Sunday, September 6, 2015

Lawrence Lessig's presidential bid: historic and/or quixotic?

In theology, there is a difference made between theory and praxis (practice, or process). The former evokes notions of 'content' or 'meat' or 'substance' or 'ideology' or even 'dogma'. The latter speaks to things the 'how' or 'method' or 'approach' or even 'plan'. In political language, the duality would be posed using words like "policy" versus "how to execute" the plan, how to pay for it, which alternatives would trump others?
We as observers/participants vacillate between reflections on 'theory' and reflections on praxis. In fact, marketers also need to focus on the quality of the "product" while deploying the techniques of how to make the product "sell" using whatever words, images, underlying themes, background music, voice-overs, and pyrotechnics they believe will appeal to the target market audience. The classroom is another venue for the delivery of both "curriculum content" (the terms of the peace treaty, or the formula for the equation, or the symbols of the poem etc.) and methodology: essay, term test, lecture, group report, seminar, field project, research report, oral history, examination, public speeches, laboratory experiment and report, case study, creative expression through various media.
We make decisions about the "messenger" and the "message" and often differentiate between the two, balancing our opinion on observations on each facet of the "message".
Much has been written on the theories of communication, including the Marshall McLuhan aphorism, "the medium is the message," in his attempt to compare the television and radio media as to their "heat" or their "cool" and their congruence with specific personalities. Pierre Elliot Trudeau, for example, was a 'perfect' messenger for the television medium, as compared with his Progressive Conservative leader, Robert Stanfield. Trudeau's cool easily trumped Stanfield's frumpy, almost grandfatherly warmth. Policy alternatives, for example, their respective positions on wage and price controls, articulated as opposites in their campaigns, were merged in history, when Trudeau did implement them, having promised not to.
In the United States, the image of Donald Trump, the cowboy/quick-draw-McGraw/outrider brand huckster's literally swamps whatever policy 'content' he might actually implement, should he (heaven forbid!) win the White House in November 2016. Similarly, Hillary Clinton's mishandling of her emails both while serving as Secretary of State, and subsequently, daily flushes any policy statements she makes into the drain of oblivion. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, is a messenger of a content/policy variety, notwithstanding his 73 years, and drawing crowds that vastly outnumber Clinton's. His refrain, "The billionaires cannot have it all!" is almost pure content, content that resonates with a large segment of the American electorate.
There is a new Democratic candidate for the American presidency who, having just reached the minimum requirement of securing $1 million in campaign contributions, is a laser as a messenger of political process which, according to his commitment, when completed will bring about his immediate resignation, leaving the presidency to his Vice-president. A Law professor from Harvard Law School, Lawrence (Larry) Lessig, spoke this morning to George Stephanopolous on ABC's This Week: “I think I'm running to get people to acknowledge the elephant in the room,” he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. "We have to recognize -- we have a government that does not work. The stalemate, partisan platform of American politics in Washington right now doesn't work.”
If elected, he says he will be the first “referendum president,” promising to serve only as long as it takes to pass his Citizens Equality Act of 2017 -- a bill aimed at reforming campaign finance, voting rights, and Congressional representation. Once the bill is passed, Lessig said he would then step down, handing over the reins to his vice president. (From ABC website, September 6, 2015)
How politics works, if it does, is equally as important as which policies are embedded in the laws written and passed by legislators. If Lessig is right that there is indeed an "elephant" in the room, and his diagnosis of the identity of that elephant is accurate, that politicians are pawns of the 400 families who currently fund campaigns in the United States, that politicians jerry-mander electoral districts rending the process completely inverse to the intentions of democracy whereby voters are to select their representatives, dominating and controlling the process, and that voting rights are being denied to millions of voters, then people may have to express their views on his candidacy. Should he mount a public opinion of 1%, he would also open the gate currently excluding him from presidential debates.
Clearly, the person Lessig selects as his running Vice Presidential candidate becomes such a significant choice, that all voters would know that that person would become president as soon as the Citizens Equality Act of 2017 were passed. While voting, electors would also know that Lessig is not a candidate dependent on his charisma (he has almost none!), nor on his ancillary policy options (he is a strong Democrat who admires the current president), nor on his military record (he does not appear to have one), nor on his capacity to negotiate with world leaders ( he has no intention to engage those leaders), since, if he were elected he would have secured a highly specific mandate, and a highly restricted mandate, but a mandate nevertheless that attempts to solve what he concludes is the monumental paralysis in the American political process, rending ordinary citizens powerless in the current process.
Some have dubbed him the "one-week" president, an obvious satire on the premise of his candidacy.
Some will dismiss him as irrelevant, especially in a market-driven, capitalist, image-branding political culture that feeds almost voraciously on style over substance, on the macho-prize-fighter image that Trump presents as the grease he hopes to smooth his path to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The likelihood of his capturing the nomination as the candidate of the Democratic Party for president is so remote as to be considered laughable, at this point. The likelihood of his securing adequate funds to mount a campaign as an independent candidate is even more remote.
Nevertheless, Lawrence Lessig offers the American voter such a unique and specialized political promise, (he would consider it the solution) that he will be eventually dubbed the "boutique" presidential candidate. If he is able to transform that moniker to Mercedes Benz, or to BMW, or even better to Masserati or Ferrari, or perhaps to the political version of the "family doctor" who actually does House Calls (the House being both the White House and the Congress), then his candidacy will take on a significance even he might not have envisioned.
We know already that this is the political season of the "outsider" and Lessig clearly fits that definition. Evidence of the current popularity of the "outsider" is clear in the latest polls in the Republican party race: Trump at 24% with newcomer and never elected Dr. Ben Carson (neurosurgeon) at 12%...double the rating for the next candidate, Jeb Bush.
Lessig is unique, possibly historic, in the two century-long race for the presidency. Whether he is merely quixotic, or a footnote in American presidential history, will be determined by the potential additional to an army of financial contributors, and then an even larger army of primary voters.
He has the focus of a political rifle, in a world that demands a shotgun approach, and an inevitable probing into the personal life of all candidates that would render an F.B.I. investigation elementary.
Does Lessig have the stamina, the funds, the popular support and the marketing strategy to make the kind of history he believes firmly the country desperately needs?
We will be watching along with millions of American voters.
 
 


No comments:

Post a Comment