November 3, 2008  ·  Lessig


I awoke in New Zealand today to an article in the New Zealand Herald, and I had a strange sense of deja vu. It is still Monday in America. And like the Monday before the 2004 election, and the Monday before the 2000 election, there is enormous confidence among Democrats that we are going to win this.

But as with 2000, and 2004, I have become a bit terrified about where we’ll be Tuesday. For as presented by the New Zealand Herald, however optimistic the static view of the swing states is, the dynamic view — what is the trend — is sobering, to say the least. As this graph shows, only Florida is trending in the right direction. Every other critical state is trending away from Obama.

Now of course, maybe not quickly enough. Of course, the advantages are significant, especially relative to 2004. And of course, McCain would have to move mountains to overcome the enormous machine that the Obama campaign has built.

But here’s the weird deja vu I feel. In 2004, I got on a plane Tuesday to fly to London. When I got on the plane, I watched every pundit, as well as Kerry’s daughter, speak about how all the polls were with Kerry. The “exit polls” indicated a clear Kerry victory. But then when I landed, I sat it utter disbelief in the United lounge at Heathrow, watching the Ohio numbers go against us, and therefore, delivering 4 more years to Bush.

We Democrats have trouble closing the deal. We have trouble continuing the push to the very last moment. We have repeatedly been blindsided by the fact that the other side votes regardless of the expected result, while we’re more contingent — making the effort if it seems necessary, relaxing when it doesn’t.

Please, don’t let this happen again. Please, if you’re an Obama supporter, do absolutely everything you can in the next 24 hours to make sure every single possible Obama vote turns out to vote. Volunteer for a phone bank, or use to phone bank from home. And beyond this, do the sort of things that too few of us ever have the courage to do: Express to your friends, and anyone you know, why you want them to support your candidate. Send an email with a personal story, or an argument important to you, to as many people as you can. Apologize for the intrusion, but intrude nonetheless. (How weird is it that engaging people about democratic issues in a democracy is generally viewed as inappropriate). And don’t let up until 8pm Pacific time.

I’m doing this. I’m exhorting you. I’m writing to everyone on my twitter/facebook/ lists. If I can find an smtp server that will let me, I’ll dump an email to as many of my friends as I can telling them they this is so important. And when my plane lands in the US Tuesday morning, I will join my wife (who is running a phone bank in San Francisco), spending the day on the phone). I will mark myself as weird in doing all this, no doubt. But we can all afford this, if only just once in our life.

I understand the other side has their reasons. I respect them, even if I disagree with them. But I am genuinely afraid about what happens to our side if we let this slip away. There is enormous energy and passion among young people for Obama. There is a passion and hope that makes me cry each time I think about it among African Americans, and those who think about and live the discrimination of our past, and present. There is an energy I have never imagined could be behind any politician. I have known for more than a decade that this man is the real deal. And it gives me enormous hope for this democracy that we are about to vote to make him President.

Unless we don’t. Unless we let this slip by, again. Unless we sit in our comfortable cubicle, and let politics be run by the other side.

Don’t do this. Do something this time. Please at least help spread this message. Make sure everyone who could matter here knows what you believe. And don’t stop until the clock runs out.

  • puhlease

    please, Lessig you lost all credibility when you overlooked obama’s lie about public financing: the end don’t justify the means

  • Steve Baba

    It might be an uphill battle to convince people Obama is the real deal. I would be happy with a competent fast Eddie.

    It’s much easier to persuade people that they just should vote (for anyone) and choosing the people by demographics or your social networks who are likely to vote your way.

  • Rob Elliott

    Yes, you lost all credibility with me also. Look beyond the hype and see through the money. He wins in the battle of campaigns and media. But has nothing in the areas of true love for country, democracy, and selfless service. Its all about him, and not really about our country. America will ultimately see through this smokescreen and welcome a true leader to office on Tuesday. Democracy, like markets, over the long term are self-correcting and efficient. Americans will not be fooled. Follow the money… not the hype.

  • Mike Levens

    @Rob: Do you have an argument to present, or just some slogans?

  • Mark

    I know you have devoted the last few years to raise awareness about ways that the machinery of democracy is “broken”, and needs to be fixed. On a related note, the thing that troubles me the most about the election tomorrow is I worry that in a more literal sense the “machines” of democracy, aka, the electronic voting machines, are broken.

    Every programmer will tell you that these machines are easily hacked, and that it’s only a matter of time until an election result is changed — and no one will ever know for sure because there will be no evidence. Would you drive over a bridge when every engineer tells you it’s extremely likely to fall apart?

    I still find myself wondering whether something fishy happened in Ohio in 2004. The results differed from polling data to a degree that defied statistics.

    Honestly, I’ve lost faith in the system. If we can’t trust the results of our elections, everything about our democracy seems suspect. Fixing voting technology should be a top priority, and it saddens me that it isn’t.

  • Ward

    Not sure where you got that graphic, but check They gather multiple polls and present it with nice graphics. So, checkit:

  • hannah friedman

    On this the eve of the election, I’d like to capture my thoughts before America either elects a president who its first 26 presidents could have legally owned, or brazenly subverts the very ideals it was founded upon by manipulating numbers in a final embarrassingly overt goosestep towards corporate totalitarianism.

    I am nervous. And not night-before-the-swim-test nervous or even night-you-lose-your-virginity nervous, it’s a low rumbling primal panic which I can only liken to Star Wars panic. Disney panic. The edge-of-your-seat-terror that makes you wonder if Skywalker’s doomed after he refuses to join Darth Vader and drops down into the abyss, if the wicked octopus or grand vizier or steroid-pumping-village-misogynist is going to wed/kill/skin the dashing prince and then evil people in dark funny costumes are going to take over the world… if it wasn’t a movie of course.

    And tonight it’s not. It’s not a movie and yet I feel like Obama might as well be wearing an American flag cape while a decaying McCain, in a high-tech robotic spider wheelchair wearing an eyepatch and stroking an evil cat, gives orders to a sexy scheming Palin who marches back and forth through their sub-terranian campaign lair in four inch thigh-highs and full-body black leather catsuit bossing around the evangelical ants with a loooooong whip… umm… is this just me?

    Anyway, the point is that things feel weird folks. I have friends who have peed in waterbottles to keep from interrupting a Halo-playing marathon who got off their asses/couches to volunteer for the Obama campaign not once, but many times. Friends so cheap their body content is at least 1/3 Ramen Noodle who donated a good deal of their hard-earned cash to the campaign. People have registered to vote in record numbers, and yet, something just doesn’t feel right. I think we should stop congratulating ourselves for just voting. To vote is a privilege which people have died for, and I think there’s a whole lot more to be done for the country than to simply help win an election every 4 years.

    Hundreds of millions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of man-hours spent on both sides by good-intentioned people who want to make a difference in an historic election, so many resources and voices and energies devoted to a single day. After tomorrow, half of that is going to have been a waste. And I can’t help but wonder what could have happened if all that muscle had been put towards something else, and what will happen to its momentum after the election has come and gone. Shouldn’t we be donating our money to good causes whenever we can? Helping people who don’t have? Dedicating some of our time to contribute to making the country which provides for us a better place? Of course a power shift is a hugely significant step on the path to great reform, but worrying about this election has been a wakeup call for me:

    Even if Obama wins, we have not “won.” This isn’t a movie and we can’t toss every greedy lobbyist oil fatcat bigot down a reactor shaft. I think if we dedicate ourselves to the ongoing welfare of the country as much as we have to the outcome of this election, we’ll have a much better shot at coming closer to the overwhelming good the liberals hope Obama will usher in, but which no mere mortal could fully realize alone.

    Which brings me to the other side. I’ve heard a lot of people claim that if McCain wins, they’re leaving. I heard the same thing about Bush’s reelection, and his unelection before that, and nobody seems to be leaving. And that’s fine. Because as much as I complain about certain political happenings, atrocities, etc., I really do like it here and I suspect most other people do too. We have New York and Hollywood, purple mountain’s majesty and sea to shining sea, we created jazz and country music and baseball and cars and lightbulbs and computers and that movie with hundreds of animated singing Chihuahuas! I mean who among the shivering Plymouth pilgrims ever imagined ordering hundreds of animated singing chihuahuas onto a magical box from an invisible information superweb?

    The point being, if things don’t turn out the way I want tomorrow, I feel compelled, as a college-graduated adultish-type-person, to take a stand. And if I’m going to leave I’m going to leave. But if I’m going to stay I’m not going to sit around whining like I have for the past 8 years. It’s like when I don’t clean my room because it’s dirty and then I blame the dirt. So in my very indecisive way, before you and your screen, I’m declaring my intention to make some kind of stand in the event of -(Ican’tevensayit)-, and encouraging you to consider making one too…

    Jump the ship or grab a bucket?
    Wasn’t everything so much easier back when the worst possible affront to your values was a PB&J sandwich cut diagonally with crust?

    Anyways, I guess what I’m saying is that if we’re going to stay on board, we should probably be generous with our time and resources when times are tough even more than when the hero saves the day. Because what if he doesn’t? And what if he can’t?

    Yours Nervously,
    Hannah Friedman

  • Peter


    Regarding e-voting machines: yes, it is a problem…a big non-partisan problem. But right *now* the best way to make that problem irrelevant is by a landslide. Even rigged machines and other forms of corruption stand little chance of defeating a landslide. It’s important to get out and vote no matter what the polls say, no matter what state you live in.

    Don’t let losing faith in the system translate to losing faith in democracy.

  • Dave

    Yes, there are plenty of problems, yes the machines are suspect (whether due to fraud, or just everyday incompetence, cost cutting, and “we have to ship today, so they’re done”). So it’s got to be a big enough win so machine problems won’t affect the outcome. No, Obama isn’t a saint. I don’t know if he will be an exceptional president, or just an average one. But it doesn’t really matter. For the past 8 years, we have been sliding into the morass. It’s not just the economy, that’s incompetence, maybe coupled with bad luck. It’s the corruption, the use of government power for naked partisan and personal gain, the destruction of our liberties, the stacking of courts and agencies with loyal party members. I don’t know if Obama can reverse all that in 4 years, 8 years. It’s much harder to put things back together than it is to break them in the first place. We’ve only got one chance to try. Sixteen hours, give or take. Make it count.

  • Phill

    The reason for Obama’s apparent drop in some places is a GOP pac is running Jeremiah Wright commercials 24×7 and then he comes out against prop 8 in California on MTV over the weekend.

    The thing that the Democratic party needs know to the core of their being is that the independent swing voters that everyone talks about are largely *disenfranchised* republican voters (see 11/3 pbs newshour) that probably need health care or their 401k back. Couple that with every Black (statistically 100%) will be voting for Obama. That is what making up Obama’s 7 point lead. I suppose their are a few that see the numerous McCain gaffes (or maybe that he doesn’t use email) as intolerable or don’t think Palin was a bright choice (Colin Powell).

    Really, this **still** is a red state conservative nation swinging blue over eight years of what appears to be mismanagement if not malfeasance. The fact that this election is not an outright landslide needs to be etched in the consciousness of democrats. Oh, and it took a vast and smartly organized Obama campaign to make it so.

    If circumstances had been slightly different, with a different GOP candidate or VP choice even, things could *easily* be very different.

  • Seth Finkelstein (the polling data analysis site) has Obama at a win probability of 98.1%+ with projected 346.5 electoral votes.

    Anyway, doing my bit, I wrote a blog post where I endorse Barack Obama

  • Steve Baba (the polling data analysis site) has Obama at a win probability of 98.1%+

    The statistical methodology this is 98% estimate is based on ASSUMES that the past polling randomness WILL be true this time.

    This same methodology predicted that since housing prices have never declined nationwide (since the great depression), housing prices will not decline.

    The problem is that in this election, there is a slight chance (more than 2% in my opinion) that because of the heated debate, McCain supports may decline to be polled OR the last minute attacks on untested Obama may stick OR a few percent of Obama supporters reading the 98% estimate may not bother to vote if it’s a done deal.

  • Sneeje

    Wow, I could have sworn this was written by a religious zealot. Maybe a bit harsh, but you had me until “We Democrats”. Larry, I respect your point of view, but mainly because it generally does not succumb to group think. The “change” I want, however, is a change away from policies driven by a particular ideology to policies right for people and for prosperity. The labels “democrat” and “republican” very quickly get in the way of that. That is why in 2008 we still have cars that get 20 mpg and the car companies think that’s a huge achievement. That’s why we keep sticking our heads in the sand about the looming social security/medicare crisis.

    FWIW, I checked the Obama box today…but not because he is a Democrat.

  • TJ

    Thanks, Larry. Thank you America for selecting a black candidate for the US presidency.

    I’m still amazed. I grew up in the Civil Rights era; I watched Martin’s ‘dream’ speech live. As a white kid, I deeply felt the pain that ALL non-white minorities in this country suffered in those Cold War days … bigotry and darkness everywhere.

    We have seen the light. We are becoming the light, if we choose to be. I’m celebrating already today. Whatever follows, we’ve taken a big step in gaining back some credibility in the rest of the world.

    If you’re under 30 and voted: thank you. Thank you, thank you for grabbing the torch. You’ll remember today with pride. We shall overcome.

  • Planet Earth

    It’s too late now, america. You’re DEAD right off the map of history, and FORGOTTEN. That prick evil bastard of all evil bastards fooled you and now you are a dead nigger country to the rest of us. Say good bye, dead fuckerssssssssssss……………. !

  • A. Michael Bussek

    Democracy won – and so did Elected President Barack Obama.

    This have been some exciting weeks indeed, for everybody. Record numbers of voters have beaten the Republican friends, and we shall hope that everything stays peaceful.

  • Eli

    The United States and, indeed, the entire world is unbelievably fortunate that your fears here were unfounded. Thank you for everything you’ve done to make tonight possible.

    You’ve had some role in the Obama Campaign. Can you tell us whether or not or to what degree you will be involved in the Obama Administration?

    The Obama Administration. That has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

  • Mindy


    if you ever get to this message–thanks for expressing your fears. we have been complacent and hesitant to speak too loudly about candidates in the past, because of the ability to see both sides, and we’ve lost. this election, yesterday, and last night, people put their passions out there, and we won.

  • Valerie Dunbar Jones


    Professor, of all things, THIS is not the one that will mark you as “weird.” ;0
    Thank you, God bless you, God bless Barack Obama, and God bless America.

    Valerie Dunbar Jones
    UChiLaw ’98

  • Mike

    “It’s too late now, America. You’re DEAD right off the map of history, and FORGOTTEN. That prick evil bastard of all evil bastards fooled you and now you are a dead nigger country to the rest of us.”

    Is this the caliber of people who vote Republican? America, you made the right choice. Good for you!