October 12, 2011  ·  Lessig

Like a fever, revolutions come in waves. And if this is a revolution, then it broke first on November 4, 2008, with the election of Barack Obama, second, on February 19, 2009, with the explosion of anger by Rick Santelli, giving birth to the Tea Party, and third, on September 10, 2011 with the #Occupy movements that are now spreading across the United States.

The souls in these movements must now decide whether this third peak will have any meaningful effect — whether it will unite a radically divided America, and bring about real change, or whether it will be boxed up by a polarized media, labeled in predictable ways, and sent off to the dust bins of cultural history.

In the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., championed a strategy of non-violence: that in the face of state sponsored and tolerated aggression, the strongest response was a promise not to respond in kind.

In this movement, we need a similar strategy. Of course a commitment to non-violence. But also a commitment to non-contradiction: We need to build and define this movement not by contradicting the loudest and clearest anger on the Right, but instead, by finding the common ground in our demands for reform.

So when Ron Paul criticizes the “Wall Street bailouts,” and attacks government support for “special businesses” with special access, we should say, “that’s right, Congressman Paul.” Bailouts for the rich is not the American way.

And when Rick Santelli launches a Tea Party movement, by attacking the government’s subsidies “to the losers,” we should ask in reply, what about the subsidies “to the winners” — to the banks who engineered the dumbest form of socialism ever invented by man: socialized risk with privatized benefits. What, we should ask Mr. Santelli, about that subsidy?

Or when Republican Senator Richard Shelby tells NBC’s Meet the Press that the message in bank reform “should be, unambiguously, that nothing’s too big to fail,” we should say that’s right, Senator, and it’s about time our Congress recognized it.

Or when Sarah Palin calls GE the “poster child of crony capitalism,” we should say “Amen, Mamma Grisly”: For whether or not we are all believers in “capitalism,” we should all be opponents of “crony capitalism,” the form of capitalism that is increasingly dominating Washington, and that was partly responsible for the catastrophe on Wall Street in 2008, and hence the catastrophes throughout America since.

We should practice “non-contradiction,” not because we have no differences with the Right. We do. We on the Left, we Liberals, or as some prefer, we Progressives, have fundamental differences with people on the Right. Our vision of that “shining city on the hill” is different from theirs. Our hopes for “We, the People,” are more aspirational. More egalitarian. More ideal.

But even though our substantive views are different, we should recognize that we have not yet convinced a majority of America of at least some of our fundamental views. And that in a democracy, no faction has the right to hold a nation hostage to its extreme views, whether right or not. We should fight in the political system to win support for our Liberal views. But we should reject the idea that protest, or violence, or blackmail are legitimate political techniques for advancing views that have not yet prevailed in a democratic system.

Instead, we should use the energy and anger of this extraordinary movement to find the common ground that would justify this revolution for all Americans, and not just us. And when we find that common ground, we should scream it, and yell it, and chant it, again, and again, and again.

For there is a common ground between the anger of the Left and the anger of the Right: That common ground is a political system that does not work. A government that is not responsive, or — in the words of the Framers, the favorite source of insight for our brothers on the Right — a government that is not, as Federalist 52 puts it, “dependent upon the People alone.”

Because this government is not dependent upon “the People alone.” This government is dependent upon the Funders of campaigns. 1% of America funds almost 99% of the cost of political campaigns in America. Is it therefore any surprise that the government is responsive first to the needs of that 1%, and not to the 99%?

This government, we must chant, is corrupt. We can say that clearly and loudly from the Left. They can say that clearly and loudly from the Right. And we then must teach America that this corruption is the core problem — it is the root problem — that we as Americans must be fighting.

There could be no better place to name that root than on Wall Street, New York. For no place in America better symbolizes the sickness that is our government than Wall Street, New York. For it is there that the largest amount of campaign cash of any industry in America was collected; and it was there that that campaign cash was used to buy the policies that created “too big to fail”; and it was there that that campaign cash was used to buy the get-out-of-jail free card, which Obama and the Congress have now given to Wall Street in the form of a promise of no real regulatory change, and an assurance of “forgiveness.”

“Forgiveness” — not of the mortgages that are now underwater. The foreclosures against them continue. “Forgiveness” — not even of the sins now confessed by Wall Street bankers, for our President has instructed us, no crimes were committed. “Forgiveness” — just enough to allow candidates once again to race to Wall Street to beg for the funds they need to finance their campaigns. The dinner parties continue. The afternoons at the golf course are the same. It’s not personal. It’s just business. It is the business of government corrupted.

There is no liberal, or libertarian, or conservative who should defend these policies. There is no liberal, or libertarian, or conservative who should defend this corruption. The single problem we all should be able to agree about is a political system that has lost is moral foundation: For no American went to war to defend a democracy “dependent upon the Funders alone.” No mother sacrificed her son or daughter to the cause of a system that effectively allows the law to be sold to the highest bidder.

We are Americans, all of us, whether citizens or not. We are Americans, all of us, because we all believe in the ideal of a government responsive to “the People alone.” And we all, as Americans, regardless of the diversity of our views, need to stand on this common ground and shout as loudly as we can: End this corruption now. Get the money out of government. Or at least get the special interest money out of government. And put back in its place a government dependent upon, and responsive too, the people. Alone.

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil” — Thoreau, 1846, On Walden — “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one striking at the root.”

If this fever is to have its effect, if this revolution is to have any meaning, if this struggle — and the carnival notwithstanding, it is an obvious struggle to sleep on the streets — is to have real consequence, then we all, Left and Right, must strike first at that root.

“It is the duty of youth,” they say Kurt Cobain said, “to challenge corruption.” He may have meant a different corruption, if indeed he uttered this poetry too. But whatever he meant, embrace his words. It is your duty to challenge this corruption. And once you have ended it — once we have restored a government that cares about what its people care about first, and not just its funders — then let us get back to the hard and important work of convincing our fellow citizens of the right in everything that is left.

  • tim

    cowardice or complicity? Disney seems to be advancing the verticle integration of it’s interests with those of the right wing machine that now has a created a choke hold on information flow. With any luck at all they can become the state appointed long form content company.

  • http://www.rightsideredux.com justin @ RSR

    All this talk about Michael Moore reminds me of
    my favorite TV clip from this year (at the Oscars):

    Click here to view it


    Justin @ RSR

  • Alan

    Rather than cowardice or complicity, how about good ol’ freedom. It’s no secret that there has been a fairly quiet campaign by many family oriented Christian organizations to complain to Disney about this movie.

    Disney is clearly responding to the market…their right by the way just as it is their customers’ right to not patronize Disney if they dislike what they do.

    Disney is not submarining this movie, they are just saying they don’t want to be involved with it (their right, again).

    Moore’s claim that Disney is killing the movie is, like much of what he write/produces…not true.

  • http://healthylife.typepad.com Bob W

    I agree with Alan. Why should Disney be obliged to finance a highly partisan diatribe? Disney clearly has a brand to protect, why shouldn’t they protect it? Would they be obliged to produce a film from the far right? no.

  • Rob

    The point is that Miramax bought the rights to distribute his movie, then the parent company stepped in at the last minute and overrode them. That in my book is “killing the movie”, don’t know what book others might be reading.

    And of course it’s all perfectly legal, and perfectly understandable, why Disney did it. It also stinks to high heaven. Here we have a major corporation making decisions on what films will be released to the public based (allegedly) on how it might affect their tax breaks (which of course they deny, what else would they say?).

    It�s no secret that there has been a fairly quiet campaign by many family oriented Christian organizations to complain to Disney about this movie.

    And they have succeeded in getting the movie killed at Miramax. Family-oriented Christian organizations are now to be the arbiters of what movies will be released in America, at least at Disney-owned studios. That’s the message here. Better not make any movies that go against the beliefs of family-oriented Christian organizations, or at any rate don’t pitch them to Disney, the family-oriented Christian movie company!

    Personally I wouldn’t be surprised if Moore saw this coming, but took a chance that he might be able to slide one in “under the radar” of the parent company. It’s no-lose for him: his film is going to Cannes regardless, and some other distributor will eventually distribute it. Meanwhile he’s exposed the sham of Miramax’ independence from Disney.

  • ek

    It’s one thing if Disney simply made a marketing decision not to distribute the movie because it would anger some consumers and hurt its sales elsewhere. But if their “business decision” is based on the fear that they might upset Governor Jeb Bush and lose tax breaks they now enjoy in Florida (as the NYT article suggests), then it’s something else entirely. Alan, is your idea of “freedom” about receiving corporate welfare in exchange of suppressing political dissent?

  • http://www.bennett.com/blog/ Richard Bennett

    It turns out that this is a hyped-up story manufactured out of thin air by Moore to create some interest in an otherwise dull project. See The Nation* columnist Marc Cooper’s explanation and inside scoop on a story coming out in The Independent* tomorrow.

    Can we spell “shameless self-promoter?”

    *Not right-wing publications.

  • tim

    The argument that this movie could cost Disney tax breaks presumes corruption on the part of Florida. When did tax breaks become partisan rewards?

  • Joe Caucci

    Why call Michael Moore’s film propaganda without seeing it first?

    This guy speaks more truth in a day than Bush has in the past 3 years.

    What do they have on this guy? What, that he gets a couple minor facts wrong in his book? So what? He’s not a professional journalist. Doesn’t claim to be. It’s much worse, in my opinion, when “professionals” like Bernard Goldberg publish pure lies.

  • Rob

    I’ve yet to see anything Moore has done that’s been dull. Of course there’s always the possibility that anything touching on President Bush will be affected by his dullness, but I bet Moore is up to the task of making even the President seem somehow interesting.

    As far as Mr. Cooper’s supposed debunking of Moore, I notice that the “inside scoop” article he includes nevertheless repeats the quote from the NYTimes from Moore’s agent where the tax incentives supposedly came up in a conversation with Michael Eisner; that indicates to me that the author feels it’s good info, and Cooper (by including it) does as well. He also cites nameless “sources” at Miramax reporting that Miramax also “never planned to release the Moore film”. Well, gee, I’m convinced. As with Manes, points for Cooper using “bloviating” (which is fast becoming one of my favorite words); but my statements still stand.

    From the Cooper blog entry:

    “Dissecting the current dust-up, it seems clear that Disney never intended to distribute Moore’s film.”

    Well of course they didn’t; but Moore wasn’t dealing with Disney, was he? He thought he was dealing with Miramax. Oops. Cooper even points this out himself, with emphasis:

    “[Disney officials] also pointed out they had made it clear a year ago that they wanted no involvement with Fahrenheit 911, which was picked up by Miramax against the wishes of its corporate parent. [My emphasis -ed.]“

    I can spell “shameless self-promoter” any number of ways. M-a-r-c-C-o-o-p-e-r. G-e-o-r-g-e-B-u-s-h. The list is endless. And citing one shameless self-promoter to attempt to discredit another is not likely to be very convincing.

  • Rob

    When did tax breaks become partisan rewards?

    I would guess about the time monied interests decided to try to influence government. Ancient Rome maybe? Probably even earlier. Naivete’ is so charming sometimes.

  • http://www.bennett.com/blog/ Richard Bennett

    Miramax is a producer, and they have a deal with Disney for distribution. When Miramax decided to produce Moore’s latest piece of puke, Disney said they wouldn’t distribute it. That was a year ago, and none of this is news to Moore, who even acknowledges that his agent knew about the deal all along but somehow failed to tell him until this week.

    There are plenty of distributors who would love to handle this film, and Moore won’t suffer by using someone other than Disney to pawn his dreck off on the unsuspecting young people who make up his core audience.

    The only story here is Moore lying (again) in order to create buzz for his irrational, dishonest, hysterical attacks on Authority.


  • http://www.knowprose.com/mtentries/ Taran

    And in other news, Roy Disney says Disney Inc. is being privateered by someone with a Letter of Marquee…

    Ok, he didn’t SAY that, but…

  • http://www.bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Moore accused of publicity stunt over Disney ‘ban’

    Less than 24 hours after accusing the Walt Disney Company of pulling the plug on his latest documentary in a blatant attempt at political censorship, the rabble-rousing film-maker Michael Moore has admitted he knew a year ago that Disney had no intention of distributing it.

    The admission, during an interview with CNN, undermined Moore’s claim that Disney was trying to sabotage the US release of Fahrenheit 911 just days before its world premiere at the Cannes film festival.

    Instead, it lent credence to a growing suspicion that Moore was manufacturing a controversy to help publicise the film, a full-bore attack on the Bush administration and its handling of national security since the attacks of 11 September 2001.

    You’ve been had, boys and girls.

  • Rob

    …in the CNN interview he [Moore] said: “Almost a year ago, after we’d started making the film, the chairman of Disney, Michael Eisner, told my agent he was upset Miramax had made the film and he will not distribute it.”

    Nothing new here. It still doesn’t negate the fact that Eisner/Disney made their decision on what I consider a dubious basis. And it still is a fact that Disney indeed did “pull the plug” on distributing the movie, making good on their threat. It’s their right to decide what not to distribute, but it’s the public’s right to demand that a major movie distributor give equal time to all points of view. If Disney wants to exercise such control over the political content of their projects and those of their subsidiaries (censorship is such an ugly word), that fact needs to be out in the open so the public can see it. And now it is.

  • http://www.bennett.com/blog/ Richard Bennett

    Rob writes: …it�s the public�s right to demand that a major movie distributor give equal time to all points of view.

    It is?

    The issue here is Moore lying to create buzz, and you buying the lies because of your predisposition to accept any line of reasoning that attacks authority; this is what sells Moore’s books (and Lessig’s, and Vaidhyanathan’s, and Franken’s, etc, etc, etc).

    I agree that you’re being manipulated, and suggest that you look at such questions as “how” and “by whom.” When you know the truth, you’ll be free.

  • http://www.creativevoices.us Jonathan Rintels

    What’s really worrisome is that Disney acts in a similar way against political and so-called “indecent” speech in television, where it is one of only a handful of companies that control access to the public airwaves. As a theatrical film by a well-known filmmaker, Moore’s film will be distributed by someone else after Disney’s pass. And the public can choose whether to pay its seven bucks to see it.

    But in television, the likelihood of a show that Disney, through its production companies, bankrolls but then refuses to air eventually finding another broadcast outlet are slim and none. Unless it’s by a producer with the juice of a Jerry Bruckheimer who can stand up to them and demand his show back (as was the case with CSI, where ABC famously passed and thus handed a goldmine to CBS/Viacom). It’s where our public airwaves are concerned that we ought to be most concerned. The giant conglomerates who we allow to control these airwaves are so dependent on Washington for licenses, spectrum, merger approvals, tax breaks, etc., that we all pay a price in homogenized, unchallenging, and politically “safe” programming.

    Clear Channel dropping Howard Stern from its stations was an excellent example — it was getting killed in Washington, so it sacrificed Howard. Now, the question is whether Viacom will dump Stern, as he himself is predicting. If so, we’ve got a major, major problem in this country. In fact, we have one already.

  • Rob

    The issue here is…you buying the lies because of your predisposition to accept any line of reasoning that attacks authority…I agree that you�re being manipulated, and suggest that you look at such questions as �how� and �by whom.� When you know the truth, you�ll be free.

    I just read an excellent (my opinion) essay by scientist/author David Brin:

    The Matrix: Tomorrow May Be Different

    Mostly the essay is about overarching themes in speculative fiction and their relevance to society, but it also has quite a bit of relevance to your point. Here’s a quote (apologies in advance for losing some of its context) from that essay:

    …the most persistent and inarguably incessant propaganda campaign, appearing in countless movies, novels, myths and TV shows, preaches…A singular and unswerving theme so persistent and ubiquitous that most people hardly notice or mention it. And yet, when I say it aloud, you will nod your heads in instant recognition.

    That theme is suspicion of authority — often accompanied by its sidekick/partner: tolerance.

    Perhaps I have been manipulated to suspect Authority. I don’t claim to be immune to propaganda. Given that admission, I certainly feel in my heart that large media conglomerates are heavily predisposed to use their power in purely selfish ways. The people running them aren’t superhuman either; they may genuinely feel that releasing Moore’s film would be harmful to society, but that’s not the story I’m hearing. Instead I’m hearing that Authority is deciding to silence an annoying dissenter who questions their power and the moral underpinnings of that power. I feel I must respectfully disagree with their position.

    The public has just as much right to demand equality of time from a media megalith as it does from an individual television network or newspaper. It is OUR society, not Authority’s, though Authority would perhaps like us to forget that.

  • http://www.bennett.com/blog/ Richard Bennett

    Actually, we don’t have a problem with access to the airwaves at all. Most of us watch TV on cable or satellite – 70% or so of American households – so the airwaves and their regulators are at best a minor nuisance.

    Progress is a wonderful thing.

  • http://www.bennett.com/blog/ Richard Bennett

    Rob, may I point out that Authority isn’t actually a monolith? It seems to me that it’s helpful to remember that, especially in the political context where using one oligarchy to fight another is the order of the day.

    In the most real and important sense, you yourself are the only Authority that matters.