October 25, 2011  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Huffington Post

At the end of September, I helped organize a conference at Harvard about the idea of calling a(n Article V) constitutional convention. The event was co-hosted by the Tea Party Patriots. And although that organization has not endorsed a convention, there are many conservatives and libertarians who do support such a call. The conference was designed to explore the possibility, and to demonstrate that people from the Left (my friends) and that people from the Right (the Tea Party Patriots, and some of my friends) could discuss these issues like decent souls do.

At the opening session, Tea Party Patriot co-founder Mark Meckler gave by far the most impressive speech of the event. In it, he condemned the business model of hate. “The politicians profit,” Meckler told us, “when we are inflamed against each other.” It was an inspiring charge to launch our two day conference, and it set the tone for an extraordinary and productive weekend.

Dial forward one month: A few days ago I received an email from the Tea Party Patriots. The aim of the missive was to insist that the #Occupy movement was not the Tea Party. The #Occupiers, the letter stated, were “America-hating anarchists who want to take their anger out on ordinary, productive citizens.” And then immediately after that charge, the letter had a link in bold: “Please make an urgent online contribution of $15, $20, $25, $50, $100 or whatever you can afford to Tea Party Patriots right away.”

This same dynamic happens the other way round.

On Saturday I was wandering through the #OccupySeattle protest. I checked my email, and someone had forwarded a link to a tweet about a speech at the #OccupyChicago event. David Zirin, a writer for the wonderful, and left-wing, The Nation (and sometimes, for HuffPo), was leading a teach-in. He was also leading the audience in a chorus of boos about an idea that I had advanced at a teach-in at #OccupyKSt earlier that week. The tweet quoted Zirin saying “I can tell by your boos you agree with me that that’s horseshit.” Shortly afterwards, there were echos in the twitter-verse about my “dumb idea.”

Here was my “dumb idea”: At the @OccupyKSt teach-in, I told the audience that they should hold firm to their liberal views. That I did not believe in compromising one’s values. That liberals had compromised enough.

But that if the #Occupy movements are to have any long term effect, they need to recognize the diversity that is this Nation, and to reach out to others whose beliefs they don’t share. That the movement needs to find the common ground between the populists on the Right and the populists on the Left. And that in that common ground lies the only potential for real reform. “You may or may not believe in capitalism,” I told the #Occupiers, “but no one believes in crony capitalism, and crony capitalism is precisely the corruption that is our Congress.” So build two lists of demands, I said later at that event: One of what “We believe.” One of what “We ALL believe.” And let that second list then found a movement that will restore this Republic.

That was my “horseshit,” as Zirin tagged it. And as he tweeted me in a followup, “Given the Tea Party’s politics, I don’t think you can have it both ways.”

“I’m not having ‘it’ both ways,” I responded. “There are two ‘its.’” And “If you can’t rec[ognize the] diversity of US, [you are] not US.”

“If you champion tea party alliances,” Zirin retorted, with the almost irresistible snarkiness of Twitter, “don’t be surprised if theres no US. Just ‘you.’”

I’m a fan of The Nation. I wish more people would read it. And better, subscribe to it. I hope it succeeds in seeding the spread of activism on the Left. I hope we on the Left can once again find the courage to call ourselves “Liberals” and be proud of it. The Nation is a constant argument for that courage.

But I increasingly think that we all — on the Left and the Right — need to carry around two hats. One hat should say, “Working for my side.” The other should say, “Working for U.S.” Both vocations are noble and fair. But they are different. It is completely legitimate for the Tea Party to rally its troops. It is the nature of modern organizing that you rally to raise money. But rallying Americans to the Right is different from rallying Americans to fix the corruption that is this government: one speaks to some of us; the other speaks to all of us. And if anyone in the Tea Party movement believes their values or ideas are going to get 80% of Americans to unite, they’re deluded, or worse.

The same is true on the Left. I love the #Occupy rallies. I wish we on the Left had more of their energy to get our side off the couch and to the polls. I wish we had 10,000 teach-ins across the Nation, in living rooms as well as with #occupiers. But if some on our side think that a rhetoric rejecting free markets and demanding socialized banks (in the Left wing version of socialized, not the crony-capitalist version — socialized risk, privatized benefit — that they enjoy now) is going to get 80% of Americans to unite, then they are deluded or worse.

We Americans are diverse. We have different views. Some of us want more government. Some of us want less. Some think the state has done enough to achieve equality. Some think it’s not begun to do its job. Some want flat taxes. Or no taxes. Some want progressive taxes. Or at least more taxes. We are different in a million ways, we Americans, but we are all equally Americans. And if you’re leading a movement that won’t acknowledge that difference (or more frighteningly, that believes that mere rhetoric is going to erase that difference), then you’re not looking for fundamental reform. You’re looking for a putsch.

This Nation needs fundamental reform. For that, our constitution requires 75% of states to agree. Thus, if we want real change, we must find those ideas upon which 75% of states can actually agree.

The challenge for all of us is whether despite our differences, there are those ideas. Whether there is common ground enough to bring about real change.

That is the question I care most about right now: finding common ground. It may not be there, but I believe it is. I’ve built organizations, mobilized thousands of volunteers, given hundreds of lectures, and now written a book to argue that it is. But regardless of whether there is, when I or others try to find it, or motivate people to find it, or to talk about it, or to dream for it, we’re doing something different from what we do when we wear the “Working for my side” hat. Something different. And IMHO, right now, something critical and important.

So I get the need for the Tea Party to practice the politics of division. No movement does anything more. But the hard question now is whether we can also play the politics of “e pluribus unum.” At Harvard, Meckler told us that the Tea Partiers “are not racists. They are not homophobes. They are your fellow citizens.” That is no doubt correct — even if there are individuals in that movement who are what the movement is not. But I’ve seen the #Occupiers, in now at least three cities. The same must be said of them: They are not “America-hating anarchists” — even if there are anarchists among them. “They are our fellow citizens.”

And I get the need to rally souls, as Zirin did, to address the important “issues of race, sexism, LGBT.” But it can’t be “horseshit,” can it?, to also ask us to practice another great liberal value — tolerance — at least enough to talk about an alliance with those with whom we disagree. It can’t be betrayal to ask whether despite our having few common ends, we might indeed have a common enemy.

Almost 225 years ago, seventy-four men huddled in a stuffy hall in Philadelphia. They met in secret and did much more than was planned when their meeting was called: they crafted a new constitution. Our constitution.

We today think of those 74 delegates as all the same: white men, who dressed the same, all coming from essentially the same class. But they were very different. There were men in that room who believed in slavery. There were men in that room who believed slavery was the moral abomination of their time.

Yet they bracketed those differences long enough to craft a Republic within which differences could be worked out. It took too long to get to the right answer about slavery. But there was ground enough in their new government to work through differences enough to save this nation.

Whatever the differences are between the Tea Party and the #occupiers, they are not as profound or as important as the difference between slave holders and abolitionists. And whatever the challenges we face today, they are not as great or difficult as the challenge of crafting a whole new form of government.

We need the courage to practice what they did. We need to put aside the business model of hate, and focus on the common ground of possibility. Americans, whether Left or Right, have lost faith in this government. Americans, whether Left or Right, believe this Congress is bought. We need a movement that can say, “whatever else we might disagree about, we all agree that this corruption must end.”

For we can’t afford to simply indulge the passion of our differences. Not anymore. The challenges we face as a Nation are just too great. It is time for us to practice a politics that doesn’t fit the business model of Fox v. MSNBC, of The Nation v. National Review, of the Tea Party v. the gaggle of Left-leaning organizations that would claim the #Occupiers. It might not pay, it might not drive ad revenues, it might not rally members: but sometimes those goals are just not the most important.

(Original post on HuffPo)

October 12, 2011  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Huffington Post

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.

(Original post on HuffPo)

October 12, 2011  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Huffington Post

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.

(Original post on HuffPo)

October 7, 2011  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Huffington Post

I’m a liberal. I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I believe gays should be free to marry. I believe that society has an obligation to help the worst off. I believe public education should be free and fantastic. The government should not be allowed to spy on me, or my neighbors, whether they are citizens or not. Business should not be allowed to pollute the environment. Markets, I believe, when properly regulated, produce extraordinary innovation and spread wealth. I believe no one should be permitted to buy an election, human or not. I believe equality is a means to a better society. Regulation is necessary to keep the powerful true. And swift and efficient justice is necessary when the powerful are not true. I believe in the Great Society, even if we’ve not found it yet. I listen to NPR. I am a card carrying member of the ACLU.

But I also believe that the only way to fix this Republic is through cross-partisan reform. We must, I believe, find a way to work with people we don’t agree with to make this Republic work again. People who think differently from how we do about a wide range of substantive policy questions — from taxation to regulation to Internet policy to federalism.

Yet as I walked through the #OccupyWallSt protest Wednesday, and asked people about such cross-partisanship, I was not encouraged. There is an anger and frustration among those on the Left. They feel they’ve tried compromise before. It got us this. They’re not interested in more of this. They want something different. They want change. The sort of change they can really believe in.

And I realized then just how hard it was going to be to get people to understand what cross-partisan must mean. It does not mean compromising on substantive issues. It does not mean finding the middle between Left and Right. It does not mean the incoherent “bipartisanship” that too often takes over DC — giving us the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on drugs, and the sort of justice system that executes Troy Davis.

It means instead a constitutional cross-partisanship: The recognition that however much we disagree about substantive issues, we have to be able to agree about the system within which we work out those substantive disagreements. That however much we disagree as Democrats and Republicans, there has to be a foundation of agreement as citizens — about at the very least the system within which disagreement gets resolved.

That system for us is a democracy. Or more precisely, a representative democracy, cabined by a constitution that both limits the power of government and checks the power of one branch against the others. It is the rules of the game. The terms upon which competition happens.

Sometimes those rules don’t work. Or they don’t work anymore. Sometimes they defeat the objectives of not just one side in a competition, but all sides. And when that happens, all sides need to stop the competition for a moment and fix the rules. All sides must cooperate to make competition between all sides work again.

This is the cross-partisanship that I mean.

The Republic that our framers gave us does not work anymore. It does not work for the Left. It does not work for the Right. Federalist 52 promised us a Congress “dependent upon the People alone.” The last 15 years have produced a Congress dependent upon the Funders primarily. Members of Congress spend between 30% and 70% of their time raising money to get back to Congress or to get their party back in power. As they do this, they obviously — obviously — bend themselves and their policies in a way that makes it easier for them to raise money. And as they do that, they send a clear message to America. Like a father fingering his Blackberry rather than playing with his kids, Congress shows us that we don’t matter. And like that kid, we get it. 75% of Americans believe “money buys results in Congress.” Only 12% of Americans have confidence in what Congress does.

12%. We need to keep that number in context. There were more who believed in the British Crown at the time of the Revolution than who believe in this Congress today. This Republic is lost. And it is way past time for us to get it back.

But we won’t get it back unless we find a way to work across the diversity that is America. Not to shove that diversity into a blender. But to find common ground about what’s gone wrong, and to commit to a common path to fixing it. We, as Americans, may not have common goals. We do, however, have a common enemy.

That enemy is the corruption of Congress. The single fact that most all of us agree about is that our Congress is bought, and our politics, corrupted. Not the buying of quid pro quo bribery. Congress is not criminal. But you don’t have to be a criminal to be corrupt. The corruption that is our Congress is in plain sight. It is legal, indeed, protected by the First Amendment. It is the bending and contorting to feed the fundraising frenzy that occupies the majority of the life of too many in Congress. And everyone — from Bill O’Reilly to Jon Stewart (really, watch) — should be able to agree that this corruption is at the root of the problems facing this Republic. And that until we remedy this corruption, this Republic will remain lost.

I was hopeful about #OccupyWallSt because it is the first mass movement that might accurately speak to this more fundamental corruption. For as I explained here before, the story of Wall Street is this story of government corrupted. Not just in the lead up to the collapse, but more brazenly and terrifyingly in the aftermath of that collapse — when Wall Street effectively blackmailed both Republicans and Democrats to block any meaningful reform. #OccupyWallSt should be to call out this corruption, and unite a movement across the nation to demand that we change the system that permits this corruption. This is the root in Thoreau’s “there are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one striking at the root.” This movement could be that one.

If it were, then it would be a million times more important than what happened in Madison. There was no way to understand the protests in Madison except as Democrat against Republican, as Left versus Right. The same with the Tea Party which, try as its leaders might, is only ever understood in America as the Right against the Left.

But as Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler told a packed and rapt audience at Harvard last month, we have to find a way to resist the business model that depends upon “making us hate each other.” We must find a way to look beyond our differences, to bracket those differences, so we can fix the system within which those differences compete. We need a time out, to fix the rules so that politics is not just a game to feed the ratings of cable news and Comedy Central.

I agree with you, Mark Meckler, that there is a business model of hate. It is the business model of too many, and it is destroying this Republic. So let’s put the fight over Medicare or Social Security aside for a moment, and find a way to fix this Republic. Not by criticizing those who dress differently (as is the Fox News meme of the day about these protesters), but by recognizing the passion of people who love this country every bit as much as you, and by working to unite us against our common enemy: The corruption that is this Congress.

(Original post on HuffPo)

October 7, 2011  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Huffington Post

I’m a liberal. I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I believe gays should be free to marry. I believe that society has an obligation to help the worst off. I believe public education should be free and fantastic. The government should not be allowed to spy on me, or my neighbors, whether they are citizens or not. Business should not be allowed to pollute the environment. Markets, I believe, when properly regulated, produce extraordinary innovation and spread wealth. I believe no one should be permitted to buy an election, human or not. I believe equality is a means to a better society. Regulation is necessary to keep the powerful true. And swift and efficient justice is necessary when the powerful are not true. I believe in the Great Society, even if we’ve not found it yet. I listen to NPR. I am a card carrying member of the ACLU.

But I also believe that the only way to fix this Republic is through cross-partisan reform. We must, I believe, find a way to work with people we don’t agree with to make this Republic work again. People who think differently from how we do about a wide range of substantive policy questions — from taxation to regulation to Internet policy to federalism.

Yet as I walked through the #OccupyWallSt protest Wednesday, and asked people about such cross-partisanship, I was not encouraged. There is an anger and frustration among those on the Left. They feel they’ve tried compromise before. It got us this. They’re not interested in more of this. They want something different. They want change. The sort of change they can really believe in.

And I realized then just how hard it was going to be to get people to understand what cross-partisan must mean. It does not mean compromising on substantive issues. It does not mean finding the middle between Left and Right. It does not mean the incoherent “bipartisanship” that too often takes over DC — giving us the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on drugs, and the sort of justice system that executes Troy Davis.

It means instead a constitutional cross-partisanship: The recognition that however much we disagree about substantive issues, we have to be able to agree about the system within which we work out those substantive disagreements. That however much we disagree as Democrats and Republicans, there has to be a foundation of agreement as citizens — about at the very least the system within which disagreement gets resolved.

That system for us is a democracy. Or more precisely, a representative democracy, cabined by a constitution that both limits the power of government and checks the power of one branch against the others. It is the rules of the game. The terms upon which competition happens.

Sometimes those rules don’t work. Or they don’t work anymore. Sometimes they defeat the objectives of not just one side in a competition, but all sides. And when that happens, all sides need to stop the competition for a moment and fix the rules. All sides must cooperate to make competition between all sides work again.

This is the cross-partisanship that I mean.

The Republic that our framers gave us does not work anymore. It does not work for the Left. It does not work for the Right. Federalist 52 promised us a Congress “dependent upon the People alone.” The last 15 years have produced a Congress dependent upon the Funders primarily. Members of Congress spend between 30% and 70% of their time raising money to get back to Congress or to get their party back in power. As they do this, they obviously — obviously — bend themselves and their policies in a way that makes it easier for them to raise money. And as they do that, they send a clear message to America. Like a father fingering his Blackberry rather than playing with his kids, Congress shows us that we don’t matter. And like that kid, we get it. 75% of Americans believe “money buys results in Congress.” Only 12% of Americans have confidence in what Congress does.

12%. We need to keep that number in context. There were more who believed in the British Crown at the time of the Revolution than who believe in this Congress today. This Republic is lost. And it is way past time for us to get it back.

But we won’t get it back unless we find a way to work across the diversity that is America. Not to shove that diversity into a blender. But to find common ground about what’s gone wrong, and to commit to a common path to fixing it. We, as Americans, may not have common goals. We do, however, have a common enemy.

That enemy is the corruption of Congress. The single fact that most all of us agree about is that our Congress is bought, and our politics, corrupted. Not the buying of quid pro quo bribery. Congress is not criminal. But you don’t have to be a criminal to be corrupt. The corruption that is our Congress is in plain sight. It is legal, indeed, protected by the First Amendment. It is the bending and contorting to feed the fundraising frenzy that occupies the majority of the life of too many in Congress. And everyone — from Bill O’Reilly to Jon Stewart (really, watch) — should be able to agree that this corruption is at the root of the problems facing this Republic. And that until we remedy this corruption, this Republic will remain lost.

I was hopeful about #OccupyWallSt because it is the first mass movement that might accurately speak to this more fundamental corruption. For as I explained here before, the story of Wall Street is this story of government corrupted. Not just in the lead up to the collapse, but more brazenly and terrifyingly in the aftermath of that collapse — when Wall Street effectively blackmailed both Republicans and Democrats to block any meaningful reform. #OccupyWallSt should be to call out this corruption, and unite a movement across the nation to demand that we change the system that permits this corruption. This is the root in Thoreau’s “there are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one striking at the root.” This movement could be that one.

If it were, then it would be a million times more important than what happened in Madison. There was no way to understand the protests in Madison except as Democrat against Republican, as Left versus Right. The same with the Tea Party which, try as its leaders might, is only ever understood in America as the Right against the Left.

But as Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler told a packed and rapt audience at Harvard last month, we have to find a way to resist the business model that depends upon “making us hate each other.” We must find a way to look beyond our differences, to bracket those differences, so we can fix the system within which those differences compete. We need a time out, to fix the rules so that politics is not just a game to feed the ratings of cable news and Comedy Central.

I agree with you, Mark Meckler, that there is a business model of hate. It is the business model of too many, and it is destroying this Republic. So let’s put the fight over Medicare or Social Security aside for a moment, and find a way to fix this Republic. Not by criticizing those who dress differently (as is the Fox News meme of the day about these protesters), but by recognizing the passion of people who love this country every bit as much as you, and by working to unite us against our common enemy: The corruption that is this Congress.

(Original post on HuffPo)

October 5, 2011  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Huffington Post

It is way too early, and perhaps even a bit crazy, to see an American Spring in the growing protests on Wall Street. Yet. But there is no doubt that if there is one place in America that these protests should begin, it is there, and it is now.

Writers by the dozen have lamented the influence that Wall Street exercised over Washington throughout the 1990s, leading up to the great collapse of 2008. A multi-billion dollar lobbying campaign, tied to hundreds of millions in campaign contributions, got Washington to erase its regulations and withdraw its regulators. One statistic summarizes it all: in 1980, close to 100 percent of the financial instruments traded in the market were subject to New Deal exchange-based regulations; by 2008, 90 percent were exempted from those regulations, effectively free of any regulatory oversight.

But there is nothing at all surprising in that story. The spirit of the times was deregulation. The ideology of Democrats and Republicans alike was regulatory retreat. No one should be surprised, however much we should lament, that politicians did what the zeitgeist said: go home — especially when they were given first class tickets for the ride.

What is surprising — indeed, terrifying, given what it says about this democracy — is what happened after the collapse. That even after the worst financial crises in 80 years, and even after the lions share of responsibility for that crisis had been linked to finance laissez faire, and even after the dean of finance laissez faire, the great Alan Greenspan, expressly confessed that it was wrong, and that he “made a mistake,” nothing changed. A president elected with the spirit of Louis Brandeis (“[We have to stop] Wall Street from taking enormous risks with ‘other people’s money’”), who promised to “take up that fight” “to change the way Washington works,” (“for far too long, through both Democratic and Republican administrations, Washington has allowed Wall Street to use lobbyists and campaign contributions to rig the system and get its way, no matter what it costs ordinary Americans”), and who was handed a crisis (read: opportunity) and a supermajority in Congress to make real change, did nothing about this root to our financial collapse. The “financial reform bill” is the reason the English language invented the scare quote: As every financial analyst not dependent upon the corruption that is Wall Street has screamed since the bill was passed, financial reform changed nothing. We are more at risk of a major financial collapse today than we were a decade ago. And the absolutely obscene bonuses of an industry that pays twice its pretax profits in salaries are even more secure today.

How could this possibly be? Never in the history of this nation have the agents of financial collapse so effectively avoided a regulatory response to that collapse. How is it that now they have not only avoided reform, but have effectively cemented their Ponzi scheme into the core of American law?

The protesters #occupy(ing)WallSt are looking for answers to that question. They should look no further than the dollar bills that they are taping to their mouths. The root to this pathology is not hard to see. The cure is not hard to imagine. The difficult task — and at times, it seems, impossibly difficult task — is to imagine how that cure might be brought about.

The arrest of hundreds of tired and unwashed kids, denied the freedom of a bullhorn, and the right to protest on public streets, may well be the first real green-shoots of this, the American spring. And if nurtured right, it could well begin real change.

In my book, Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress–and a Plan to Stop It– published today by Twelve, I spend hundreds of pages trying to make clear what should be obvious to every single protester shivering in a Wall Street doorway. But the whole point of the book could be captured in the single quote that I stole from Thoreau right at a start: “there are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil, to one who is striking at the root.”

These protesters should see that they are that one striking at the root. They should understand that our system has been corrupted by money — even if the Supreme Court refuses to call it “corruption,” and even if political scientists are unsure about whether their regressions can show it. And they should recognize that until this root is hacked, the weeds of this corruption will continue to destroy this democracy, and this nation.

Now conservatives are eager to insist that our framers didn’t give us a “democracy.” They gave us, they say, “a Republic.” And so they did. A Republic — by which the framers meant, as Federalist 10 makes clear, a “representative democracy.” By which the framers expected, as Federalist 52 makes clear, a Congress “dependent upon the People alone.”

But ours is not a Congress “dependent upon the People alone” — or even mainly. It has instead allowed a different dependency to grow within its midst: a dependency upon the Funders of its campaigns. And so great is that different and conflicting dependency that even the worst financial crisis in three generations can’t break their obsession with the fix. Neither party dares to cross Wall Street, since both parties know they could not win control of Congress or the White House without Wall Street’s money. So they feed the addiction, and ignore the real work that they should be doing.

#OccupyWallSt needs to teach America this lesson. It needs to speak to the wide range of citizens who believe it. You don’t have to be a Marxist to rally against the corruption that is our Congress. You don’t have to be Dr. Pangloss to believe that people who don’t share common ends might nonetheless have a common enemy.

This corruption is our common enemy. So let this protest first #OccupyWallSt, and then #OccupyKSt. And then let the anger and outrage that it has made clear lead many more Americans to #OccupyMainSt, and reclaim this republic.

For if done right, this movement just may have that potential. What the protesters are saying is true: Wall Street’s money has corrupted this democracy. What they are demanding is right: An end to that corruption. And as Flickr feeds and tweets awaken a slumbering giant, the People, the justice in this, yet another American revolution, could well become overwhelming, and finally have an effect.

(Original post on HuffPo)

October 5, 2011  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Huffington Post

It is way too early, and perhaps even a bit crazy, to see an American Spring in the growing protests on Wall Street. Yet. But there is no doubt that if there is one place in America that these protests should begin, it is there, and it is now.

Writers by the dozen have lamented the influence that Wall Street exercised over Washington throughout the 1990s, leading up to the great collapse of 2008. A multi-billion dollar lobbying campaign, tied to hundreds of millions in campaign contributions, got Washington to erase its regulations and withdraw its regulators. One statistic summarizes it all: in 1980, close to 100 percent of the financial instruments traded in the market were subject to New Deal exchange-based regulations; by 2008, 90 percent were exempted from those regulations, effectively free of any regulatory oversight.

But there is nothing at all surprising in that story. The spirit of the times was deregulation. The ideology of Democrats and Republicans alike was regulatory retreat. No one should be surprised, however much we should lament, that politicians did what the zeitgeist said: go home — especially when they were given first class tickets for the ride.

What is surprising — indeed, terrifying, given what it says about this democracy — is what happened after the collapse. That even after the worst financial crises in 80 years, and even after the lions share of responsibility for that crisis had been linked to finance laissez faire, and even after the dean of finance laissez faire, the great Alan Greenspan, expressly confessed that it was wrong, and that he “made a mistake,” nothing changed. A president elected with the spirit of Louis Brandeis (“[We have to stop] Wall Street from taking enormous risks with ‘other people’s money’”), who promised to “take up that fight” “to change the way Washington works,” (“for far too long, through both Democratic and Republican administrations, Washington has allowed Wall Street to use lobbyists and campaign contributions to rig the system and get its way, no matter what it costs ordinary Americans”), and who was handed a crisis (read: opportunity) and a supermajority in Congress to make real change, did nothing about this root to our financial collapse. The “financial reform bill” is the reason the English language invented the scare quote: As every financial analyst not dependent upon the corruption that is Wall Street has screamed since the bill was passed, financial reform changed nothing. We are more at risk of a major financial collapse today than we were a decade ago. And the absolutely obscene bonuses of an industry that pays twice its pretax profits in salaries are even more secure today.

How could this possibly be? Never in the history of this nation have the agents of financial collapse so effectively avoided a regulatory response to that collapse. How is it that now they have not only avoided reform, but have effectively cemented their Ponzi scheme into the core of American law?

The protesters #occupy(ing)WallSt are looking for answers to that question. They should look no further than the dollar bills that they are taping to their mouths. The root to this pathology is not hard to see. The cure is not hard to imagine. The difficult task — and at times, it seems, impossibly difficult task — is to imagine how that cure might be brought about.

The arrest of hundreds of tired and unwashed kids, denied the freedom of a bullhorn, and the right to protest on public streets, may well be the first real green-shoots of this, the American spring. And if nurtured right, it could well begin real change.

In my book, Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress–and a Plan to Stop It– published today by Twelve, I spend hundreds of pages trying to make clear what should be obvious to every single protester shivering in a Wall Street doorway. But the whole point of the book could be captured in the single quote that I stole from Thoreau right at a start: “there are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil, to one who is striking at the root.”

These protesters should see that they are that one striking at the root. They should understand that our system has been corrupted by money — even if the Supreme Court refuses to call it “corruption,” and even if political scientists are unsure about whether their regressions can show it. And they should recognize that until this root is hacked, the weeds of this corruption will continue to destroy this democracy, and this nation.

Now conservatives are eager to insist that our framers didn’t give us a “democracy.” They gave us, they say, “a Republic.” And so they did. A Republic — by which the framers meant, as Federalist 10 makes clear, a “representative democracy.” By which the framers expected, as Federalist 52 makes clear, a Congress “dependent upon the People alone.”

But ours is not a Congress “dependent upon the People alone” — or even mainly. It has instead allowed a different dependency to grow within its midst: a dependency upon the Funders of its campaigns. And so great is that different and conflicting dependency that even the worst financial crisis in three generations can’t break their obsession with the fix. Neither party dares to cross Wall Street, since both parties know they could not win control of Congress or the White House without Wall Street’s money. So they feed the addiction, and ignore the real work that they should be doing.

#OccupyWallSt needs to teach America this lesson. It needs to speak to the wide range of citizens who believe it. You don’t have to be a Marxist to rally against the corruption that is our Congress. You don’t have to be Dr. Pangloss to believe that people who don’t share common ends might nonetheless have a common enemy.

This corruption is our common enemy. So let this protest first #OccupyWallSt, and then #OccupyKSt. And then let the anger and outrage that it has made clear lead many more Americans to #OccupyMainSt, and reclaim this republic.

For if done right, this movement just may have that potential. What the protesters are saying is true: Wall Street’s money has corrupted this democracy. What they are demanding is right: An end to that corruption. And as Flickr feeds and tweets awaken a slumbering giant, the People, the justice in this, yet another American revolution, could well become overwhelming, and finally have an effect.

(Original post on HuffPo)