November 12, 2012  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Tumblr

@jxchristopher writes of my latest piece in The Atlantic

jxchristopher: Unusually partisan for you, Professor @Lessig – you’re much more persuasive when striking at roots rather than branches

It is true, the piece is, and it was difficult to write because it is. It is my style, and for good purpose, to keep it clear that the problem that I am describing — the problem of the corrupting influence of campaign cash — is completely bi-partisan. I work hard to make that point as clear as I can (and am most proud when people see that).

But I was struck when I read Thomas Mann & Norm Ornstein’s book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, with both (1) how convincing they are about partisan problem that they are describing, and (2) how difficult it is to take their position. 

Their point is that the Republicans are now different. Echoing others (see, e.g., Michael Grunwald’s The New New Deal), Mann and Ornstein argue that the behavior of the Republicans is unprecedented in modern history, and that that behavior is unambiguously harmful to our type of democracy. A parliamentary democracy can afford a militant minority, since the majority can still govern. But a constitutional democracy with the kind of separation of powers that we have cannot survive a militant minority, since the consequence of that permanent war is perpetual stalemate. The “ideals” that Newt Gingrich introduced to Congress destroyed Congress and thus also our ability to govern. And while there are people who don’t mind if government can’t do anything, they are not people with any connection to reality. 

Only the Republicans have been militant minority-ists. The Democrats, in minority during the Bush years, never adopted a “we will not give you one vote” rule. But that was precisely the rule McConnell and the house leadership insisted upon when Obama became President. We have suffered from that militant behavior since, and it continues even after this election. (HuffPo: Boehner to GOP: Fall in Line)

Yet it is hard to remark this — especially hard for people like Ornstein and Mann, who depend upon access to Congress for their work. Indeed, these two intellectual deans of congressional studies have been meticulously a-partisan for most of the history of their work. It seems unseemly to be anything but. Yet as they describe in this latest, it was impossible for them to write honestly and not address this fundamentally destructive turn in the behavior of the GOP.

Their point is not fundamentally partisan. They would criticize the Democrats if Democrats behaved in the same way. But the consequence of their speaking so clearly and convincingly is a book that strikes directly at one party. And in this era of “objective” journalism, where every truth must have two sides neutrally described (global warming, evolution, and the partisanship of political parties), there’s something jarring in reading their book.

I am fortunate that my subject doesn’t require their courage. Both parties pander to the money. But out of respect for them, convinced as I am of the fundamental character of the problem they described, I wrote as I did, repeating their strong attribution of blame.

(Note: I am not as convinced as they are that the problems of polarization are unrelated to the problem of money. I wish they had done more to address that point. But I am convinced that the truth they have so simply and directly stated is one we must all have the courage to repeat.)

There is something fundamentally unAmerican (in the non-McCarthy sense of that term) about the current attitude of the GOP to their (lack of) power. It is an attitude that is disrespectful of the best of our traditions, that echoes the worst of our traditions, and that is unsustainable for a nation that intends to thrive. More of us should call them out for it. Especially the only powerful politician in our system not running for reelection: The President.

(And all this would be true, even if a majority of Americans hadn’t voted Democratic in the House, Senate and Presidential races.)

November 4, 2012  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Tumblr

My family and I spent a couple hours with Mike Connolly (@nomoneyconnolly) and his fiance, Kacy, talking to Cambridge voters yesterday. Connolly is running for State Representative in a district that straddles Cambridge and Somerville. He’s a “progressive independent,” challenging an incumbent Democrat, Tim Toomey (who simultaneously sits on the Cambridge City Council, making him one of the highest paid government officials in MA, yet with one of the worst voting attendance records in MA).

Toomey has opposed “Clean Elections” in Massachusetts. The signal issue for Connolly is clean elections. He is taking no money to fund his campaign — and asking people to symbolically donate $0.00 to him on his website. He would be an incredible fresh voice to shake up an effectively one party state — around the issue many of us have been pushing.

But what was most striking about walking with “No Money Mike” was how many already knew him, and the excitement they could barely contain. Connolly’s yard signs are everywhere. And though radically underfunded, his message seems known. He stopped one 20-something woman to give her a brochure, and she said, “Wait, you’re Mike Connolly?” Then with the excitement of a teen meeting a superstar, she gave him a high five, and turned to her friend, “This is Mike Connolly, the guy I was telling you about.” And after a couple minutes of talking, she grabbed a pile of brochures and promised to spread them broadly. 

It struck me then that this is all it takes. Not the candidate, and not the campaign: Of course it takes that too, but that’s too often not enough. Beyond that, it takes this sort of excitement by people who know of the campaign, with something we on the Left don’t do as well as people on the Right: carry-through. If that woman actually carries through, and gives that literature to her friends, and if they, and others like them spread the word and turn out, this could be an important surprise for MA, and revitalize a campaign in MA — for Clean Money — that should have been resolved long ago.

We who care about this issue have few races this cycle where we can make a stand. The issue has been invisible at the Federal level. Too many in MA wish it would be forgotten locally too. But here is one place where a victory would be unambiguously a victory for the idea that this corrupt system must change. 

If you believe in this cause, do something to help it here. The idea of beating a 20 year incumbent Democrat circa Cambridge is, let’s say, difficult. But six thousand votes would win. The district has plenty of students. If you have friends there (the 26th), share with them the substance of this fight (Mike’s site; Toomey’s site), and give them a sense of its importance.