What’s the Deal with Lawrence Lessig?

The same week we lost a Republican candidatewe have a new Democratic one. His name is Lawrence Lessig, a 54-year-old Harvard Law Professor. I’m sure we’re in general agreement that he has no shot, so what’s his deal?

In short, he wants to hit one percent in the national polls so he can make a debate and promote his platform. That platform, incidentally, is the narrowest in recent memory. In fact, it’s only one plank wide. We know there are “single issue voters,” but have we ever had a single-issue candidate? Well, we have one now. Before we get into that issue, let’s take a look at the man himself.

Despite his longer than long-shot campaign, he’s no crank. He graduated from Wharton with a B.A. in economics and a B.S. in management. He went on to get his M.A. in philosophy from a little known English school called Cambridge. After that, he settled for merely a juris doctor from Yale. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia before teaching law at the University of Chicago and then Harvard.

So obviously he’s an idiot.

His time in the most intellectual of circles has brought him to a frustrating conclusion about the American political system: its citizens don’t have an equal say. He argues there is a fundamental unfairness with our democratic republic, and this inequity strikes at the very heart of democracy itself, a form of government of which America claims to be a bastion. He considers this an urgent problem. As his campaign slogan point out, “Fixing America Can’t Wait.”

What, specifically, does he think is unfair about the American political system? Lessig believes, “We don’t have a Congress that represents us equally.” In his announcement speech, he said,

“The largest empirical study of actual policy decisions by our government in the history of political science finds there is no connection between what the average voter wants and what our government does, [but] there is a connection between what the economic elite want and what our government does. There is a connection between what special interest groups want and what our government does.”

As examples, in that same speech, the liberal Democrat pointed to the 89 percent of post-Sandy Hook Americans who wanted increased background checks for gun purchases and the three-quarters of Americans who believe in climate change being drowned out by the small but powerful interest groups that make sure Congress does nothing about those issues. “America’s government has been bought. But not by us. Not by the American people. America’s government has been bought by the cronies and special interests.”

In other words, big money has more of a grip on our politicians than the average voter does, and campaign finance reform is essential to leveling the playing field. Between SuperPACs, interest groups, and lobbyists, average voters are getting drowned out, and therefore, we’ve lost what he calls “citizen equality.” As a fix, he proposed the “Citizens Equality Act of 2017,” which would ensure:

  • A) An equal right to vote (through automatic registration, a national voting holiday, and reforms to voting rights);
  • B) equal representation (by redrawing gerrymandered districts, so the voters pick the candidates and not the other way around, and creating multi-member Congressional districts instead of having candidates that won 50.1 percent of voters being able to represent 100 percent of them); and
  • C) citizen-funded elections (giving the public more control over the candidates than the big spenders).

If he wins, he would consider himself a “referendum president.” Lessig would consider the passage of the Citizens Equality Act his only mandate from the voters, and therefore after accomplishing it, he would resign the presidency and turn power over to his vice-president, probably someone with a history in government but who shares similar views (Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, etc.). Lessig thinks it’s essential that this issue is his only one, because that would show that the American people want action on it, and Congress would have to listen.

One might wonder about all the other issues a president has to grapple, but Lessig sees the Citizens Equality Act as a sort of silver bullet. “Every issue–from climate change to gun safety, from Wall Street reform to defense spending–is tied to this ‘one issue.'” Lessig offers that these other problems cannot be solved while we have a government tied to special interests and gerrymandered districts. In essence, Congress is supposed to be the law-making body, but Congress won’t act on the big problems. In his interview with George Stephanopoulos this week, he said his reforms are necessary in order “to fix this democracy and make it possible for government to actually do something without fear of what the funders want them to do.” In other words, if we have problems to solve, we need to incentivize Congressional problem-solving instead of Congressional posturing. That means working for the voters, not the groups that can raise big money to help win elections.

For these reasons, Lessig says he actually likes something about the most divisive figure in the opposing party–Donald Trump. He loves that Trump is talking about the problem with money in politics, and that because he’s “very rich,” he does not have to take contributions from big money donors. If elected, he won’t be beholden to special interests. Lessig doesn’t support what Trump would probably do with that kind of freedom, but he does appreciate that Trump is using his considerable megaphone and ego to distance himself from the kind of people that own nearly all other politicians.

But enough about Trump. (As a political blogger, I was obligated to mention him in a post about someone else.) What’s Lessig hoping for here? He almost assuredly knows he can’t win. Instead, his goal must be to just make the debates to get his issue out there. If he can get Hillary Clinton to say, “You’re right,” that’s about as big a victory as he can hope for.

To get into the first Democratic debate, scheduled for October 13 in Las Vegas, a candidate must reach one percent in three national polls in the six weeks leading up to it. We are in that window now, and the most recent Public Policy Polling survey saw Lessig hit one percent. One down, two to go. In fact, in that poll, he tied the support earned by Lincoln Chafee! That’s not the highest of hurdles, mind you, but it’s something.

So, if you’re a fan of Lessig’s narrow platform and want him in the debates, keep an eye on the Democratic national polls over the coming weeks. Even if you’re not a fan of his ideas, it would be very interesting to see how a single-issue candidate handles questions on other topics. It could make for brilliant pivoting.

Speaking of debates, we have another Republican one on Wednesday! I’ll share my thoughts on it before then.


6 thoughts on “What’s the Deal with Lawrence Lessig?”

  1. […] The Democrats are in trouble. There’s a reason I’ve spent nearly all my time talking about the Republicans: new faces, young energy, lots of ideas . . . Donald Trump. The efficacy of the parties’ competing policies can be less relevant than the optics. In this case, the top Democratic contenders are a trio of septuagenarians (okay, sorry, Hillary Clinton will be only 69 on Election Day) while another trio of afterthoughts battle to see who can secure two percent points in a tiny field. And I haven’t even gotten to Larry Lessig! […]


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