In the aftermath of the 2014 midterm elections last year, the U.S. government found itself in a gridlock unlike any other in recent years as the Republicans took back the Senate and retained control of the House. One year later, another election holds the nation’s future in the balance, as President Obama’s second term comes to an end and the Republican Party hopes to gain complete control over the presidency and the nation in the 2016 election.
The amount of power at stake makes voter participation a critical requirement for the upcoming election. Many fear Election Day will continue the trend of power ultimately residing in the hands of the few. As political activist Lawrence Lessig observes in his website’s campaign video, “At the core of our democracy there is a basic inequality. Not the inequality of wealth or speech, but the inequality of citizens.”
Lessig is no stranger to confronting political corruption; he also addressed the problem in his 2011 publication “Republic, Lost.” The book was assigned reading in Professor of Political Science Keith Fitzgerald’s Politics of Congress class in the past, and spotlights the issue of the corrupting influence of money in Congress.
“There’s something profoundly broken about American politics, and Americans have a tendency to engage in what psychologists call the fundamental attribution error, that is they go looking for individual failures to explain what are actual institutional problems,” Fitzgerald said. “And Lessig does a wonderful job in the book of explaining how the corruption that we have is now at an institutional level.”
Lessig has therefore decided to take a stand against this corruption by running for the presidency himself, but not in the way one would expect. He proposes that he would run as a “referendum candidate,” with the campaign being for that referendum.
“Imagine someone ran for president with the single promise to remain as president until Congress acted to end this corrupt and unequal system by enacting fundamental reform to fix it,” Lessig proposed. “And when that happens, this referendum president – really just a trustee for the people – would step aside and the elected Vice President, a kind of ‘president in waiting’ would step in.”
The sole goal of Lessig as a referendum candidate would be to end corruption and give us a government free from money and free to lead, while simultaneously pushing the issue of equality to the forefront of the election.
“I would tie every issue in this campaign from climate change to student debt to this corruption,” Lessig explained. “I would make citizen equality central to this election.”
His campaign would also represent a significant shift in the manner the public views both elections and government. For the first time in history, a candidate’s campaign would center on one core principle, rather than the physical candidate.
“I don’t think Lessig is running for president with the purpose in mind of obtaining victory or capturing the office, he’s using the platform that comes with running to address what he thinks the greatest problem in American politics today is, and that’s corruption,” Fitzgerald added.
Third-year Allen Serrell supports Lessig’s motives for his candidacy, as well as the potential benefits for political reform in the U.S.
“A lot of the stuff he’s talking about with equal representation, when it comes to what Fair Vote is working on for example, is not something that is a part of mainstream conversation…and I think it should be. I would expect that part of his thinking goes like this: ‘even if I lose, if I can make this part of the conversation, what do Americans pay more attention to in politics than the presidential election?’”
A quote on Lessig’s website further provides an ideal summary of his campaign’s goal. “Our Constitution promises citizen equality. It’s time to make democracy possible again”.