19 October 2011
Matt Miller vs Ezra Klein on third parties and the Presidency
Check out this colloquy between Washington Post columnists Matt Miller and Ezra Klein in which Klein questions Miller's advocacy of a third-party presidential campaign. Klein raises realistic objections about the limited potential of an independent president without any legislative base, but while Miller acknowledges the necessity of such support, he sees no reason not to aim for the top. His belief seems to be that a high-profile campaign is necessary to galvanize public opinion and call attention to the issues he considers crucial. Klein loses points with this reader when he raises the spectre of "spoiling" the 2012 vote by throwing it to Perry or whomever the Republicans nominate, but his critique of the limitations of an isolated president and his insistence on making Congressional reform the top priority remain sound. Miller remains too sanguine about the impact of the Americans Elect scheme and his boosterism skews the entire debate, since I never got the impression that Klein would discourage third-party congressional campaigns. Nevertheless, Miller's focus on the presidency reflects an impatience for radical (or "radical center") reform that is echoed and amplified in the reader comments. This impatience needs to be channeled into a campaign for a congressional takeover, which if it can't happen in 2012 must begin to happen then. Otherwise the rhetoric about smashing the political system is likely to become all too literal. A high-profile independent presidential campaign might well inspire a parallel campaign for Congress, but the latter shouldn't wait on the former. Klein can criticize Miller's obsession with the presidency, but if he also objected to a third-party congressional campaign he would probably stand exposed as a Democratic apologist once and for all. This debate needs to continue.