Oct 5, 2015
Lawrence Lessig, Knight of the Woeful Countenance
If Hillary Clinton is my Machiavellian Prince, Lawrence Lessig is my Don Quixote. I know he can’t win (and he knows he can’t win), but his platform, his cause, is closer to my heart than perhaps any candidate’s has ever been.
That cause is one that goes beyond the litany of issues that confront our country and our planet, because it is the One Issue to Rule Them All, the crux of everything, which, if not decisively solved, will mean that nothing else truly meaningful will ever be accomplished. Of course I’m talking about reform of the political system itself.
Yes, that means the money in politics, but that’s actually the least interesting part to me. Don’t get me wrong, fundamentally upending the way we fund elections is vital to fixing the system at large, both in real terms as well as in how politicians are perceived.
There’s also the question of voter equality: access to the franchise, an opt-out rather than an opt-in voter registration paradigm, and for the love of Jiminy Cricket, make Election Day a federal holiday.
But while these two are the easiest to grasp of the three prongs of Lessig’s “Citizen Equality Act” (too much money bad!!!), I think they are secondary to the biggest problem.
That’s the electoral process. Not the way we fund or run campaigns, but the systems, the mechanisms by which we vote. Here’s what Lessig’s website says about this part of the Act:
Equal citizens must have equal representation in Congress. That means, districts must be drawn, and election systems structured, so as to give each citizen as close to equal political influence as possible. FairVote has offered the most comprehensive solution to achieve this equality. At a minimum, the Citizen Equality Act would incorporate their proposed “Ranked Choice Voting Act,” which ends political gerrymandering and creates multi-member districts with ranked choice voting for Congress.
(Oh, and allow me to remind you that I used to be FairVote’s communications director in the late Aughts, so you can imagine how proud this makes me.)
The way we elect our officeholders is pure crap. It’s garbage, because for single-seat offices like governors and senators, it allows a tiny plurality to claim victory, even when opposed by the majority. (Best example ever? My own state of Maine, where twice Paul LePage was elected with a pathetic plurality of votes thanks to a three-way race, despite the fact that most of the state hates his guts.) If we have a system by which we can rank our choices, sending our votes to back-up choices if our first choices aren’t viable, we will wind up with winners that reflect the actual will of the majority far more often.
In multi-seat bodies like legislatures and city councils, it’s also crap. Galactic-level crap. But this gets kind of complicated to explain, so I’ll let FairVote do it. And of course, that complexity is why the issue is so utterly unsexy, and why the necessary reforms to fix this shitshow are so hard to sell. I know, I tried.
The point is that this is the stuff that will really achieve change. When we stop getting election results that reflect only a warped version of the will of the voters, when we stop blocking access to voting to those we don’t agree with, and when we open political influence to more people than those with loads of cash, we can then, and only then, begin to make a dent in things like climate change and economic inequality.
But now we come full circle to reality. The Imperial Destroyer that is the U.S. of A. will not be so easily retrofitted and modified into the speedy and nimble fleet that it ought to be.
And Lessig won’t be president. Shit, he won’t even be allowed into the debates so that these issues can at least be tested out on the national stage.
But you know what gives me a little hope? Lessig’s interview this past Sunday on Reliable Sources. It gave me a little hope because I saw something I didn’t expect: a fire in Larry’s belly. I’ve always said that you can never underestimate the candidate that really wants it, and you can usually tell which ones don’t. (Feeling entitled to it is not the same as really, really wanting it.) Lessig’s always been passionate about his core issues, but this is the first time I’ve seen him truly roil.
He pokes fun at himself, his appearance, and his “funny glasses” (that I really like but could never pull off myself), but even if he has no chance at being elected, he could still take that quixotic passion and be our Knight of the Woeful Countenance.