The following post is from my friend Stuart Dowty of Washtenaw County. Stu is the Chair of the group Reclaim Our American Democracy (ROAD) and is a fierce warrior in the effort to get money out of our political system and to eliminate the corrosive impact of corporate personhood. The post is in response to law professor Lawrence Lessig’s recent announcement that he is running for president as a “referendum candidate”.
Here is Lessig describing his intent with his candidacy:
His campaign website can be found at LessigForPresident.com.
It’s a gimmick.
It’s a distraction.
It’s a waste of time, money, and attention.
It’s also a bit egocentric.
Other than that, it’s ok.
Larry, I’m talking, of course, about your announcement that you want to run for President. Here’s my response.
First, who am I to make such pronouncements? See footnote 1, below.
Second, why should I care? The short answer is: I don’t want our movement about money in politics (and there is such a “movement”, which is growing and learning as it develops) to waste time, money, energy and resources. Detours are counterproductive.
Third, I don’t want to see one of the best and most effective leaders of this movement go down a political rabbit-hole. Don’t destroy your credibility.
Now, why do I think your idea actually is an unrealistic gimmick, incapable of producing the results you want, and otherwise counterproductive?
Let’s start with the scheme or “hack” as you call it. You seek and gain election, and then — after Congress miraculously (more on this later) adopts your proposals — you will step aside and an unnamed Vice President will take over.
I have a few questions about this arrangement:
- Just who is this Vice President going to be?
- How does this VP stand on other issues?
- Who decides, and how is it decided, when the conditions are met to trigger you resignation?
- What happens if Congress doesn’t pass what you want?
I doubt voters will consider voting for you until they have answers. Saying you will deal with these issues later doesn’t cut it as a current response.
You are asking for money, resources, and my time, right now. You should deal with these questions now.
I also doubt voters will buy into such a scheme in the first place. It’s too vague, too unusual, and too unpredictable. Frankly, it’s simply too strange. It’s a big unknown.
Why did you put this temporary Presidency into your “hack” in the first place? Why complicate things? Strange, again.
NEXT: Do you really think folks will actually choose to vote for a President on one issue only?
Don’t get me wrong. I agree with you completely that ending the corruption of big money in the political system is fundamental to dealing with any of our political and social problems.
This is the issue that has been front and center in my political work for the past four years. I know the issue is key.
But the world is complicated. So is politics. There are a lot of other issues that need to be addressed. This is reality.
Our movement must deal with that reality, not deny it.
In coalition building it is not useful to tell others they must delay their efforts until we finish the agenda for campaign and electoral reform. We should employ strategies that work with, not against, other needed, progressive reforms.
Your presidential campaign will probably raise righteous issues. But your campaign, as proposed, looks like it will be a one-dimensional sideshow in the larger Presidential arena.
Is it better to be part of the main show (as is, by the way, your strategy to interject the money in politics issue in the New Hampshire primary through the New Hampshire Rebellion) or to be an ignored but politically pure sideshow? I’d rather have the former, however complicated and unpredictable it may be.
NEXT: Your proposed campaign in the Democratic primary is a change from your former posture on the crosspartisan nature of the corruption/democracy issues of big money in politics. However limited crosspartisan efforts may have been so far in our movement, your choice now to put your campaign into one party’s primary closes the door to you working with the other.
You have repeatedly promoted bipartisanship on this issue. You frequently note how it polls across party lines.
Now, do you really think Republicans will support you as a Democrat in either the primary or general elections?
NEXT: I used the term “miraculously” to describe your scheme’s approach to Congress. I used the term because I don’t see anything in your proposed candidacy that will impact Congressional elections. Remember, in your strategy Congress must pass the legislation you propose before you resign.
It is highly unlikely the current Republican Congress would support such legislation. At this point it also looks like it is unlikely the 2016 elections will produce a significantly different Congress. How are the necessary changes to the makeup of Congress to be accomplished?
Or do you think Congress will pass your proposals simply because you were elected? Why? Remember, there is an underlying problem with the influence of money in Congress.
Also, regardless of the makeup of Congress, there are serious questions about what it might or might not do. It’s simply unknown.
Do you really think Congress will adopt the legislation because you, as President, propose it? Or just because you won the election?
On this question, ask President Obama what can happen.
Last year you organized a Congressional strategy through Mayday PAC. I supported Mayday PAC, financially and by phonebanking. Organizationally, ROAD promoted Mayday PAC’s endorsed candidate in Michigan’s 6th District.
Like most people I have limited resources and time. In 2016 what should my priority be, Mayday PAC or your candidacy?
Don’t just respond to this question by saying “both”. My real point is the big picture. How do your Mayday PAC and Presidential Campaign strategies relate to each other? What should WE do? Will the two groups compete for limited resources?
NEXT: Speaking of “priorities”, I must comment on your dismissal of Bernie Sanders candidacy in Sam Stein’s Huffington Post article because he didn’t put this issue first in a list on a campaign document.
With due respect, please deal with the substance of Bernie’s position on this issue, and please don’t depend on a superficial and probably irrelevant order of placement on a list. Tell us — those whose support and money you are soliciting — what your real issues are with Bernie. And why. BTW, on 8/11/15 a check of Bernie’s website showed an issues list with money in politics as #2. Does this make a difference?
On this issue you and Bernie should be working together.
LAST: You use an analogy to a “hack” as shorthand for your strategy.
I do not believe this issue can be solved by a “hack”. I also think the term is confusing.
My dictionary includes several definitions for “hack”. One definition is as programming language for a “reconciliation” of a fast development cycle and static language. I assume you’re using the term in this sense and roughly use it here to mean a reconciliation or a fast procedure.
My estimate is that most voters do not use programmer’s language. They will be puzzled by the language. The term is frequently used to mean illegal or unauthorized entry into another person’s computer. I’m sure you don’t intend this to represent your strategy.
But in response let me use another analogy: We’re engaged in a marathon, not a sprint. The issues involved here are both complicated and dynamic (i.e., they are constantly changing).
One “hack” in 2016, even if clever and successful, will not solve the problem of money in politics.
The problem of money in politics will persist. Similarly, our strategy to confront it must also continue and evolve.
Footnote 1: Stuart Dowty is the Chair of Reclaim Our American Democracy (ROAD) Against Big Money. ROAD, a grassroots group located in Washtenaw County, Michigan, works to end the influence of big money in politics. (See ROAD’s Mission Statement at www.reclaimouramericandemocracy.com) Stu is a retired trial attorney. He also holds a MA degree in political science from Michigan State University. After retiring from law practice Stu worked as a Deputy Supervisor for 3 years in local township government. A political activist since college days Stu also has served as Chair of the Washtenaw County Democratic Party. The opinions in this article are the authors and do not represent organizational views of ROAD.