A referendum candidate

For a bit now, I’ve been watching Larry Lessig dip his toes in the water to test the temperatures of the presidential candidate pool. There’s now news that he hit his self-imposed $1 million crowdfunding target, and will officially announce.

Lawrence_Lessig,_February_2008

I like his ideas, and I, like the majority of Americans, favor at least some kind of change in campaign finance law. Ask pretty much anybody if they think it would help to “get money out of politics” and you’ll get a resounding yes. Of course we don’t all see eye to eye on the details, and the Supreme Court’s decision on Citizens United made practically limitless spending on campaigns the law of the land, but various polls showed strong opposition to that opinion by the public (not that the public is always the best judge of SCOTUS decisions). In my view, SCOTUS has the last word, so they are, by definition, right. That said, there is a process by which the SCOTUS decision can be changed, but it likely requires a constitutional amendment, and that’s where Lawrence (Larry) Lessig comes in.

Lessig is running for president, on the democratic ticket, but pledges to focus on one thing, at least primarily (I assume that he won’t let the myriad other duties of POTUS go to crap if he were elected). He will work to remove money from the political process, and then he will resign.

I really like this idea, but I don’t think it will work, and here’s why: Lessig has not taken the partisanship out of this. He has pledged to resign after accomplishing his goal, turning over the Office of the President to the person who is elected as his Vice President. Because of this, there’s simply no way that voters, at least mildly informed voters, can take this out of the equation. Yes, he will have a strong and focused mandate, but a vote for him is also a vote for the next president. So, if elected, and he does what he was elected to do, we’ll have a new President who wasn’t electable enough to win on his/her own platform.

I think this campaign would be much more acceptable, and would sway more Americans, if part of his pledge was to include a special process in the reform: whatever Constitutional Amendment is needed to enact the type of reform he’s calling for should also include a special instruction that six months after ratification, both the President and Vice President will resign and a new campaign for president, under the new rules that most of us want, will begin. Let some candidates throw their hats in the ring then, without the money backing them that we (almost) all say we hate, and let the chips fall. If there’s resounding public support for a republican, so be it. Lessig then, and only then, can say that this has zero partisanship.

I would probably vote for him either way, but I bet more republicans would jump on the campaign if a vote for him didn’t mean a vote for his lily-livered socialist liberal running mate.

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