Join 3,375 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Free Congress
February 19, 2008 6:34 PM   Subscribe

In trademark style, Lawrence Lessig today announced the creation of a congressional exploratory committee. If in the next few days he decides to officially enter the race, he'll be running in the special election on April 8th to fill the CA-12 seat recently vacated by the death of Tom Lantos. A run by Lessig would likely be seen as a new front the the technocratic, post-partisan movement Barack Obama is attempting to catalyze; Lessig was a colleague of Obama at the University of Chicago law school, helped to draft Obama's technology plan, and is describing his potential run (his first attempt at public office), and the larger Change Congress project he also announced today, as an attempt to save Congress as an institution from the corrupting influence of money.

Lessig would be an untraditional democratic candidate; he began his law career clerking for Justice Scalia, and gained celebrity fighting against Hollywood and the RIAA for shorter copyright terms and expanded fair use. This move comes only months after Lessig moved on from that work to focus on political corruption, saying at the time
I have come to believe that until a more fundamental problem is fixed, [the free culture movement] can't succeed either. Compare: Imagine someone devoted to free culture coming to believe that until free software supports free culture, free culture can't succeed. So he devotes himself to building software. I am someone who believes that a free society -- free of the "corruption" that defines our current society -- is necessary for free culture, and much more. For that reason, I turn my energy elsewhere for now.
This announcement comes after a week of efforts to draft Lessig into the race on Facebook, MySpace and elsewhere.
posted by gsteff (50 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fuck yes.
posted by odinsdream at 6:35 PM on February 19, 2008


Even if you don't agree with him or like him, having Lessig in Congress will make it more entertaining.
posted by wendell at 6:48 PM on February 19, 2008


Seems ironic that he did it in trademark style.
posted by The Loch Ness Monster at 6:48 PM on February 19, 2008 [28 favorites]


I know there are lots of reasons to like Lessig, but damn, after he lost that case about copyright extension in front of the Supreme Court - a case that seemed a win going in - I can't help but not be as impressed with him. In fact, I lost a ton of respect for him, and even more so after reading his own odd, honest but annoying take on the mistakes he made in the case, "How I Lost the Big One." Here's a fun bit:

Here follows my clear mistake. Like a professor correcting a student, I answered,

Justice, we are not making an empirical claim at all. Nothing in our copyright clause claim hangs upon the empirical assertion about impeding progress. Our only argument is, this is a structural limit necessary to assure that what would be an effectively perpetual term not be permitted under the copyright laws.

That was a correct answer, but it wasn't the right answer. The right answer was to say that there was an obvious and profound harm. Any number of briefs had been written about it. Kennedy wanted to hear it. And here was where Don Ayer's advice should have mattered. This was a softball; my answer was a swing and a miss.


I can't help thinking to this day that a better lawyer would have won that case.

*shrug*
posted by mediareport at 6:54 PM on February 19, 2008 [4 favorites]


A new form of TL;DR enabled by Youtube and FLV: Instead of spending 30 seconds or a minute reading Mr. Lessig's statement, I'm supposed to sit here all day listening to him yap and reading his words one by one on the screen.

It's not just him, though, it's all over the place.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:56 PM on February 19, 2008 [6 favorites]


I can't help thinking to this day that a less honest lawyer would have won that case.

Fixed. :)

Hmm... I may have to move over to the other side of the bay just to vote for the guy :)
posted by vertigo25 at 6:57 PM on February 19, 2008


There are many lawyers who excel in areas other than oral advocacy.
I agree this would be a Very Good Thing, but I worry that he will find himself hopelessly outnumbered by neanderthals and lobbyistmongers, and that his contributions will be diluted as a result. He'd have a higher profile, and have a bigger effect on policy, as a cabinet-level official or senior aide in an Obama administration.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 7:03 PM on February 19, 2008


I demand that this campaign be decided with PowerPoint.
posted by revgeorge at 7:06 PM on February 19, 2008


mediareport,

I was very disappointed at the outcome of the Supreme Court case, and saw it as an opportunity lost. But I truly respect people who can work very, very hard on something, fail, and still detail their errors publicly. In that article, he takes responsibility, admits his mistakes, and I would hope that he has learned from them. The ability to recognize and learn from mistakes makes him exactly the type of person I would like to see in office (for a change!), and if arguing in front of the Supreme Court isn't his strength, maybe he can be more effective in Congress. Either way, having someone who knows the deal with technology can only help in my eyes.
posted by procrastination at 7:10 PM on February 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


A run by Lessig would likely be seen as a new front the the technocratic, post-partisan movement Barack Obama is attempting to catalyze;

I worry quite a bit that directly entering politics will distract from his previous work, and introduce him into popular culture not as a thoughtful figure weighing policy issues but as someone connected to the partisan present. How long before he's framed as another San Francisco liberal, and his issues folded into a culture war narrative?

That said, if he runs, I will volunteer for his campaign.
posted by weston at 7:12 PM on February 19, 2008


How long before he's framed as another San Francisco liberal, and his issues folded into a culture war narrative?

Eh, he's running for a state rep seat overlooking San Francisco liberals -- if anything he might be accused of not being liberal enough.
posted by mathowie at 7:18 PM on February 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


Also re: Eldred v. Ashcroft...

I assure you, no advocate would have won that case. No significant segment of any legislature is on the Free Culture side of the debate, and the Supreme Court certainly isn't. Nobody "in power" right now is bending on this anytime soon. The fight is a long haul.

Lessig completely misread the Court, though. He was far too optimistic, reading a federal powers argument into an intellectual property issue. He banked that the overly political Court we have today would come along with him on this, and he was dead wrong. Anyone reading the briefs beforehand was aware of his approach and knew that he'd lose.
posted by aswego at 7:20 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


An attempt to save Congress as an institution from the corrupting influence of money?

Isn't that a bit like trying to save sandwiches from the corrupting influence of bread?
posted by collywobbles at 7:21 PM on February 19, 2008 [5 favorites]


Maybe I missed something in that oh so thrilling powerpoint demonstration, but what happens to the guys with the briefcases full of money? They still have agendas that need to be furthered. I'm guessing they take their sacks of cash and move to some other point in the process. Hopefully they decide to bribe us voters directly.
posted by billyfleetwood at 7:31 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Isn't that a bit like trying to save sandwiches from the corrupting influence of bread?

Probably, but I'm glad somebody's at least trying. It's a bigger problem, a bigger threat to this nation than terrorism IMO.
posted by LordSludge at 7:32 PM on February 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


Isn't that a bit like trying to save sandwiches from the corrupting influence of bread?

It absolutely is, and he will never succeed in that goal. The reason to vote for him would be that he's got a good head on his shoulders (and that is without question) and he is deeply knowledgeable about what might be the most rapidly changing area of law in this country. That would make him a very good legislator, IMHO. If he wants to populistly rail and holler "throw the bums out!" well, I can't fault that sentiment, but I also have no illusions about the bums or their presence inside or out.

And god damn it, if Barbara Lee didn't already speak for me then I'd try and finagle my way into his district.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 7:41 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


re: Eldred -- it was also a case that no-one else at the time would have taken to the Supreme Court. Lessig took an apparently quixotic challenge by a small online business and turned it into something that the court recognised was important. Eldred lost, but before he came along, there was nothing to lose.
posted by ntk at 7:50 PM on February 19, 2008


The reason to vote for him would be that he's got a good head on his shoulders (and that is without question)... And god damn it, if Barbara Lee didn't already speak for me then I'd try and finagle my way into his district.

Apparently, when you evaluate your legislators or potential legislators, having a "good head on his shoulders" is more of a bonus than a necessity.
posted by Kwantsar at 7:51 PM on February 19, 2008


Can anyone tell me where the real Democrats are these days?
posted by etaoin at 8:03 PM on February 19, 2008


Apparently, when you evaluate your legislators or potential legislators, having a "good head on his shoulders" is more of a bonus than a necessity.

Well yeah, this is the state that gave you Nixon, Reagan, Pombo, Rohrabacher, and That Guy Who Got Gray Davis Impeached But Then Was Made To Look Silly By Arnold Fucking Schwartzenegger Of All People. A good head on a legislator's shoulders is primo fuckin' shit if you're lucky enough to get it.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 8:12 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's always nice to see that not everyone at the University of Chicago Law School is not some right wing pedant.
posted by caddis at 8:16 PM on February 19, 2008


Isn't that a bit like trying to save sandwiches from the corrupting influence of bread?

Mmmmmm.... sandwich wraps. Sounds good to me.
posted by oddman at 8:28 PM on February 19, 2008


It's always nice to see that not everyone at the University of Chicago Law School is not some right wing pedant.

You have to be kidding.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 8:31 PM on February 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


How long before he's framed as another San Francisco liberal

The district only includes only a piece of San Francisco. It does include part of Silicon Valley. A previous Stanford Law professor who was a Congressman from this district is the very inconoclast Republican Pete McCloskey (who was just in the news, at age 79, for spearheading the successful effort to defeat anti-environmentallist Richard Pombo).

The district has a history of principled iconoclasts, so I hope he runs. But given his politics, will he run as a Democrat or as a McCloskey style Replublican?
posted by eye of newt at 8:32 PM on February 19, 2008


too honest to win?
posted by blue_beetle at 8:46 PM on February 19, 2008


A new party--the Replublicans
posted by eye of newt at 9:14 PM on February 19, 2008


Coming soon: The MSNBC™ Microsoft® PowerPoint® Debates!
posted by parhamr at 9:20 PM on February 19, 2008


I'll donate money to him, no matter what party he runs as.
posted by empath at 9:21 PM on February 19, 2008


Just to inject a tiny note of actual reality into all this mooning over Lessig: as with the Supreme Court case, where he didn't stand a chance of prevailing on the merits (despite his heroic and ultimately insulting-to-the-Court effort to claim it was all because of an inapt answer to one question), declared candidate and Santos-endorsed experienced elected representative Jackie Speier will wipe the floor with him.
posted by twsf at 9:24 PM on February 19, 2008


Lessig will have an unbelievable amount of money to compete with. I could see him raising a million dollars in the first week. The Digg/Slashdot massive will open their wallets and credit cards in a torrent.
posted by empath at 9:29 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Jackie Speier will wipe the floor with him.

I gave $20 anyway. Please do the same.
posted by tarheelcoxn at 9:33 PM on February 19, 2008


One more lawyer in Congress. That should really shake things up.
posted by meehawl at 9:48 PM on February 19, 2008


Be childlike and hopeful again. People and institutions can change if there's will and resolve. Have some faith in yourselves; with your support people like Obama and Lessig can help us make the US and the world better for everyone.
posted by tarheelcoxn at 9:49 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


One more lawyer in Congress. That should really shake things up.

You're right. No lawyer has ever had any impact on American government. Ever. Not one. *Scoffs*
posted by tarheelcoxn at 9:59 PM on February 19, 2008


I just gave $30.

I'm moving to the bay area in May - alas, one month too late.

Go Lessig!
posted by genome4hire at 10:05 PM on February 19, 2008


Tom Campbell was another Stanford Law professor, liberterian inconoclast McCloskey-Republican who was a Congressman from this very Democratic district.

That settles it, he should run as a Republican. Jackie Speier will indeed wipe the floor with him, but it would make the race very interesting. And getting the voters engaged in the election is always a good thing.
posted by eye of newt at 10:14 PM on February 19, 2008


--Please do the same--

Would everyone please fuck off from making this site into a political donor drive. I don't give a toss as to your hyperexuberant level of enthusiasm, the incredibly important nature of the issues, the wanktastical prominence of your messiah-come-fad, it's just getting really realllly fucking aggravating seeing all this peer pressuring solicitation of late.
posted by peacay at 12:07 AM on February 20, 2008 [4 favorites]


I truly respect people who can work very, very hard on something, fail, and still detail their errors publicly. In that article, he takes responsibility, admits his mistakes, and I would hope that he has learned from them.

I also respect people who can admit their mistakes in detail. Refusal to admit previous mistakes is a dire liability in good government. Unfortunately it seems to be an advantage in politics.
posted by grouse at 2:05 AM on February 20, 2008


mediareport writes "I can't help thinking to this day that a better lawyer would have won that case."

Or maybe a better court ? What prevents the court from understanding a not so fine legal point about the ratio legis , which is the technical legal term for the fucking reasoning behind the fucking law ? I am not a laywer myself and I only passed (with decent grades) four definitely incomplete exams on different topics of law, but even this ex-college students gets it

Consider your daily job : there are aspect of it you get for granted, like hopping on mushrooms. There ought to be a reason for your daily hopping on mushroom. Anybody doing your job knows exactly why...or they are more likely to know. Others don't and think your are batshit insane for hopping on shrooms all day !

Consider your daily job is sitting in a court delibarting about laws and their application, blah blah. Hopefully, if you didn't pay attention in college you probably have learned a thing or two about laws ; for instance, you know that a law should be written so that it doesn't contradict itself. Example: there is a law about being sexy motherfuckers ! The law is made by 2 points :

1. It is forbidden to be a sexy asshole !
2. Sexy assholeing from 9pm to 8am is allowed.

Can you see that point 2 denies point 1? I mean, it is blindingly obvious that , if the laws forbids being an asshole there ought to be a reason, even if it is not evident. Yet the very same law allows, at point 2, exaclty what the law was written to prevent !

Lessig noticed that

a. if the point, the core , the soul, the ratio of the copyright law is to make it possible for Joe and Jane to get an inexpensive copy of a boook
b. and to achieve this objective, a temporary monopoly is granted to an industry to make millions of relatively inexpensive copies
c. and a protection is given to the author so that his work cannot be just printed by any printer without paying him for his work

THEN

if you rewrite the law so that it becomes effectively perpetual, you are evidently going against the ratio of the law which is that of making the book/copy avaiable to as
many people as possible, because you are extending the term of a monopoly without evidence that it will make the book more avaiable/less expensive.

The very same act of giving a monopoly is an evident restriction to avaiabilty, because such monopoly doesn't allow anybody, but one to do copies.
So clearly, technically, EXTENDING the expiration of the monopoly is implicitly one -obvious- way of maintaing something less avaiable. On the contrary, reducing the expiration date would, in theory, make the copy more avaiable.

But a balance is to be found so that , if someone wants to protect his work by copyright, he can without creating practically infinite monopolies that are of ZERO interest to the State, which on the contrary has an interest in making more avaiable to more people.A COURT is supposed to understand the objective of law and pursue it , or when there is no clear understanding of how a modification would affect the _effectiveness_ of a law (in which direction ? toward or away from the law purpose ?) then the court should err on the side of caution and not change the law.

That Lessing should have provided empirical positive evidence that an extension of the expiration date was damaging to obtaining the objective of law seems to me strinkingly odd, when it clear that any extension of expiration is just the extension of a monopoly and not as evidently an extension of benefit for the masses.
posted by elpapacito at 2:33 AM on February 20, 2008


how do you run a congressional campaign on copyright deregulation? is that a priority for voters in that district, before the economy or the war or health care or the environment? running for Congress is not exactly running for Dean of a Law School or Mayor of MetaFilter. I understand that in The Year Of The Obama an actual ability to do the job one is running for is at best just an annoying side issue, but still.
posted by matteo at 4:11 AM on February 20, 2008


His focus has recently changed from copyright deregulation to corruption and money in politics in general. But even that might not be enough.
posted by PenDevil at 4:26 AM on February 20, 2008


Anybody know where we can find 434 more Lessigs?
posted by mosch at 5:34 AM on February 20, 2008


I don't think Lessig has a serious shot here.

Lessig's choice of party is no incidental detail, as his policies are irrelevant compared to maintaining the balance of power on the Hill. The vast majority of seats in the House haven't switched party hands in years, and with majorities tending to run in the low double-digits, every single contestable seat is a massive deal. National groups from both sides of the aisle are likely to pour vast amounts of cash into the race if they perceive that there's a chance that Speier might lose. He doesn't have a chance as a Democrat, as they've picked their candidate already, and if he runs as a Republican, you can't imagine the kind of money the DNC will funnel Speier's way.

In the unlikely event that he does win, his influence will be minimal. Copyright deregulation is a non-starter in Congress. Congress has never passed a statute scaling back copyright protections, and has been passing extensions and describing new protected uses for over two centuries. If anything is going to happen here, it's going to have to be the Court overturning significant chunks of existing law, and though Eldred suggests that's possible, it also suggests it's unlikely.

Furthermore, an anti-corruption ticket isn't just a non-starter, it's liable to make one a congressional pariah. If a President actually got serious about vetoing earmarks, the entire Hill would rise as one to overturn every single veto. Earmarks are the lifeblood of congresscritters. A member of the Hill going this route will never be given any position of influence.
posted by valkyryn at 6:49 AM on February 20, 2008


You have to be kidding.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 11:31 PM on February 19


No, not really. Although you can read it two ways. Was the second "not" intended or a typo? ;)
posted by caddis at 7:25 AM on February 20, 2008


No lawyer has ever had any impact

Lawyers are disproportionately represented within political theatre, so they are bound to be emplaced during many significant events. Your illustrious list omits Jackson the Ethnic Cleanser, who also practiced law.
posted by meehawl at 8:32 AM on February 20, 2008


Good. Then he can be Congressman Insufferable Famewhore instead of Professor Insufferable Famewhore.
posted by Slap Factory at 8:54 AM on February 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm imagining reading this page of comments on youtube, overtop of powerpoint slides. Wouldn't that be more educational?
posted by anthill at 9:58 AM on February 20, 2008


As a resident of this district, I have to say I'd never heard of this guy until today. I hope this special election doesn't devolve into the "change versus experience" false dichotomy that we're seeing in the Presidential contest.
posted by mahamandarava at 12:56 PM on February 21, 2008


Lessig has decided not to run.
posted by donovan at 12:39 PM on February 25, 2008


Hmm. Crappy FPP then.
posted by LordSludge at 2:04 PM on February 25, 2008


« Older Fans of Futbol (Links to futbol vids) should enjo...  |  Physicist Howard Wiseman has a... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments