What Lessig’s Presidential Candidacy Did for Net Neutrality & Copyright

No surprise that political activist Larry Lessig, the intellectual leader of the net neutrality and anti-copyright movements, ran one of the most cynical, undemocratic, and stunt-driven Presidential candidacies ever, because that’s exactly the kind of cynical, undemocratic, stunt-driven campaigns his political followers have run to un-democratically dictate net neutrality and to undermine copyright protection online. 

The “common” thread of Mr. Lessig’s political grand strategies is his core elitist political assumption that people are stupid and that he can manipulate the masses into believing whatever he wants them to believe.  

It is supremely rich and ironic that Mr. Lessig would run a Presidential campaign with the stated singular purpose of ending “corruption” by passing his version of campaign finance reform legislation, with such an apparent corrupt political Presidential campaign strategy. 

Let’s review Mr. Lessig’s stated Presidential campaign strategy to see if it appears corrupt.   

On August 11, 2015, Mr. Lessig announced he would run for President on the singular issue of ending “corruption,” via passage of his Citizen Equality Act. He promised he would run if he could crowd-source $1 million dollars for his campaign in a month -- and he did.

He promised his funders and the public to run for President of the United States of America as “the first referendum President” focused singularly on passing his “Citizens Equality Act,” a priority he promised to put above all other issues facing the Nation. He also promised to step down from the Presidency once his “Citizen Equality Act” passed into law, and his chosen Vice President would then complete his Presidential term.    

However, just a month into his Presidential campaign, Mr. Lessig wrote in an Atlantic op-ed that he was completely breaking his core campaign promises to his funders and the public that he made two months before, in that he was no longer running as a “referendum Presidential candidate” focused on only one issue, citizen equality, and that he would not step down from the Presidency, if he succeeded as President in passing the “Citizen Equality Act.”

He justified his about face because the Democrat Party was not interested in including a candidate in the Democrat debates that was not “really trying to be president” and only in it “to make a point.” He also admitted that it was his personal idea to resign if he was successful in passage of his pet legislation as President, but that he later changed his mind after seeing polling that showed, in his words: that his “resignation idea was a total bust. No one liked it. At all.”

November 2nd Mr. Lessig then ended his campaign in a sour grapes video announcement blaming the Democratic National Committee for “changing the rules” of qualifying for inclusion in the next Democrat debate -- to exclude Mr. Lessig.

All this has exposed Mr. Lessig’s presidential candidacy as a cynical, self-serving, and undemocratic stunt to hijack the Democrat Presidential debate process to advance his uniquely narrow personal policy agenda.

His made-up idea of a “referendum Presidency” is justified nowhere in the Constitution, law or party platform.

His personal idea of running for President of the United States for the sole purpose of passing into law his own personally-crafted legislative proposal, and then resigning from office, must be a political stunt, otherwise it is the single most self-serving, self-unaware, selfish, rationale of any U.S. Presidential candidate ever.

His cluelessness that no one would want to support or vote for a Presidential candidate that only cared about using the Presidency to pass his own pet legislation, and not work on or advance anything that anyone else might think important, is more evidence his candidacy was not a serious or real one, but just a cynical, undemocratic, political stunt and tactic.

His recklessness of running for President and Commander in Chief with the express purpose of resigning before finishing his term, without telling people up front who his Vice President would be, and that he would de facto be self-crowning President in advance, is yet more evidence his candidacy was not a serious or real one, but a cynical, undemocratic, political stunt and tactic. 

Mr. Lessig’s final act of hubris in this sorry chapter of this Presidential election was that he had the gall to accuse the Democratic National Committee in public of changing the rules qualifying for the debates when everything about Mr. Lessig’s “presidential” campaign was designed to “change the rules” of this game to personally game the Democrat presidential primary and electoral processes for his own personal policy agenda.   

He really must think everyone is stupid. 

Sadly, Mr. Lessig’s cynical, undemocratic, and stunt-driven campaign strategy for his Presidential candidacy mimics his cynical, undemocratic, stunt-driven campaign strategies for net neutrality and opposition to copyright protection online.

Few outside the net neutrality movement appreciate that the idea of net neutrality was birthed in Mr. Lessig’s 1999 book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, even though the branding of the idea as “net neutrality” is credited to Lessig acolyte Tim Wu.

The whole net neutrality movement’s strategy to date has been to cynically and undemocratically try to mandate net neutrality with political stunts via FreePress’ Save The Internet effort -- from orchestrating a blocking case around a download of the King James Bible, to staging disruptive demonstrations in FCC meetings, to staging stunts outside of the FCC dressed as cats, and even blockading the driveway of the FCC Chairman’s personal residence.

And to oppose U.S. SOPA-PIPA anti-piracy legislation, Mr. Lessig’s movement staged an Internet blackout by demonizing legitimate efforts to combat online piracy as “Internet censorship” and “breaking the Internet.”

At most every turn Mr. Lessig’s net neutrality movement has opposed resolving the issue of net neutrality via duly-elected representatives in Congress, and pushed it through the FCC, on partisan votes by unelected FCC officials.  

In short, if anything characterizes Mr. Lessig’s political movements, it is the use of tactical stunts and sloganeering that they know sympathetic media will spotlight, validate, support and echo.

What Mr. Lessig’s failed Presidential candidacy and his successful political movements to date have in “common” are their use of cynical, undemocratic, stunt-driven campaign strategies, because they know they can’t persuade the people on the merits in the open democratic electoral process. 



Scott Cleland served as Deputy U.S. Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy in the George H. W. Bush Administration. He is President of Precursor LLC, a research consultancy for Fortune 500 companies, and Chairman of NetCompetition, a pro-competition e-forum supported by broadband interests.