The Democrats’ Next Debate Controversy, Over Larry Lessig, Could Be A Doozy

lwrnclsg4prsdntThe Republicans have finished up their first two rounds of presidential debate.

Next up, the Democrats’ first presidential debate on October 13th. The fireworks have started.

The Democrats’ debate process is proving controversial. Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schulz recently, according to therightscoop.com and given national prominence courtesy of the Drudge Report, repeatedly was heckled by an auditorium packed full of Progressives demanding more debates:

While the press has been completely obsessed by el Trumpo so that they can damage and dismantle the Republican party, they have tried their best to ignore the growing mutiny in the Democrat party.

But it burst into their faces Saturday morning when the Democrat National Committee chair … was HECKLED by an entire crowd demanding more debates among the leftist presidential candidates!

The DNC, controversially, has limited the number of debates. The Democrats are allowing for only six debates in the 2016 cycle. Both Sen. Bernie Sanders and Gov. Martin O’Malley have expressed their displeasure, with a campaign spokesman for O’Malley calling this out as facilitating a Hillary “coronation.”

Now comes yet another controversy. Perhaps it will be a doozy.

Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig recently announced, after crowdsourcing over $1 million, his own unconventional presidential campaign. Lessig is proposing to run exclusively on national electoral reforms, predominantly the public financing of Congressional elections.

Lessig passionately considers the current Congressional campaign financing system the fountainhead of all political dysfunction. He calls it corruption, not quite in a moral but rather in an operational sense, and has offered himself as a single-issue candidate who will resign the presidency in favor of his vice president promptly upon the enactment of his proposed reforms.

I am not persuaded of Lessig’s hypothesis. I am on record stating that there is too little money, big or otherwise, in politics. Furthermore I believe most of that big money is sterilized in the process of being absorbed by high-priced consultants and much of the rest of it wasted. That said, he has a legitimate point.

I have described Lessig as the “greatest radical at work in America today.” His hypothesis deserves the national referendum into which he has forged his candidacy.

In my column above referenced, reviewing Lessig’s book The USA is Lesterland, I summarized the essence of Lessig’s crusade this way:

What if candidates had to gain the support of many, preferably a majority, of the 150,000 Lesters [who live in America] … before the rest of us got to vote? That would give “the Lesters” disproportionate influence on elections.

Lessig then notes that candidates do have to raise enough money, to run, from 150,000 self-selected campaign contributors. Lessig does not present this as an attack on the rich or on capitalism. It is an attack on a campaign financing system that gives disproportionate influence to around a quarter of one percent of the electorate (themselves a minute fraction of “the rich,” few of whom make political contributions).

Lessig’s demand for a system that creates, as a non-coercive option, without muzzling big donors, a bigger presence for rank-and-file voters is consistent with arguments that this right-wing columnist elsewhere has made about the crucial vitality of citizen engagement. Since about twice as many Americans consistently describe ourselves as conservative than we do liberal it is slightly indecipherable that so many conservatives are diffident about Lessig’s proposition.

Restoring “consent of the governed” is not about Right versus Left. It is about setting up a system to restore control of Congress to us outsiders, the people, over the insiders, the special interests, by creating an incentive for us to contribute and an incentive for candidates to take our contributions in preference to those of the special interests. And most Congressional campaign donors are special interests — if only because they are victims of a Congressional extortion racket.

I am impressed by Lessig’s integrity as evidenced, in part, by his refusal to endorse the overturning of Citizens United. This is a courageous stand for a man of the left to take. And, full disclosure, a year or so ago I suggested to Lessig, a friend, that he consider entering the presidential contest (clearly an immaterial factor in his decision).

Now, according to the DNC’s debate rules, Lessig is likely to be excluded from the first presidential debate. As reported by The Guardian:

To qualify for the debate Democratic candidates must earn at least 1% in three national polls in the six weeks before the debate. But Lessig, a political neophyte running a single-issue campaign based on campaign finance reform, said he can’t possibly compete if he is not being counted.

“There’s a catch-22 to the process,” Lessig said, adding: “It’s only fair to apply that standard if it’s actually being tested.”

There are two wild cards in this deck. One or both just might come to the fore to un-rig this game and land Lessig a spot.

The first wild card: Progressives passionately believe in public financing of Congressional elections. Hillary Clinton has propounded a plan for that, one enthusiastically endorsed by the Washington Post. Bernie Sanders endorses public financing. Lessig, however, is the gold standard of public financing, the one by which all others ought to be measured. It would be gracious, and not out of character, for Sens. Clinton or Sanders to apply suasion, publicly or privately, on the DNC to include him. Perhaps one or both will do so. Could tip the balance.

The second wild card: Will MoveOn push for including Lessig? MoveOn is a Progressive leviathan. As I elsewhere, in 2008, wrote MoveOn was a critical factor in securing the nomination of Barack Obama:

MoveOn started as a vehicle to oppose the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. As that issue faded, MoveOn was revived by a merger with an email list of 500,000 created by Pariser in opposition to a militant response to 9/11, which proved a durable unifying and motivating issue as the war in Iraq became increasingly unpopular.

Boyd and Pariser [author’s note, and MoveOn co-founder Joan Blades] sensed their online community’s enthusiasm for a progressive candidate, so they provided Obama with exposure and channels to the liberal base of the Democratic Party. MoveOn’s 4 million members are an electoral asterisk, but they became an extraordinarily potent force in the political culture.

MoveOn, earlier this year, activated to encourage the candidacy of Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Not so incidentally MoveOn chose none other than Lessig as a prime spokesperson to encourage the Warren candidacy, sending out, presumably, tens of millions of emails with his message. In one of these Lessig wrote:

There’s always been one thing, and one thing only, that could convince her to take on a challenge. Not money. Not power. Just one thing: the realization that her jumping into the fray was necessary to make a difference.

This is one of those moments. And the more of us that raise our hands and say we’re ready to fight by her side, the more clear it will become to her that she has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to fight the central battles of our nation. Not alone. With a movement.

MoveOn reportedly now has grown to 8 million members. It is a huge civic force, potentially, especially on the Democratic party.

Pariser, Boyd and Blades have retired from executive status with MoveOn. Anna Galland now serves as executive director of MoveOn Civic Action. Well?

There are defining moments in the life of every organization. If MoveOn’s members really believe that public financing is as crucial as claimed let it now rise to the occasion and demand that Lessig be given a lectern.

This is one of those moments. If MoveOn moves in the odds go way up that the DNC will ListenUp and give Larry Lessig a place among the contenders in the first Democratic presidential debate.

Will MoveOn move in?

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