Lawrence Lessig has reversed himself on the one aspect of his presidential campaign that I considered deflating, that dampened what would otherwise have been true enthusiasm: He’s no longer pledging to leave office once he achieves his legislative objectives. He means to be president and stay president. He wrote at The Atlantic:
If the Democrats won’t take seriously a candidate with a viable, credible, and professionally managed campaign just because it includes a promise to step aside once the work is done, then fine. You win. I drop that promise.
I am running for president. … After we pass that reform [the Citizen Equality Act], I will remain as president to make sure the reforms stick. I will work with Congress to assure they are implemented. I will defend them against legislative or legal attack.
But beyond that priority, I would do everything else a president must do, too. Which means I bear the burden in this campaign of convincing America I could do that well.
Excellent. I’m delighted by this.
But it’s almost certainly too late to matter.
After the first Democratic debate last week, I said that the quality performances of the first-tier candidates more or less ruled out a Joe Biden candidacy, as the debate made clear that there was no need for either an establishment alternative to Hillary Clinton, nor a left-flank alternative to her or Bernie Sanders. The two of them both did well enough for themselves to settle the race as one between the two of them, and the remaining three candidates were rendered more irrelevant than they already were, if that was even possible.
So my concerns for Lessig are that, first, his being left out of the debates has as much to do with resistance to true reform candidates from the DNC as it does with poor poll showings, or being left out of polls altogether. That resistance certainly won’t have changed now that Lessig is promising to remain president, and the DNC has little interest in someone standing on stage saying that the whole system that keeps them (and the GOP) in power is the real problem. It is the real problem, the problem from which all other problems flow, but it boots the Democrats nothing to admit it.
But second, and probably more importantly, I’m afraid that the moment has passed for grassroots excitement for Lessig to compel the networks, or whoever else has veto power, to care whether or not he’s there. To this time, I have not seen the kind of unbridled enthusiasm for Lessig’s candidacy that I would have expected, especially from the young, civil liberties-minded, Silicon Valley crowd, and I chalk this up to his poorly conceived resignation pledge. Now that he’s wisely reversed himself on this, that enthusiasm has now been channeled largely toward Bernie Sanders. In other words, Sanders is sufficiently reform-minded to sate the appetite for change that Lessig represents. And the debate last week only solidified that state of affairs.
I truly hope that new interest is sparked in Lessig’s campaign, again, not because I think he has any chance of being nominated or elected, but because his message is so vital. The agenda he champions is literally of existential importance to our democracy. A man of his wisdom, intelligence, and humanity carrying a message of achievable and necessary democratic rebirth deserves and needs to be on the next debate stage. He needs to be heard, and the other candidates, the ones who actually can be president, need to address them.
I just despair that it simply won’t happen now. The moment, I fear, has passed. Please, let me be wrong!