Larry Lessig and a Brief Digression into Politics

Larry Lessig peered deep into the heart of our democracy and found it lacking. So he tried to do something about it.

“The idea behind the referendum president is—it’s clear from the polling that if Americans were asked in a referendum whether they support reforming the system to achieve equality as citizens, they would overwhelmingly support the idea. But we don’t have a referendum power in the Constitution. So the idea was to find a way to hack one into the Constitution. That’s what the referendum president does. The referendum president says, “I’m going to run for this one issue, this fundamental issue, the first issue that we have to resolve, and when elected I will remain as president until Congress passes legislation that would address this single issue, this first issue.” Then once that’s done, I would step aside, and the vice president would take over and become president for the remainder of the term. They get to run for re-election.


That device would create a mandate that is more powerful than any mandate possible in our political system. Even a landslide victor for president, who has a mandate: that’s divided among the six or seven issues that they were talking about. But a referendum president has just one. That’s the idea, to create the power necessary to take on what will be the hardest political issue for Congress to resolve.”


I am significantly less excited by this candidacy now that he is no longer going to resign after passing legislation to try and reform the democratic process. It was a clever idea that allowed me to envision someone breaking out of the usual entanglements.

However, it’s not really his fault, and highlights some of the normally invisible factors that keep the status quo in place. And he is running as a more typical candidate now, with stances on divisive issues and questions about his qualifications for the job etc… if that’s your bag.

Some further reading:
The Democracy Project
What Then Must We Do?

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