November 14, 2007 · Lessig
“DON’T DO THIS!” a friend wrote, a friend who never uses allcaps, a friend who cares genuinely about what’s good for me, and who believes that what’s good for me depends in part upon how easily I can talk to the next administration. “He is NOT going to win. She has it sewed up. DON’T burn your bridges before they’re hatched — so to speak.”
So was my suggestion that I come clean publicly about what many here will have intuited long ago — tha I support Barack Obama for President — met by my friend. But I said as much in March, 2004, though I expected this year would be four years later. Barack was a colleague from way back. I’ve supported every campaign since the first. And from the very first moments I knew the guy, I thought that he was precisely the sort we should be able to elect as President.
Friendship, however, isn’t the most compelling reason (for at least others) to support a candidate for President. I was therefore relieved and very happy that on substance, too, this is my candidate.
The closest leading competitor for my loyalty is of course Edwards. He’s got great views about technology and privacy. He’s got a fantastic commitment to changes that might well address the corruption that has become my focus. And he’s come around to the right views about the war. I’ve long admired his passion and conviction. And but for fears about his flirting with protectionism, he would, in my view, make a great President.
The other front running Democrat, however, is not a close call for me. (Saying this is what terrified my newly allcaps friend.) She supported the war, but as my support of Edwards last time round indicates, I can forgive that. The parts I can’t get over all relate to the issues around corruption. I signaled as much in my comments about her comments about lobbyists. We see two radically different worlds here. And were she President, I’d bet everything that we’d see radically little change.
But the part that gets me the most about Senator Clinton is the eager embrace of spinelessness. I don’t get this in Democrats generally. I never have, but I especially don’t get it after two defeats to the likes of George Bush (ok, one defeat, but let’s put that aside for the moment). Our party seems constitutionally wedded to the idea that you wage a campaign with tiny speech. Say as little as possible. Be as uncontroversial as you can. Embrace the chameleon as the mascot. Fear only that someone would clearly understand what you believe. (Think of Kerry denying he supported gay marriage — and recognize that the same sort of people who thought that would win him support are now inside the control room at ClintonHQ).
All politicians of course do this to some degree. And about some issues, I even get it. But what put me over the line with Senator Clinton was the refusal to join the bipartisan call that presidential debates be free. Not because this is a big issue. But because even on this (relatively) small issue, she couldn’t muster the strength to do the right thing.
Her failure here was not because her campaign didn’t know of the issue. I spoke directly to leading figures (or so they said) in the campaign. The issue was discussed, and a decision was made. And the decision was to say nothing about the issue. You can almost see the kind of tiny speak that was battered around inside HQ. “Calling for free debates might be seen as opposing copyright.” “It might weaken our support among IP lawyers and Hollywood.” “What would Disney think?” Better to say nothing about the issue. Better to let it simply go away.
And no doubt that was the safe bet, highly likely and politically sensible. But the issue of course didn’t go away. The legal threats that motivated us to launch this call for free debates materialized in a threat against Senator McCain. But that again gave the Senator an opportunity to say something true and principled and consistent with values she certainly ought to hold dear: That Fox should not not silence McCain, even if his words were an attack on her. Again, there was an opportunity for principled, and strong character. Again, it was frittered away by tiny speak among the very same sorts who frittered away 2000, and 2004.
We (Democrats) and we (Americans) have had enough of this kind of “leadership.” That (plus the Lincoln Bedroom) made it impossible for me, honestly, to support Senator Clinton. No doubt I would prefer her to any Republican (save, of course, the amazing Ron Paul). But I can’t support the idea that she represents the ideals of what the Democratic Party must become.
And that leaves Barack — an easy choice for me (except for the “trailing Clinton” part) for lots of reasons.
First, and again, I know him, which means I know something of his character. “He is the real deal” has become my favorite new phrase. Everything about him, personally, is what you would dream a candidate should be. Integrity, brilliance, warmth, humor and most importantly, commitment. They all say they’re all this. But for me, this part is easy, because about this one at least, I know.
Second, I believe in the policies. Clearly on the big issues — the war and corruption. Obama has made his career fighting both. But also on the issues closest to me. As the technology document released today reveals, to anyone who reads it closely, Obama has committed himself to important and importantly balanced positions.
First the importantly balanced: You’ll read he’s a supporter of Net Neutrality. No surprise there. But read carefully what Net Neutrality for Obama is. There’s no blanket ban on offering better service; the ban is on contracts that offer different terms to different providers for that better service. And there’s no promise to police what’s under the technical hood (beyond the commitment already articulated by Chairman Powell): This is a sensible and valuable Net Neutrality policy that shows a team keen to get it right — which includes making it enforceable in an efficient way, even if not as radical as some possible friends would like.
Second, on the important: As you’ll read, Obama has committed himself to a technology policy for government that could radically change how government works. The small part of that is simple efficiency — the appointment with broad power of a CTO for the government, making the insanely backwards technology systems of government actually work.
But the big part of this is a commitment to making data about the government (as well as government data) publicly available in standard machine readable formats. The promise isn’t just the naive promise that government websites will work better and reveal more. It is the really powerful promise to feed the data necessary for the Sunlights and the Maplights of the world to make government work better. Atomize (or RSS-ify) government data (votes, contributions, Members of Congress’s calendars) and you enable the rest of us to make clear the economy of influence that is Washington.
After the debacle that is the last 7 years, the duty is upon the Democrats to be something different. I’ve been wildly critical of their sameness (remember “Dems to the Net: Go to hell” which earned me lots of friends in the Democratic party). I would give my left arm to be able to celebrate their difference. This man, Mr. Obama, would be that difference. He has as much support as I can give.
(Oh, and to my allcaps friend, this was my reply: “Don’t be ridiculous. This isn’t about misplaced courage. Barack is going to win this one easily.”)