The DNC’s Cowardice Kills the Lessig Campaign

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Lawrence Lessig ended his bid for the Democratic nomination for president today, and I don’t blame him in the least. Due to a last-minute change by the Democratic Party in the rules to qualify for the debates, Lessig was blocked. He accounced his decision to end the campaign in this video:

I’m heartbroken, and I think he is too. I had no illusions that he would be a serious contender for the nomination, but I desperately wanted him on that debate stage. Someone has to make the case for the The One Issue to Rule Them All, fundamental reform of the electoral system. Reform of the systems by which we fund elections, vote for officeholders, and design our legislative bodies really is at the very core of all the other challenges we’re unable to politically confront. But almost no one knows that, or at least they don’t think about it. Lessig, if nothing else, would have made at least a few of us think about it.

I’m heartbroken, too, by the cowardice of the Democratic National Committee. For some reason, they decided that it was in their interest to keep Lessig off of that debate stage. I can think of several reasons why, but all of them are so petty and pathetic, that I am loath to attribute them to the party that ostensibly represents my interests. But who are we kidding? One thing the Democrats have not been known for in many generations in courage. Could they really have been so afraid, or at least squeamish, about Lessig’s message? It’s a message that points out the pox on both houses, but it also offers the vaccine for that pox. I am embarrassed for, and of, the Democratic Party.

I’m disappointed at the Clinton, Sanders, and O’Malley campaigns for not advocating on Lessig’s behalf. None of them had anything meaningful to lose by Lessig’s inclusion, certainly not Clinton. Lessig was running as a Democrat because he supports Democratic principles, and was not running to “take down” any of the other candidates. He wasn’t there to “get” them, but to be serve as a kind of conscience. Bernie Sanders is supposed to fill that role, I suppose, but he doesn’t get close enough to the core of what’s wrong. They should have insisted he be included. But of course they wouldn’t.

And I’m seething over the political press, who, when tweeting the news of Lessig’s exit, offered only snark, jokes at his expense. I understand the delight one can take in the failures of ridiculous candidates, the hilariousness that ensues when their hubris far outshines their qualifications or competence. But Lessig wasn’t one of those candidates. He’s a serious, brilliant, accomplished person with a core message that is of existential importance to the republic. But ha-ha, he had to quit, couldn’t get one percent, funny glasses, ha-ha. Whatever plague is making our democracy sick, these people are the rats helping it to spread.

I don’t know if things would have been any different if Lessig had not begun his campaign with the pledge to resign once his legislative agenda had been fulfilled, a pledge he recently recanted in light of the resistance to it, and the fixation on it. I have to think it would have at least helped for the “gimmick” of his candidacy to be the sole focus it ever received from the vapid press.

It seems Lessig is leaving the door open ajar for a third-party candidacy, but I don’t think that’s what he wants. We’re all rolling our eyes at the idea of a Jim Webb independent run, and the last thing Lessig wants is to seem like more of a political joke than the press is already making him out to be.

The point, Lessig says himself, was to get into the debates. That’s where he was going to have his maximum impact. And the Democratic Party has slammed the door in his face. I don’t know what he should do next, although in his blog post following his official announcement, he wrote in a parenthetical:

…first lesson for presidential candidate wanna-be’s: be a Senator first, so your salary can be paid while you’re running for President.

How about it, Larry? You almost ran for the House once. Maybe it’s time to get in the fray at the legislative level. Kick some ass in Congress, and then we’ll see what happens next.