Republic lost and how we might get it back—Lawrence Lessig lecture 
Friday, January 20, 2012 at 01:47PM
Skeptic in Favorites, Politics

I want to give my very strong recommendation for this YouTube video presentation by Lawrence Lessig AtGoogleTalks. (H/t Christine) It's 57 minutes with introduction and Q/A, but I recommend you budget a few extra minutes because you'll want to think about it afterward. The video is embedded below, and Lessig's book on this subject is here. But first here's the summary posted at YouTube.

In an era when special interests funnel huge amounts of money into our government-driven by shifts in campaign-finance rules and brought to new levels by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission-trust in our government has reached an all-time low. More than ever before, Americans believe that money buys results in Congress, and that business interests wield control over our legislature.

With heartfelt urgency and a keen desire for righting wrongs, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig takes a clear-eyed look at how we arrived at this crisis: how fundamentally good people, with good intentions, have allowed our democracy to be co-opted by outside interests, and how this exploitation has become entrenched in the system. Rejecting simple labels and reductive logic-and instead using examples that resonate as powerfully on the Right as on the Left-Lessig seeks out the root causes of our situation. He plumbs the issues of campaign financing and corporate lobbying, revealing the human faces and follies that have allowed corruption to take such a foothold in our system. He puts the issues in terms that nonwonks can understand, using real-world analogies and real human stories. And ultimately he calls for widespread mobilization and a new Constitutional Convention, presenting achievable solutions for regaining control of our corrupted-but redeemable-representational system. In this way, Lessig plots a roadmap for returning our republic to its intended greatness.

While America may be divided, Lessig vividly champions the idea that we can succeed if we accept that corruption is our common enemy and that we must find a way to fight against it. In Republic, Lost, he not only makes this need palpable and clear-he gives us the practical and intellectual tools to do something about it.

The video is on YouTube here.

I am completely on board with this because the core problem is obvious, and there is no way to solve it except by Constitutional amendment. I called for that nearly two years ago. A Constitutional amendment to undo Citizens United  Last October, I suggested that the Occupy Movement adopt as their core unifying demand, "We demand free and fair elections untainted by Big Money," and Lessig seems to makes the same recommendation.

There are several grass roots movements underway (e.g., here, here, here, here, and here) to get a Constitutional amendment, and more than a handful of bills have been drafted. Some bills want to undo corporate "personhood" and/or "citizenship." Others would limit corporate contributions in very specific ways. With the help of other lawyers, I developed and posted a draft, and later added proposals by others (including Lessig), here. At first, when I was invited to sign petitions urging adoption of a Constitutional amendment along these lines, I thought about whether I could really agree with the overall approach and every detail such as how it deals (or doesn't deal) with freedom of the press, whether non-corporate entities (such as unions and trade associations) and wealthy individuals would also be covered, and if corporations would also be deprived of other civil liberties such as right to trial by jury, right to counsel, freedom from unlawful searches and seizures, etc. In particular, I think that the focus on "corporate personhood" is wrong, but that is the one thing that sparks the most popular anger.

However, I now think the right approach is to ignore all those details for now because we are a long, long way from drafting anything that will actually come to a vote. Instead, let's give our maximum support to creating an emotional tidal wave for the overall concept of amending the Constitution to fix the one-dollar-one-vote problem. If we are successful in that, there will be a process (in Congress or, as Lessig suggests, a Constitutional convention) to draft the specific language, and those of us who helped get that process established will have to trust the process.

Article originally appeared on realitybase (
See website for complete article licensing information.