As I mentioned yesterday, Harvard professor and Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig has announed he's considering a run for the presidency on the Democratic ticket.

His plan is to "run as a 'referendum candidate' in the Democratic primaries if the party's leading candidates did not commit to making campaign financing reform their top priority if elected president. ...The 'referendum president,' Lessig said, would remain in office just long enough to enact financing reform before stepping aside in favor of the vice-president."

Today, I find this tidbit buried in an article about how Lessig's potential run may affect Bernie Sanders' campaign:
Comparing his potential candidacy to that of Eugene McCarthy's 1968 run and "citizen equality" to the Vietnam War, he said the success of the rest of the progressive agenda, including gun control and climate change, depends on passage of a reform package called Citizen Equality Act of 2017, which would change the way elections are funded and districts are drawn.

When asked about his potential candidacy taking away donations and eventually votes from Sanders, who has been gaining momentum in the past few months, Lessig stressed that because — if elected — he plans to resign and leave the presidency to his vice president as soon as the Citizen Equality Act is passed, Sanders could still end up as president.

"What I would argue is that a regular candidate is an either-or proposal, what I'm talking about is an and — Lessig and Hillary or Lessig and Bernie. One would break up the corrupted system, and the other would benefit from it.

"Ideally, I would resign in a day," he said.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but "chang[ing] the way elections are funded and districts are drawn," which are absolutely necessary things that need to happen, is a monumental task. We're talking about legislation that would fundamentally reinvent how politics work in the United States.

And, Maude knows, my entire life revolves around participating in monumental tasks—political and social change ain't easy—so I'm not suggesting that just because it's an intimidatingly difficult task it shouldn't be attempted and doesn't need to start somewhere.

The point is that casually suggesting that such seismic legislation could (or ever would) be passed in a day is manifestly absurd. Or a week. Or a month.

I know Lessig is a smart man. I know he understands how government works in the United States. The president doesn't wave a magic wand and shazam comprehensive legislation into existence. A reform package like the one he's proposing would have to go through Congress. You know—that profoundly gridlocked legislative body which is so compromised by polarization they can barely get shit done.

One of the concerns I have seen raised about a theoretical Sanders presidency is that he won't be able to get any of his policy proposals though a Congress that is almost universally more conservative than he is. Which is a legitimate concern with any progressive candidate, hence the necessity of any president with even modest progressive proposals needing an abundance of diplomatic and negotiating skills to work with an obstinate Congress.

I don't know if Sanders has the requisite skills, and I believe Clinton and O'Malley do, but I am certain that all three of them know how the fuck government works, and none of them would be daft enough to suggest that a major overhaul of our entire electoral system is likely to pass Congress in a day, in this universe or any other.

What Lessig is proposing is a lie. And it is a lie that plays on the naivete of voters who really don't understand how politics works, particularly young and/or newly-engaged idealists who have a misconception that what a presidential candidate promises, a president can definitely achieve.

That is: The very voters to whom Lessig is appealing.

What happens if Lessig gets elected (lol) and then the Citizen Equality Act doesn't pass immediately? Or at all? Does he just stay president, or does he resign in disgrace, or what? What's the contingency plan for this radical one-day presidency if it turns out that the (currently and possibly future) Republican Congressional majority doesn't immediately agree to radically alter the corrupt political landscape which they've spent the last four decades building to give themselves an advantage?

This isn't serious politics.

And the worst thing about it is that this sort of gimmicky bullshit only further entrenches the increasing unseriousness of presidential electioneering.

Yes, I get it: A detailed student debt relief plan, for example, isn't as sexy or exciting as "FREE COLLEGE FOR EVERYONE!" But nothing makes an electorate more jaded, more quickly, than making promises one can't possibly keep, no matter how brilliant and decent and right those ideas are.

This is a stunt. And we've got enough stunts and pranksters and straight-up dipshits in this presidential race already.

More than enough.

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