Home > 2. politics > Comparing the campaigns of Obama and Lessig

Comparing the campaigns of Obama and Lessig

February 20th, 2008

Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford Law Professor, is considering a run for Congress in a special election in my neighboring Silicon Valley district. He has an interesting ten-minute video on his reasons for consider such a run on his new campaign web site, Lessig08.org. In a nutshell, his campaign platform involves three principles:

1. Accept no lobbyists/PAC money
2. Banning earmarks
3. Support public finance

He asserts that money in politics is the *cause* of the problems with our government, and that without these fundamental systematic changes we are doomed to fail at solving the political issues that most people care about (social security, health care, etc.) He wants to start a bipartisan movement to reform Congress.

His likely opponent for the Democratic nomination is a career politician who is good but trapped in the current system. For example, she has received $250,000 in contributions from insurance companies–and she is the state senator in charge of regulating insurance companies.

Lessig’s message appeals to me. However, I think that he’s going to have to quickly translate his overarching principles into something pragmatic. He’ll get trounced unless he can turn his high ideals into policy solutions to the real political problems we face.

In this way, I think it is instructive to compare Lessig to Obama. In a previous video, Lessig makes a compelling case to support Obama over Clinton for nearly the same reasons that Lessig himself is considering a Congressional run for office. Clinton, like Lessig’s opponent, is a good career politician who is too invested in the corrupt system to make fundamental change.

But now Obama is facing new choices: will he abandon the public financing system? It seems that he likely will, given his amazing fundraising prowess. To wit: he has 900,000 individual contributors and is shooting to reach 1 million by March 4. Should Obama risk losing the Presidency to support our current public financing scheme?

I imagine that Lessig would recommend staying within the public financing guidelines. But aren’t the current guidelines hopelessly out of date? And what about McCain-Finegold campaign legislation – doesn’t that well-intentioned law have more harmful unintended consequences than benefits? I worry that Lessig’s prescription is naive, because the details of the reform matter a lot.

So, to answer my original question: how do lessig and obama differ? I think Lessig is more idealistic than Obama, perhaps to a fault. And Lessig is less detailed about translating his ideals in pragmatic policy solutions than Obama. But Lessig is really smart, and he is running in a Congressional election not a Presidential one.

I am rooting for him. I will applaud him if he has the guts to test whether his high-minded principles can really work in practice. Go Lessig!

2. politics , ,

  1. February 20th, 2008 at 18:43 | #1

    NO, I repeat, NO politician can make the changes necessary without a sound, workable, doable plan that includes the American people. It will take the “whole” of America to clean-up politics. Many, including Obama, have good intentions. But, without a sound, workable, doable game plan of attack, it’s all in vain. A plan must include the real threat of re-call petitions, threats of public protest and demonstrations, and in some cases, even prison terms.

    Politicians can NOT be given “free will” once elected to office. The “voice of the people” must be injected into each and every decision and vote on the floor of congress. We can not allow government to continue in its’ self-serving manner. Our government must be a true representative of the people, and not puppets for corporate America.

    Until we stop the “business as usual” in Washington, and hold politicians accountable for their actions, good intentions by the likes of Hillary, Obama, and McCain, mean absolutlely nothing. Hell, we all have good intentions.

    Sonny Clark

  2. February 21st, 2008 at 06:43 | #2

    Excellent piece Mile. The dream of campaign finance reform relies on a president willing to push it and a strong majority in congress willing to vote for it. I wish I could say I was optimistic. I contact my congress people and I get form letters back or a constructed phone response that has nothing to do with why I called.

    Unless the people rise up and march on the Capitol Building in vast numbers, I don’t see much of anything happening. I hope that I am wrong.

  3. February 21st, 2008 at 11:02 | #3

    Sonny: I agree with you. I think that an elected official who wins with a vacuous agenda has no mandate, and will probably have a hard time getting anything done.

    Bob: I like the idea of using constituent mail as a measure of government responsiveness. I also think Obama’s campaign is tapping into the desire for change that you express; his movement is becoming a lot like the uprising on the Capitol Building you wish for. But I hope that Obama can stay true to the original purpose of his candidacy as his idealism is confronted by real world problems. Fingers crossed!

  4. February 21st, 2008 at 11:20 | #4


    There’s no guarantee that congress will work with Obama, Hillary, or McCain. Without a plan that will ensure cooperation from members of congress, “A” president can “want” for programs and legislation, but will not get anything accomplished.

    Remember, corporate America presently controls congress. In order for Obama to have his agenda implemented, he needs the voice and support of the American people. If Obama does not include the American people in his plan of attack, he’ll be exactly like the past 40 years of presidents.

    Our voice has to be heard in Washington, on each and every issue. Again, we can not elect, then give free will to those serving in Washington.

    Sonny Clark

  5. February 23rd, 2008 at 06:18 | #5


    I agree. We need a president that will LEAD protest, re-call petitions, demonstrations, and demand that each and every vote in congress is representative of the voice and will of the people. So far, not one single candidate has ask for our help in an effort to rid Washington of the corporate puppets.

    A vote for Hillary, McCain, or Obama, is a vote against America. Voting for one of them will mean “business as usual” in Washington for the next four years. All three have been in Washington how long now? Have they made positive change for America? Have they screamed and ask for our help? Have they exposed the obvious corruption on the floor of congress?

    Have they spoken out against the theft of the social security fund, foreign give-aways, no-bid government contracts, pork spending, our system of injustice, the home ownership joke, poverty, homelessness, loss of our industrial base, the ridiculous foreign trade deficit, proper health care for ALL citizens, real wages to cost of living ratio, the devaluation of our dollar, and many many more very important issues?

    Not a single one of them has presented a workable, doable, sound game plan to deal with these issues. All we hear from them is the ol’ generic rhetoric, “I’ll work with congress”. I’m sorry, but that boat don’t float anymore.

    Sonny Clark

  1. No trackbacks yet.
Olark Livehelp