Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lawrence Lessig on getting our democracy back

I have stated that I believe campaign finance reform to be the most significant political issue of our era. The issue was made even more pressing by the recent Supreme Court decision overturning a century's worth of effort toward pushing lobbyists back out of politics.

Lawrence Lessig, who is perhaps the best legal thinker we have going today, makes his unbelievably compelling case for campaign finance reform in the Feb 22 issue of the Nation. He rails against

[t]he choice (made by Democrats and Republicans alike) to leave unchecked a huge and crucially vulnerable segment of our economy, which threw the economy over a cliff when it tanked (as independent analysts again and again predicted it would). Or the choice to leave unchecked the spread of greenhouse gases. Or to leave unregulated the exploding use of antibiotics in our food supply--producing deadly strains of E. coli. Or the inability of the twenty years of "small government" Republican presidents in the past twenty-nine to reduce the size of government at all. Or... you fill in the blank. From the perspective of what the People want, or even the perspective of what the political parties say they want, the Fundraising Congress is misfiring in every dimension. That is either because Congress is filled with idiots or because Congress has a dependency on something other than principle or public policy sense. In my view, Congress is not filled with idiots.

This article is called "How to Get Our Democracy Back," but the title's misleading: Lessig appears near to throwing his hands up in despair. There's a petition being passed around (and a link to sign the petition closes the article); there are passing references to what Lessig appears to see as our last best hope at reform--especially since, as Lessig argues, the promises of President Obama's campaign have fallen far short of the results he has delivered. He explains that the Obama administration

has stepped down from the high ground the president occupied on January 20, 2009, and played a political game no different from the one George W. Bush played, or Bill Clinton before him. Obama has accepted the power of the "defenders of the status quo" and simply negotiated with them. "Audacity" fits nothing on the list of last year's activity, save the suggestion that this is the administration the candidate had promised.

I have no words of hope to finish this post off. When I think about these things, I start to feel like I did in the days immediately following the 2004 election, when more than 50 percent of the American electorate told Bush to stay right where he was. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it.

I still have faith in President Obama, renewed some by the roar we've been seeing from him in the days following his recent State of the Union address. But for right now at least, I don't want to think too hard about how his performance so far measures up to his promise. I'm worried the same yawning chasm of despair will open up and swallow me. I don't think I could continue to stand under the weight of that disappointment.

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