned about officially confirming her, as they should be.
One-party California just seems incapable of producing competent government officials, yet they keep winning. I can only conclude that the lack of political competition in California makes it easy for these buffoons to skate by and fail up.
Sal Rodriguez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org