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Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig Talks About His Democratic Presidential Candidacy

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The transcript:

HH: Over the last 30 days, I have done 40 interviews with Republican candidates for president, and I’ll be asking questions at the presidential debate on Wednesday night from the Reagan Library. But I’m not only interested in the Republicans. I’m also interested in the Democrats, one of whom is Larry Lessig. Professor Lessig is a Harvard Law professor. He is also a declared candidate for president. He’s been a guest on the program in the past. Welcome back, Professor Lessig, it’s good to have you on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

LL: Great to be here, Professor Hewitt.

HH: Well, this is, in the eyes of many, quixotic, but I’m actually not surprised, because you’ve been pursuing government reform by varied and many means over these years. What’s behind the Lessig for president campaign?

LL: Well, you’re right, whatever way we can. The idea behind this campaign is I think everybody recognizes this government is broken, and Congress is broken. And in my view, it’s broken because incredible corruption, crony corruption, has captured the way our government works or doesn’t work. And instead of arguing about what we’re going to do when we actually get to Atlantic City, should we go to the beach or should we go to the boardwalk, we should recognize the car is broken. There are four flat tires, and the battery has been stolen. We have to recognize we have to fix the democracy if we’re ever going to actually get anything done. So this campaign says the first thing we should do is to fix this corrupted system, and I say once I’ve passed a law that I believe takes us the first important step along that way, I would step down and the vice president would become president.

HH: Now I am, and by the way, we’ve got to find out who that’s going to be. I’m on the campus of the last law school you taught at before you went to Harvard. I’m at Stanford today over at the Hoover Institution broadcasting from Hoover, and talking to a lot of people about this, and they say you’re nothing if not deeply sincere in this conviction. And so this is not a joke campaign. This is a very serious campaign But I also hear from my lefty friends, why is Lawrence Lessig doing this? We’ve got Bernie Sanders. So what’s your answer to them?

LL: Right, so Bernie has checked off the right policy boxes, and I really do agree with much of what he’s talking about. But look, he’s not a day one candidate, meaning he’s not talking about how he’s going to do this on day one. And if you’re not a day one candidate, then what you’re talking about can’t be credible, right? So Bernie’s talking about doing a hundred things, and I would love him to do those hundred things, but he’s not going to be able to do those hundred things unless we deal with this issue first. And I’ve come to the position, the view that no normal candidate for president, you know, somebody who’s not setting this up as a kind of referendum for the people, will actually have a mandate strong enough to get Congress to pass this reform. So what I’m saying is I want to set up the government that a person like Bernie could actually do something with, because I don’t think he could do something with this government, and he’s not made reforming it the first issue he’s going to take on.

HH: Now you’re running as a Democrat, though, and they, we elected a law professor the last time around, and as another law professor, I want to say that’s got to be a bit of a hindrance to you, isn’t it, that the last law professor did not bring the hope and change that he promised.

LL: Yeah, I mean, the law professor, and you know, Barack said that anybody with a middle name like Hussein has an incredible hurdle to get over, but you know, I’ve got these ridiculously tiny glasses which I think I would take Hussein anytime over these glasses for. No, you’re right. I completely get it. And but the point is, you know, I think Barack is exactly the thing to focus on here. Barack made this issue central to his campaign. But when he got to Washington, I’m sure Rahm Emanuel said to him, look, Mr. President, there’s no chance that you can take this issue on and win, and then get anything else done, even if you win this issue. So just give it up. And that’s, I think, the reason why we need a different kind of commitment, a commitment to make this issue central so that that Congress could have no ambiguity about why this president was elected and what the president demands, and what the people have, through the president, demanded. But you’re right.

HH: But that requires, it requires candor, Lawrence Lessig, and President Obama broke the old campaign financing system. He just went totally unlimited, and then of course, the Citizens United followed. He didn’t break Citizens United. I consider it actually to be the right way to interpret it. But he broke the old tradition against McCain. Doesn’t he have a lot of explaining to do for that?

LL: Oh, yeah, and look what he gave us. He gave us your friend, and I have incredible respect for you, Hugh, for what you did, but he gave us your friend, Mr. Trump, right, because what you’re seeing in the Trump candidacy right now is a product of this incredibly corrupted, unlimited, uncontrollable system. And you know, you might ask how do you spell Putin in English, it might be T-R-U-M-P, because just think about what the world’s going to look like if that man’s president, and then takes another billion of his dollars and invests it in the task of guaranteeing that nobody who opposes Donald Trump gets elected in 2018, right? It’s an incredible system that we’ve evolved, and I agree with you, Barack Obama, by stepping away from presidential public funding, started us down this path where superPACs are picking the president unless the president happens to be a person who says he’s worth $10 billion dollars.

HH: And as you run for, I have a practical question. Are you going to qualify? This is a very nuts and bolts thing. Are you going to be on the ballot? Are people actually going to be able to vote for Lessig, because sometimes, people start running for president, and they find out it’s a tricky, complicated business.

LL: It’s ridiculously complicated, but getting on the ballot isn’t the hard thing. We’ll certainly be on the ballot, especially in the first couple of states, because those are pretty easy. The hard thing is to get into the polls, right? So PPP did a poll and found me at the qualifying level to be in the debates, and we need three national polls to find that so that I can be in the debates. But you know, the other polls have not even included me, yet, which is, you know, an incredible kind of gatekeeper.

HH: Wait, wait, wait. They’re not going to let you on the stage? The Democrats?

LL: Not if I don’t get three national polls that show that I’m at 1%.

HH: That’s crazy. You’re Lawrence Lessig.

LL: You know, I hear it. I’m with you. But that’s the rule. So this is an incredible kind of frustration that we’re trying to deal with right now. How do we get into the polls so that we have a right to be on stage, so that when I’m on stage, I can make this issue central, not as a kind of, you know, the rent is too damn high candidate who says the same thing every time a question is asked….

HH: No, no, no, no.

LL: …but a person who shows how all of these issues are tied deeply to this more fundamental issue.

HH: Well, let me ask you this. President Obama, with one speech, can get you on that ballot. All he has to do is go out there and say I would like my colleague in academia, Lawrence Lesssig, to be on the stage, and I’m sure Secretary of State Clinton will not mind. And I am sure that Vice President Biden will not mind, and I’m sure that Bernard…has Senator Sanders called for you to be on the stage?

LL: No, they haven’t, you know, but so, Stephen Colbert’s saying the same thing without the same effect. You know, it’s not a question of like who’s saying, who powerful saying something could have that effect. It’s just a fact that we’ve not, we’re not at the place where the rules have made the pollsters take notice.

HH: You know, I don’t quarrel with rules long published, but I did say earlier in the summer I believe in black boxes, which is I’d get a group of people together and say this person is serious, this person is not serious, this person has a point to make, this person doesn’t have a point to make. When Larry Agran ran in ’92, I was for Larry being on ballot. So you have to get your name recognition up. How are you doing that?

LL: I’m talking to you, Hugh.

HH: Well, that’s true, but mostly, I’ve got Republicans listening.

LL: That’s okay. That’s okay. They can talk about it. You know, I’m doing everything I can. This has been the most intense time I’ve ever had. You know what life as a professor can be like. It’s not as tough as life as a real person in the real world, and I feel like I’m feeling the real world. So I’m doing everything I can. And I’m going to be on Larry O’Donnell tonight, which Lawrence O’Donnell doesn’t have a lot of Republicans watching it, so that might be better for the cause, but you know, we’re just spreading the word as fast and as broadly as we can to get it, so we at least can be in the polls, so we can at least be in the debates, so that we can make this issue central and fundamental.

HH: Now one thing that might help you is if you are candid about Secretary of State’s problems with transparency. And Democrats are reluctant to do that. is Lawrence Lessig reluctant to do that?

LL: Well look, I’ve written a ton, and most recently, if you go to my medium publication called Equal Citizen, a piece, you know, about how what she’s done so far has not come close to meeting the standard that you need to meet to be able to be credible, especially credible on this issue. Now this is before she came out with her, you know, I think pretty important proposals for reform. But you know, I think this is an issue which is she’s going to have to continue to fight. But look, I’m not somebody who believes, as much as, you know, it would be great for me to say this. I’m not somebody who believes that we should be wasting our time on non-issues in this campaign. We need to know character, I agree with that. We need to know whether we’re going to trust this person is going to live up to the rule of law. That’s really incredibly important. And all of those issues are important to understand who a candidate should be. But you know, heck, Hillary Clinton understood what Snowden told us before Snowden told us. If I knew that, I would build my own email server, too. Wouldn’t you, Hugh?

HH: No, no, no. I’m comfortable not putting anything down anywhere. One minute left, Lawrence Lessig, Edward Snowden, traitor or hero?

LL: Oh, I believe Edward Snowden is going to be seen as a hero, and I see him like that right now.

HH: All right, so that’s going to be interesting in and of itself. Where do people go to help the campaign? is where they can all your writings and things, but if they want to contribute or help the campaign, there must be a political site, right?



LL: That’s it.

HH: I hope you’ll come back early and often, Professor.

LL: Every time you ask, Hugh, I’m here.

HH: Good luck to you. All right, that’s a deal. I love having Democrats on. Now if we can just get Bernie and Hillary and Joe Biden to say yes, I’ve got Webb and Lessig, so that’s two out of five down.

LL: Okay.

HH: 40% of the field. Thank you, Professor.

End of interview.


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