January 2, 2008 · Lessig
It now looks like there’s a very good chance that Iowa will do the American democracy more good tomorrow than any election has done in the last generation.
If the polls are to be believed (or if caucusers turn out according to the polls), then a majority of the Democracts will be voting for a candidate that places fixing the corruption that is Washington at the very top of his agenda. Both Edwards and Obama have made this their core message (Populist hero Edwards more than new generation Obama), and if the majority of Democrats in Iowa ratifying that message gets understood, we may see this election go a long way towards fixing the problem that I think is the single most important problem facing government today.
As I’ve said before, I don’t think this is a Dem/GOP issue. But it is the case that the only credible campaigns attacking it are now from the Democratic side of the isle. The grotesqueness of the last 7 years perhaps leads the GOP to ignore the issue. The allegiance of the establishment Democratic candidate (HR Clinton) leaves an open field for the “less experienced” Obama and Edwards.
But in that charge (“less experience”) lies all the promise of these two reform candidates. If you were asking how best to reform a corrupt Police Department, would anyone think that someone experienced inside the department was likely to be an effective reformer? I’m not saying it’s not possible: Someone living inside that corruption could finally boil over with revulsion at the system that they are living within. Precisely that revulsion is what many of us were looking for Clinton to demonstrate. But we got none of that. Instead, we got a full throated defense of lobbyists. Thus, even if it is possible that an “experienced” politician could reform the system, the experience of HR “Lincoln Bedroom” Clinton is not likely to manifest that zeal for reform. She and her husband prospered from that system. Why would they ever work to dismantle it? She asks in her final 2-minute plea to Iowa: “Who is ready to be president and ready to start solving the big challenges we face on day one?” That’s not the question. The right question is this: “Who sees fixing the corruption that is government as the most important challenge we face on day one, and who is likely to have the will to do it?”
Edwards and Obama are different from Clinton in this respect at least. Both are single term Senators — in it enough to be revolted by the system, both aching to force change upon it. I concede it may be hard for some to choose between them. I think it is a moment of celebration that the Dems have two with this ethic at their core. And while I would not criticize anyone who caucused for Senator Edwards, as I’ve already indicated, my pull for Obama comes not just from knowing him a bit personally, but also from the aching desire that we let, to borrow from JFK, the torch pass to a new generation. Imagine what America looks like from the outside when this mixed race American (a redundancy, to be sure), who opposed this horrible blunder of a war from the start, is sworn in as President. And imagine what America looks from the inside, when all those under 50 see a man who doesn’t actually remember Woodstock defining for a generation those things worth remembering.
It is a hopeful moment. Please, Iowa, make it real.