Defend Yourself, Matt Miller

Matt Miller went and pissed off every liberal* with a column about the one thing that can save American politics: A third party. He even wrote a speech for the Third Party hero to give. The toughest shots come from Greg Sargent, in the same paper.

Given this inconvenient overlap between the Democratic Party and the positions these commentators imagine for their fabled third party, they are constantly forced to find ways in which the Democratic Party has not gone far enough in adopting those positions. Hence their constant claim that Dems aren’t willing to embrace ambitious enough entitlement cuts, and hence Miller’s need to draw a false equivalence between the Dems’ “timid half measures” and the GOP’s “mindless anti-government creed.” And they continually reach for other issues on which Dems are not quite in sync with their version of the “center,” such as their failure to take on teachers’ unions. But you can forever continue raising the bar in this fashion.

I decided to call up Miller and ask what the critics were missing. Was he not basically proposing a Democratic agenda, but deciding not to call it that?

“If you go down the list,” he said, “there’s lots that Democrats would not support – education (much higher pay in exchange for union reforms, etc.); health care (the version of universal health care I propose most would say is not “ample” enough); Social Security reform (not even Paul Ryan even in his earlier “Roadmap” would put out the reform I am discussing); Medicare, etc. etc.  So, I think this is simultaneously to the left and the right of the current debate.”

Well, then: Why focus on a presidential campaign? Why have, for example, the fantasy candidate talk about abolishing the filibuster, instead of just acknowledging that the filibuster is the reason nothing gets done.

“I think the best vehicle to change the country is a presidential campaign,” said Miller. “That dwarfs any other vehicle to change the discussion. I worked in the Clinton White House. The fact that Ross Perot got 18 percent of the vote, with the issues that he had – the fact that he proved there was a constituency – absolutely changed what the president did. A presidential bid is the only way to do it.”

That’s his defense. What’s yours, Tom Friedman?

*I’m rounding up.