Donald Trump and the Amen chorus of Republican presidential aspirants may have appeared to monopolize the capacity to make fantastical claims about what’s wrong with America and how to fix it. But a rival has appeared on the scene, outlining a very different fantasy plan to run for president on the Democratic side of the aisle. Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig looks meek — a dead ringer for Mr. Peepers – yet is anything but. Lessig built an impressive career in legal scholarship on the regulation of cyberspace, and the mild-mannered, soft-spoken academic became a cult hero among libertarians fearful of increasing legal restrictions on copyright, trademark and the electromagnetic spectrum. But Lessig’s transformation into a political activist was spurred by his personal revelation that money in politics is the root of all our governing problems. Eliminate the dependence of elected officials on private donors and the formidable obstacles to constructive policymaking will crumble. Simple but searing truth, or a caricature of a complex governing system shaped by institutions, ideas/ideologies, and interests?
Lessig became a whirlwind of energy and organization to promote his new values and beliefs, leading efforts to “Change Congress,” convene a second constitutional convention, raise awareness of corruption in politics through the “New Hampshire Rebellion,” and start the “Mayday PAC,” a super PAC designed to end all super PACs. He wrote the bestselling book Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress – and A Plan to Stop It, delivered a series of popular TED talks, and tirelessly traveled the country with his PowerPoint.
With none of these enterprises yet bearing fruit, Lessig has decided to raise the stakes. He has announced that if he receives $1 million from small donors by September, he will seek the Democratic presidential nomination, running as a “referendum candidate.” His single-issue platform, built around the concept of “Citizen Equality,” consists of “true” campaign finance reform supplemented by electoral reform (to weaken the influence of gerrymandering) and voting rights. His goal is to use the election to build a mandate for political reform that will cure our democratic ills. Lessig will apparently have nothing to say about anything other than political reform, insisting that his issue should be and can be the number one priority of voters in the 2016 elections. If nominated and elected, President Lessig will serve in office only long enough to enact the Citizen Equality Act and then resign, turning over the powers and responsibilities of the office to the vice president. Recently he generously informed the Vice President that he would happily enable a third Joe Biden term by selecting him as his running mate.