- - Tuesday, January 15, 2019


Most of the government is idle and the nation’s capital is shrouded in nearly a foot of snow with more on the way, but politics, the capital’s only industry, grinds on at a quickening pace. Over the past few days, two more Democrats have entered the race for president, joining Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Rep. John Delaney of Maryland. These four, gathering press notices while they may, won’t be the last.

One of the new contenders is Julian Castro of Texas. Mr. Castro, a telegenic Latino, lapped up national attention a decade ago when he was mayor of his native San Antonio, the nation’s seventh largest city. He seemed more important than he really was because “mayor of San Antonio” sounds like a big deal, but isn’t. The media, eager to elevate a Democrat to make the state’s politics more interesting, were soon gaga. (The media is gaga again, and then some, over Robert Francis O’Rourke, who calls himself “Beto.”)

A mayor of San Antonio has a difficult time living up to billing. He has no veto power or executive authority. He simply has a vote in City Council. The mayor’s main role is to preside over City Council meetings and dispense keys to the city to visitors, even though no one has ever found a lock or anything else that such a key can open. The real power in San Antonio lies with the city manager, an appointed job to “execute the laws and administer the government” of the city. As mayor of San Antonio, Mr. Castro is paid $60,000 a year. The current city manager gets $475,000, proving that monetizing mere service can be difficult.

Still, Mr. Castro parlayed his minor league mayoralty into stardom. Time magazine calls him one of America’s rising political stars. The World Economic Forum calls him one of the world’s “young global leaders.” An extra feather in his cap came in 2012, when he delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Mr. Castro is not only a telegenic young Latino, but a down-the-line liberal.

In 2014, President Obama appointed him secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. His was an uneventful tenure that few remember. His presidential campaign is likely to be similarly uneventful. He may be dreaming about being vice president. Given that the Democrats are obsessed with capturing the state of Texas in 2020, this may be a reasonable goal.

The more interesting new candidate is Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. Mrs. Gabbard is unconventional and has the typically flexible Democratic convictions now fashionable in the party’s sharp lurch to the left. She is of Samoan extraction, a combat Army medic in the Iraq war and the first Hindu to serve in Congress. She stands out for her various ideological heresies. She, like most Democrats, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, once opposed gay marriage, and once scolded her party for catering to a “small number of homosexual extremists.” She has subsequently “evolved,” as Barack Obama once described his experience, and says things like “I regret the positions I took in the past and the things I said.” It’s not easy to be principled when you can’t tell your party’s principles without a scorecard.

But Mrs. Gabbard so far draws the line at practicing religious prejudice. She lately scolded her fellow Hawaii senator, Mazie Hirono, a Buddhist, for suggesting that Christians are beyond the pale. Sen. Hirono says that a nominee of the Roman Catholic persuasion can’t be both a judge and a member of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic lay organization. Mrs. Gabbard criticized Mrs. Hirono of having “weaponized religion for [her] own selfish gain.”

Mrs. Gabbard’s foreign policy views are more exotic. She’s a friend of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, having traveled to Damascus in 2017 to dine with the murderer of hundreds of thousands. She doubts the well-established evidence that Mr. Assad used chemical weapons on his own people.

Mrs. Gabbard, like Julian Castro, is unlikely to become president. Given her status as a party gadfly, she probably won’t be vice president, either. And given her affinity for all things Assad, it seems unlikely that she will be anybody’s secretary of state. Or we must hope.

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