Lawrence Lessig, director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and prominent government reform activist, has stated he plans to run for the Democratic nomination, provided he can raise one million dollars by Labor Day. He says that if elected he would only remain in office long enough to enact government reforms, and then turn over the job to his vice president. He has suggested Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders as possible running mates:
“Until we find a way to fix the rigged system, none of the other things that people talk about doing are going to be possible,” Lessig said in an interview with The Washington Post, borrowing a phrase that has become Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s rallying cry. “We have this fantasy politics right now where people are talking about all the wonderful things they’re going to do while we know these things can’t happen inside the rigged system.”
In the interview, conducted by phone on Monday ahead of his announcement, Lessig said he would serve as president only as long as it takes to pass a package of government reforms and then resign the office and turn the reins over to his vice president. He said he would pick a vice president “who is really, clearly, strongly identified with the ideals of the Democratic Party right now,” offering Warren as one possibility. He said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whom he considers a friend and has drawn huge crowds in his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, was another option…
The singular focus of Lessig’s campaign would be passing the Citizens Equality Act, a package of reforms that would guarantee the freedom to vote with automatic registration, end partisan gerrymandering and fund campaigns with a mix of small-dollar donations and public funds.
Lessig has noted that Bernie Sanders has many of the same goals, but objects that this is not his top priority.
In contrast, Lessig has often criticized the ethics of both Bill and Hillary Clinton. In 2008, in explaining his endorsement of Barack Obama, Lessig criticized Bill Clinton for his “consistent refusal to stand up for for what were strong principles, at least as he articulated them, in his campaign.” He expressed fears that with Hillary there “are things to make one suspect that she lets principle yield in the face of expedience.” He condemned Hillary for her “lack of moral character, moral courage” and criticized Hillary Clinton’s conduct during the 2008 campaign, accusing her of dishonesty and “swiftboating” Barack Obama.
More recently Lessig has been critical of Clinton’s conduct as Secretary of State in accepting contributions to the Foundation and unusually high speaking fees for Bill Clinton from those with business before her as Secretary of State:
Hillary Clinton’s willingness to allow those with business before the State Department to finance her foundation heightens concerns about how she would manage such relationships as president, said Lawrence Lessig, the director of Harvard University’s Safra Center for Ethics.
“These continuing revelations raise a fundamental question of judgment,” Lessig told IBTimes. “Can it really be that the Clintons didn’t recognize the questions these transactions would raise? And if they did, what does that say about their sense of the appropriate relationship between private gain and public good?”
It is hard to see this campaign really going anywhere. Those who have concerns about corruption in government are increasingly backing Bernie Sanders, and would not be likely to vote for Lessig over Sanders in the primaries. I think it would make more sense for Lessig to speak out on these issues while backing Sanders, and pushing Sanders to place greater emphasis on government reform in his campaign. There are many potential supporters of Sanders who are interested in issues beyond his economic platform, including government reform, support for civil liberties, and opposition to the greater military interventionism supported by Clinton.