Lessig: Left, right must find common ground to change corrupt structure
The author and advocate says hacking at the "root of evil" requires constitutional changes to regulate the flow of money into politics.Posted — Updated
The need for campaign cash buttonholes politicians, conservative and liberal, into positions that leave little room for compromise, Lessig said.
"I don't mean a common end. We have no common ends ... What we have is a common enemy. The common enemy is this root of corruption," Lessig said.
He wants to dig up that "root of corruption" by using public financing for federal elections and passing a constitutional amendment that would require Congress to regulate the flow of money in politics. He talks about calling a constitutional convention by way of the state legislatures to create pressure on Washington.
"Even if it doesn't grow into a convention, it has the ability to crystallize the anger and frustration that I know all of us feel," he said.
"I hope we get to a time when we can talk to the two groups in the same room. The ultimate message I want to push to the two groups is the same. But it is the case (that) you make people sensitive to the issue in different ways. So people on the right, the Libertarians, are rightly focused on the problem of crony capitalism. And the people on the left don't care much what capitalism is about, what they're focused on is different kinds of reforms. So you've got to find a way to get people committed to thinking about the problem. Once you get them committed, you can get them converged on the same kind of solutions."
"The middle exists, it just doesn't show up. If you look at work that tries to measure the polarization of America, it turns out America is not polarized. What's polarized is the politically active class in America. Most people in the middle are just tuned out because both extremes sound so crazy ... If you could find something that gets the two sides to agree, then the people in the middle might say, 'Wait a minute, if the two sides are finding something to agree about, then maybe there's something here serious I should consider.'"
"It's the same fight, just more general. In the Internet context, you had a bunch of vested interests who were enormously powerful politically, who don't like certain features of what the Internet makes possible," Lessig said. Copyright holders, for example, don't like how easy it has been share songs, movies and other material.
"The way they manifest their power is through this political system. When I saw that in the context of the Internet issues, I then made not a very insightful leap to realize it wasn't just on esoteric issues like copyright that money was corrupting the system. It was on the most fundamental issues like global warming, or health care, or the tax system and the debt. And if you've got these two extremes – the esoteric and the fundamental – that are both affected by that same dynamic, it's time to focus on that dynamic."
"We've seen what it does. What it does is turn representatives more and more to the richest suppliers. So, 196 people funding 80 percent of the Super PACs – maybe it would be 500 people funding all of elections.
"Now, what do they want in exchange for funding the elections? It's completely naive to believe that they're funding elections for the public good. If they wanted to do that, they'd be giving it to cancer research. When 500 people fund the elections, we will have a system where the representatives are responsive to exactly what the 500 people want. That's a government, it's just not a democracy."
Copyright 2023 by Capitol Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.