I was at no danger of being in the tank For starters, I am a journalist, bound by the ethos for which my commerce is admired. For another, politics is an unusual business, and individuals who go into it are people that are egotistical and odd, not like me, a journalist that is normal and virtuous. Additionally, there was too much salivating in this race. When Democrat Henry Waxman announced in January that he had be retiring from Congress, having represented much of Los Angeles County the effect was like granddad leaving behind a rent-restricted penthouse to an unclear heir.
And yet Miller’s effort interested me. In La, Miller is a minor celebrity, best known for hosting a public-radio show called “Left, Right & Center.” And he’s written The Tyranny of Dead Notions, The 2% Solution and two fairly good books. In the 1990s, he did some time under President Clinton, followed by a stint at The New Republic, and today he does some private sector consulting. On May 1, more than a month before the primary, Miller also picked up an endorsement from your Los Angeles Times, so if Miller had qualifications that I considered to be worthy, these were similarly noted by some of Miller’s most notable fellow opinion journalists. So there.
Eight days before the primary, I headed out to see the man effort. The occasion took place in the backyard of a broad house in Pacific Palisades, Miller’s own neighborhood, a wealthy pocket of hillside Los Angeles next to the ocean. Crossing a bridge over a koi pond at the entry, I presented myself to the host, Chuck Davis, a buddy of Miller’s since the 1980 s, when both were at Brown University. (although I guess alumni of Brown now run Los Angeles, but that is another story) On hand for visitors, along with snacks and beverages, were stick on tattoos that read, in black lettering, “MATT MILLER FOR CONGRESS! ENDORSED BY THE LOS ANGELES TIMES”–created because political advisor Stan Greenberg told Miller to tattoo the Times sanction on his brow. Of the couple dozen clients, nearly all over 40, several had applied the “Mattoo,” as the campaign called it, to various non-brow parts of the body. Myself attached it and caught one.
Miller is 52, bespectacled and tall, resembling a slender Norm Macdonald. That day, he wore frumpy black slip on shoes, grey pants, and a blue polo shirt that allowed his arm Mattoo to be visible. “This is through several days of showers,” he assured her. Afterward, after thanking his hosts, and, with a gesture toward a rich canyon view, noting “how many beautiful ways there are to live in La,” Miller launched into his stump speech.
For the “centre” of “Left, Right & Center,” he was surprisingly emphatic, denouncing health care “oligopolies” and deploring how campaigns are funded. A wonky carbon tax that would rebate all the cash to the taxpayer was proposed by him, and he said he’d push the federal government to encourage teacher hiring policies just like those in Finland and Singapore. The audience member was also lively. Inquired about lavish defense procurement, he said solemnly that we should “shrink the Pentagon down to the size of a triangle.” (He followed up having a serious response.) Asked about partisanship and gerrymandering, he noted that he considered Rockefeller Republicans to be sadly endangered and encouraged that they be bred in captivity.
The questions he got were considerably more substantial than what journalists would ask, and the replies he gave were considerably more sensible than what regular candidates would provide. He clarified he wanted to be on the budget committee when there’s a window for meaningful activity as a way to take advantage of those short periods every two to four years. Unlike almost any candidate, his own policy papers were written by him, and ideas so as to make prospects of passing more likely, blessed by conservatives were used by several his propositions.
Cover enough campaigns and you understand that entering politics in earnest is like a promise to amputate everything interesting about yourself. It’s a vow. But I needed to acknowledge that politics didn’t seem to have destroyed Matt Miller. I eyed my Mattoo. Would it not be professional to wear one, just for reporting purposes?
I scrolled over to see what Miller’s chief opponents, the presumptive Democratic front runners, were saying, once I returned home. Greuel had taken to her Facebook page to condemn Clippers owner Donald Sterling for racist taped remarks (“revolting and disgraceful”), to condemn an odious poster drawn up by adversaries of Texas gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis (“profoundly offensive”), and to assure voters of her devotion to “work tirelessly to maintain and strengthen Social Security and Medicare.”
Five days later, myself joined Ben Sherman, Miller and his campaign’s chief of staff, to watch Miller canvas at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Much swallowing of pride is required of a candidate at such times.
Miller was asked by me if it was challenging to approach people out of the blue; he said he enjoyed it. “Hey there, good looking,” Miller said to a lady walking the other way. “Do myself live in the area?” It was Jody Miller, Matt’s wife. Miller’d had luck with some of the market-goers, she said, and she reported that one elderly lady seated nearby’s vote had been offered by she in exchange. “Take it off,” Matt ordered.
In his studies of optimism, psychologist Martin Seligman has found that pessimists are more than likely than optimists are to be realistic. This may be useful in financial preparation; but in politics, optimism is best. Matt Miller estimated that half of his strategies were successful getting out the word. Myself estimated that about a fifth were. Jody Miller said she didn’t anticipate so many out-of-area tourists to be at the market. I thought I didn’t expect so many liars to be at the market. However, he had associated with at least a couple dozen interested folks, and one had even offered to man phones.
I do not need to say i was becoming a hushed cheerleader . That would have not been professional, plus myself was holding a drink. But still. Could a non-hack actually make the cut?
Three days later, it was time. Myself slept badly on Monday, but really only because I had had coffee that was late. On Tuesday night, impatient, I checked my notebook, but no final results. The following day, I saw that it had not been made by Matt Miller into the top two. He’d come in a commendable fifth, with 12 percent of the vote. Democrat Ted Lieu had secured a run-off position, with 19 percent of the vote, and so had a Republican named Elan Carr, with 22 percent. Just 13 percent had participated–the normal.
I checked Carr’s campaign page and found that he’d taken to Facebook to condemn the Holocaust (“one of history’s most despicable atrocities”), to condemn cruelty to animals (“individuals who deliberately torture animals should head to state prison”), and to invite supporters to a ,000-per-plate dinner “hosted by my buddies Sheldon and Miriam Adelson at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills.”
Life as we know it’d restarted.
On Thursday morning, Miller there was no mistaking the comedown, and and myself met up for a cup of coffee in Pacific Palisades. He noted evenly that, 24 hours outside, he’d not had lots of time, as myself asked Carr about penetrations and strategies. He would take a holiday with his wife and daughter. But he was not unhappy he had given it a try. “I think politics is an extremely worthy calling,” he said. “If good people do not do this, how do we expect anything to get better?”
Victory once again, had gone to the conventional sorts. Still, I confess: Some of the might have come out less jaded. For all the grubbiness, apathy, bribery, hackery, and phoniness in the match, for all the votes to be gained by a business position against cat torture, American democracy still works well enough that getting involved has a tendency to make you less, not more, cynical. Miller had lost, just as the’d known he’d. But he’d done unusually well in a four-month campaign and, with twice the time, he might have come in fourth. Or better. Right?