Larry Lessig Dumps His Promise To Resign The Presidency In An Attempt To Get People To Take His Campaign Seriously

from the well,-it's-something dept

We’ve written a few times about Larry Lessig’s somewhat wacky campaign for President, which was premised on the idea that it was a “referendum” campaign, where his entire focus would be to push Congress into putting in place serious campaign finance reform and then resigning from the Presidency. As we noted, the whole thing was a bit of a gimmick. And apparently that gimmick hasn’t been working too well. Earlier this month, Lessig noted that he was being shut out from the Democratic debates, despite being a Democrat running for President and polling roughly on par with a few of the other nobodies in the campaign. The problem is that the Democratic National Committee apparently chose to ignore the campaign and because it refused to officially “welcome” him to the campaign, pollsters aren’t including him and thus he didn’t have enough polling data to be invited to the debate.

Here?s how you make the debates: After one declares, a candidate is formally welcomed into the race by the Democratic National Committee. Polling firms, taking a cue from the DNC, include that candidate on their questionnaires. Candidates that poll at 1 percent nationally in at least three separate polls earn an invitation. Simple enough.

That?s how the process typically works for other candidacies???but not for mine. The DNC still has not formally welcomed me into the race???despite my raising money at a faster pace than more than half the pack, and being in the race nearly a full month. Polls, in turn, have taken the hint, only including me sporadically on questionnaires: of the last 10 major polls, only three mentioned my candidacy. One poll recently put me at 1 percent (for comparison, candidates O?Malley, Webb and Chafee, who will each get a podium at the debates, are all currently polling at 0.7 percent or less, according to Real Clear Politcs). Were I actually included on every poll, I would easily make the debates.

Late last week, some were a bit surprised when Lessig suddenly started posting a whole bunch of things about his platform that went way, way beyond campaign finance reform. You could read his take on innovation policy, national security, equality, health care reform, criminal justice reform, education, immigration reform, government surveillance, the environment, the internet, tax reform, “the war on drugs” and the economy. As someone who claimed he was focused on just campaign finance reform and would then resign… it certainly seemed odd.

But, late on Friday (not exactly the best time to announce anything but bad news…) Lessig announced that he’s dropping the promise to resign, because while it may have gotten some attention as an initial gimmick, it was also dragging him down (including potentially keeping him out of the debates).

If the Democrats won?t take seriously a candidate with a viable, credible, and professionally managed campaign just because it includes a promise to step aside once the work is done, then fine. You win. I drop that promise.

I am running for president. I am running with the purpose of restoring this democracy. I will make that objective primary. I will do everything possible to make it happen first, by working with Congress to pass fundamental reform first.

After we pass that reform, I will remain as president to make sure the reforms stick. I will work with Congress to assure they are implemented. I will defend them against legislative or legal attack.

In the announcement, Lessig claims that the Democratic National Committee was using the promised resignation as a reason not to “welcome” him to the campaign. He also notes that basically everyone hated the idea:

In a 1,008-person survey about the idea of a referendum presidency, Drew Westen, perhaps the Democrats? most influential messaging guru, tested both the idea of a campaign focused on fixing our democracy first, and the idea of a president resigning once that work was done.

The resignation idea was a total bust. No one liked it. At all.

But the idea of an outsider making fundamental reform the central issue of the campaign blew the race apart.

I still think the campaign feels a bit gimmicky, but the direct gimmick of the resignation is now gone. Honestly, Lessig’s chances remain slim to none, but at the very least I’d love to see him included in the debates, as he’d be a lot more interesting than most of the other candidates. I just wish they’d let him do one of his fancy slide shows.

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Comments on “Larry Lessig Dumps His Promise To Resign The Presidency In An Attempt To Get People To Take His Campaign Seriously”

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41 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Ars Technica published an article about this earlier today, and I really liked the comment that was promoted to editor’s pick over there. This was originally posted by crazycracker.

“There’s no chance he could get elected and he knows it. What he wants to do is keep the issues of campaign finance reform and his other ideas visible. If enough people are talking about it and threatening to vote for Lessig, maybe the first tier candidates will pay attention and do something about it.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

This is exactly what Professor Lessig is doing. It was obvious from the beginning that he understands his chances of winning are approximately zero. Unfortunately, there is a common perception that in our de facto two party system that any candidate other than the first two doesn’t matter, that they are wasting their time because they cannot win.

Well, sometimes it’s not about winning. Sometimes it’s worht it to simply raise awareness. Bring up topics to a wider audience as foundation for future campaigns.

Sometimes it’s worth the time – especially in close races where the margin of winning is very small – to gain just enough voter support that a specific demand can be made of one of the primary parties in exchange for an endorsement. If you can get one of the primary parties to change their mind on an important topic in exchange for 1% more votes, that’s a huge win.

pixelpusher220 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

His interview on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC was pretty disastrous.

In what was basically a completely friendly environment he was eviscerated as to his ‘plan’. He said he was a single issue candidate, to which Lawrence got him to change to at least a dual issue, of both finance AND gerrymandering. Certainly not bad things, but when you come in as a ‘single issue’ candidate it’s best not to start creeping within 2 minutes of questioning.

All that aside, his point that the other Dems’ proposals are basically just fantasy until you fix the two issues he’s pushing is still entirely correct.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

His interview on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC was pretty disastrous.

I like Larry, but he doesn’t seem to do well in interviews. I also fear that he takes criticism very, very personally at times and it causes him to change strategies frequently. I’m probably guilty of the same thing as well, so I understand it, but I’m not running for President. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

If elected she will probably oppose the TPP but she will support a ‘new’ agreement that only differs slightly from the TPP. She will claim this ‘new’ agreement ‘fixes’ everything wrong with the TPP when, in reality, it doesn’t fix anything. That way she can claim that she kept her promise to oppose the TPP while still keeping her mandate to shill for corporate interests. The whole thing is nothing but an elaborate scam. Yet everyone here would claim that it’s only the republicans that are corrupt.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yet everyone here would claim that it’s only the republicans that are corrupt.

Not really. I think pretty much anyone who’s been paying attention, and hasn’t fallen for the ‘My tribe vs Your tribe’ con knows full well that both parties are filled to the brim with slime and corruption. The only real difference is what particular ‘flavor’ the corruption takes.

timlash (profile) says:

Money Doesn't Always Win

I admire Professor Lessig’s passion, but I think his premise is somewhat flawed. We definitely need campaign finance reform, and I’d love to see Citizens United overturned in some fashion. However, while money can sway elections, it does so to a far lesser degree than other factors.

Number one is gerrymandering. The number of uncontested congressional seats is nauseating. There is no need for contests, or the money to run them, where districts have been designed for guaranteed victory by one party or the other. This far outpaces the influence money has in federal elections.

High profile spending does not always deliver results. The billionaire republican spending in 2008 and 2012 could not keep Obama from the White House. Further, for every Koch or Adelson, there’s a Soros or Pritzker to balance the equation. These wealthy individuals clearly have out-sized influence that needs to be curbed, but they can’t guarantee an outcome.

Most complaints about campaign money center around the national elections. However, state and local elections often carry greater impact (see gerrymandering above). These elections are numerous and small, often decided by a few thousand voters, and can be more difficult to systematically influence with a horde of cash.

I’m happy to see Professor Lessig continue to highlight the excess in campaign spending, but I don’t see reform as a panacea or even the biggest problem in the political arena.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: Money Doesn't Always Win

Marked “insightful”.

But I disagree re Citizens United. I support free speech. More speech is always better.

As you point out yourself, Sheldon Adelson and Mitt Romney, despite their billions, were unable to make the sale to the American public.

The problem is not “too much speech” or “too much money buying ads”. Speech and ads can only make a case to the voters – but it can’t make people accept the argument.

The problem is rigging the results of the election.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Money Doesn't Always Win

The problem is rigging the results of the election.

That is not the problem, except for the supporter of the other gang. The real problem is the type of person who seeks political office, as the majority who do so are in it for the power rather than to represent the people.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Money Doesn't Always Win

Fully agree. There is more than one problem.

To repeat something I’ve said many times before, as long as politicians are granted the power to pick winners and losers, rig markets, change the way people live their private lives, etc., etc., then the most power-hungry will continue to be the ones attracted to political office.

The US Constitution, and especially the Bill of Rights, had the right idea, but didn’t go far enough. There must be very firm limits on what politicians are allowed to do.

They must not be allowed to violate the rights of citizens, no matter how large a vote majority they have.

The origin of the problem is that politicians have too much power, too much discretion.

We need limits on what can be done by government by use of force.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Money Doesn't Always Win

The US Constitution, and especially the Bill of Rights, had the right idea, but didn’t go far enough. There must be very firm limits on what politicians are allowed to do.

I don’t know that writing it differently would have helped when courts are helping the other two branches of government (particularly the executive) violate it the way it’s written now.

Wendy Cockcroft says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Money Doesn't Always Win

The trouble with the ad-buying is not the risk of pretty much buying the election but the fact of drowning out those voices that haven’t got enough money to get themselves heard. If you can’t overturn Citizens United, what about limits on the number of ads per politician or party? That would free up the market by breaking the power of the Kang and Kodos cartel, allowing other parties to compete.

You’re right, this is a market issue and in this case the market is sewn up. It needs to be freed up.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Money Doesn't Always Win

To me the “drowning out” argument always sounds like an excuse for censorship.

I don’t think “too much speech” is a problem.

The correct response is to respond to speech you don’t like.

If you believe the voters are paying attention and thinking, it’s the arguments and their credibility that count, not their volume or frequency.

And if you don’t think the voters are paying attention and thinking, then why do you support democracy?

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Money Doesn't Always Win

The trouble is, if money can make speech more effective*, how do those with little money counter speech from those with a lot? And if they cannot, do we live in a democracy or a plutocracy?

* I am assuming that the sort of things you can do with a lot of money – buy TV ads, etc. – have at least some effect on getting the message across

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Money Doesn't Always Win

Sure, getting your message out works better than not getting your message out.

But at some point everyone has heard your message. At that point running more ads doesn’t buy you anything (but annoyance).

If plutocrats were buying so many ads that they were bidding up the price of ads, making it harder for others to buy ads, then I think you’d have an argument.

But I don’t see that happening in reality. There aren’t enough political ads in total to affect the price of ads in general (most ads are for cars, soap, phones, etc.).

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Money Doesn't Always Win

There is no need for contests, or the money to run them, where districts have been designed for guaranteed victory by one party or the other.

There are contests all right, but they’re within the party. This pulls representatives to the extremes. For example, a conservative Republican from a safe Republican district has no concern about getting beaten by a Democrat, but he may very well fear a primary challenge from someone even more conservative. So he moves his positions further to the right to head off such an attack. Just one of several problems with our districting.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Money Doesn't Always Win

If you dig into the proposed reforms in the Citizen’s Equality Act that’s being finished, in addition to provisions to deal with campaign finance issues, one of the planks of the legislation is Fairvote’s “Ranked Choice Voting Act.” This allows for redistricting and the construction of multi-party districts to reduce the number of safe seats.

Nothing is expected to solve all problems, but this seems to tackle some of your gripes with just addressing campaign finance reform.

Whatever (profile) says:

Shocker - NOT!

I can’t say there is any surprise here. Professor Lessig may be learned and may be an intellectual, but he seems to be way better on the theoretical than the practical. Politics isn’t just for nice ideas, it’s as much about selling them. Lessig doesn’t seem to have the personality to sell his ideas outside of his base following.

A presidential campaign is pretty much a farcical idea to start with. Even the best financed / self financed runs by people like Ross Perot couldn’t gain enough traction to overcome the very left / extreme right polarization of US politics, and it’s only gotten worse.

It makes me think Lessig would do better back with his PAC, however his public relation skills may still hold him back here. Perhaps he is better as the idea guy, and not the public face guy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Shocker - NOT!

…the very left / extreme right polarization of US politics…

You have half of that right. Sorry, but Democrats =/= Marxists, or even social democrats for that matter. At risk of rustling some jimmies, we don’t have a conservative party and a liberal/progressive party – we have a conservative party* and a reactionary party.
*The Warren faction isn’t calling the shots. Yet. And even they have their flaws.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: Shocker - NOT!

I tend to agree, but probably not for the same reasons as yours.

In my view, the whole Presidential Campaign dog-and-pony show is a giant circus meant to distract the public.

The fact is, it doesn’t much matter who gets elected president (as long as it’s not Donald Trump).

Despite what the campaigns make it sound like, presidents can’t wave a magic wand and change everything. Congress has to agree.

And Congress is rigged.

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re: Shocker - NOT!

But that also points out where Lessig fails: Thinking that it’s a top down process when it really isn’t. Leaving the PAC and heading on run for President shows that he really just didn’t follow the money train. He instead took on something where (a) he really can’t win, and (b) where he really can’t even get enough attention to make the effort worth it.

He joined the dog and pony show, which to me shows that no matter how intellgent and learned he is, that he has entirely lost the plot on this one.

Anonymous Coward says:

Perhaps the most frustrating thing of all when listening to presidential candidates from both sides of the political aisle and all places in-between is their apparent lack of familiarity with what the US Constitution specifies as their job description, i.e., the specific powers laid out is Article 2. Commander in Chief? Yep. Receive foreign dignitaries? Yep. See to it that our laws are faithfully executed? Yep. Nominate senior executive officials, justices to the Supreme Court, ambassadors, etc. and submit their names to the Senate for confirmation? Yep. Tax Policy? Nope. Education? Nope. Immigration policy? Nope. Social and economic issues? Nope. The list of nopes goes on, and yet all of these candidates keep flapping their gums about issues that by the very language of the Constitution fall squarely within the responsibilities of the Congress, state governments, and the people themselves.

Silly me, but when I look to whether or not a person is in my opinion suitable for a job I look to the job requirements, and our founding document does a very good job about laying out what a President is supposed to do.

Maybe, just maybe, if the candidates spent less time waxing poetic on what is not their job and more time on what is, we might actually accomplish something rather significant, namely, real insight into a candidate’s views on what he is supposed to be doing and not on irrelevant issues that are nothing more than talking points in blatant and obvious play for votes from persons who in many respects are largely clueless about what is supposed to be the actual role of the President within our republican form of government.

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