February 20, 2008 · Lessig
So I’ve been flooded with email advising me about this decision I need to make. Most of it is enormously generous. Some of it has been extremely strong — both in the sense of right, and in the sense of strongly stated and felt.
Again, in the spirit of what I think a race for public office should be, I will be commenting upon a bunch of this in this blog. Let me start today with the one interesting disagreement this question has raised, and about which I have strong feelings myself.
A bunch of people have asked (and some in the strongest way possible) that I not run because somehow, as a progressive (the pc word for “liberal”), it is wrong to challenge another established progressive. That there’s something unseemly about a primary contest between two or more progressives. That, as one person said, “Jackie has earned her dues, and she deserves it.”
There a bunch of ways in which I think this is mistaken. Here are just a few:
- I reject the idea of “dues” and “desert.” In my view, it you want a guaranteed job for life, become a law professor. Instead, I should think progressives would want to encourage a debate and choice by citizens in a district. We get too little of this. I can’t see the sin in pushing for more of it.
- I also reject the idea that only “bad” politicians should be challenged in a primary. Indeed, I think the opposite. Of course, bad/corrupt/sleazy politicians should be challenged. But so too should politicians be challenged who have a view about public matters that a challenger in good faith disagrees with. Let politics for once be a battle about something other than “character.” Let it be a battle about ideas, and which ideas matter. I take it that was the justification Jackie had for promising a primary challenge to a long-established incumbent. I agree with that justification.
- But I do believe that a challenge to a good politician — a challenged based solely upon a difference in values or ideals — should live up to a certain ethic. And if I ran, I would never deviate from this ethic. I honestly have enormous respect for Jackie Speier; I believe she was a strong and very successful state senator. Nothing in a campaign I would run would ever criticize or attack anything except the differences in either policies or experience. Those are the terms upon which a choice should be made. Those are the terms upon which I would frame the debate.
- I might think differently about this in a district in which there was a real risk that a candidate with radically different views would be elected because of the primary contest. It is for this reason that I criticized Nader in 2000 — or at least his decision not to withdraw after it was clear he was not going to win. But CA12 is a strongly Democratic district. It will elect a progressive Democrat. There is no realistic possibility that choosing one or the other will lose the district. Choosing one or the other will simply help define what “progressive” means.
- And this, in the end, is the most important issue for me: if I do this, I would do this because I think it is time for progressives to take a clear stand about money in politics. Too much of our rhetoric is about criticizing bad money (meaning money from corporations) while welcoming good money (money from unions, etc.) But until we shift the significance of money in the political process, we will not be able to avoid (in some cases, catastrophic) policy errors (catastrophic: global warming). Here, I believe, we should draw a line: Progressives should commit to giving up PAC/lobbyist money. And any candidate who fails to so commit should be disciplined in the way the framers imagined — through an open, free election, where people debate and vote on the basis of their values.