A Declaration FOR Independence — draft 1

Creative Commons License

Here’s a text-based (.PDF/.doc/.rtf / TeX / .txt) of the argument for the Change Congress movement. An outline html version is here. Another beautifully formatted html version is here.

First version, many flaws, feedback welcome.

This entry was posted in ChangeCongress. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to A Declaration FOR Independence — draft 1

  1. JT Olds says:

    At first glance, looks great, though I wish the text format took up the whole page. It’s sort of jarring that the column is so thin and so much of each page is blank. It would be easier to read I think if a more TeX-sized page width was used.

  2. I actually don’t disagree with either the observations of fact that you cite as evidence in support of your goal, or with the goal of a less dependent Congress. But I’m not sure I agree that a move to public funding would be an improvement, and I don’t see much (or anything) in here that explains how it would be.

    The problem with the alternative of public funding, as I see it, is that it would make the dependencies that exist even harder to track. At least we knew who Daniel Webster was working for. If he got all his money from public sources, we’d have no idea who he was taking soft kickbacks from. And if politicians are prevented from taking money, then they’ll substitute away to other forms of patronage that are more difficult to track. You can change how the dependencies are measured; but you can’t change human nature.

    How would a change to public financing of Congressional elections be an improvement in that regard?

    By the way, I think the Executive branch is a pretty good case study of how when the kickbacks are soft (in the form of political patronage) then it’s much harder to sort through the dependencies. As are House elections compared to the Senate (because the state legislatures control the gerrymandering).

  3. Sigh … I know the good career move would be for me to cheerlead this, and I’ll make make myself no influential political friends (or worse) via criticism, but again, as I’ve said in my warning:

    “And there are always snake-oil salesman putting forth easy solutions, where if you swallow their prescription, it’s good for what ails you. A modern version of such hucksterism is invoking “the internet” as a cheap simplistic remedy for political malaise. It plays to a technocratic dream, going back to the foolish but appealing idea that governments would be rendered obsolete by new technology”

    After everything from the net reformers being USED in a blatant partisan smear over trivialities involving the “Twitter” messaging system, and Obama, the supposed great hope of new politics rejected public financing (and flip-flopped on telecomm immunity/FISA, though that’s relatively minor overall) – well, those should be big warning flags that SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH THE THEORY, and yet more manifesto won’t make it right.

    One issue is right here:

    “We will enforce it by deploying an army of wiki-workers to monitor and hold accountable Members who deviate from that commitment. And we will achieve it by building an endless repertoire of examples of government misfiring because of this dependency on money.”

    That cannon-fodder of digital-sharecroppers is easy prey for manipulation by flacks and paid liar lobbyists, who have their entire career based on figuring out how to manufacture scandal and throw mud. You don’t exist in vacuum, you exist in a world with a very well-funded right-wing noise machine. And that matters.

  4. kris says:

    I agree with Michael Martin above. Also, public financing may make politicians less accountable, rather than more, because the sources of money become distribution and there are no real foci to apply public pressure. An example of this is the blatant lying on Mr. Obama’s part on FISA to the netroots who funded a good bit of his primary campaign. It is also pretty clear that documenting fraud and lies on the part of politicians is not going to
    sway them, especially if they are going to get money nevertheless.

  5. kris says:

    Looking through the manifesto, there was a statement that struck me as pretty ironic there:
    “Imagine non-politicians challenging sitting members of congress, not with the aim of winning,
    but with the aim of raising the cost of failure to pledge to the fundamental …”

    How does this square with your comments on the FISA vote of Sen. Obama, and more importantly
    with the arguments you used against his critics? I don’t mean to pick a fight or be obnoxious,
    but really isn’t holding politicians accountable often a question of how much deviations on their
    part that the majority of citizens tolerate? Was also not this a fundamental issue in your apologia
    for the FISA vote? Most voters recognize that the people they elect will very likely fail to uphold
    a large number of their promises; often this failure is not the fault of the people elected but a
    recognition that this is part of the process of governance. How many “fundamental commitments”
    would one expect from their representatives? And how much tolerance should be allowed for
    deviations from such commitments. Again the FISA issue is a good example, many people (myself
    included) consider this to be an issue that no compromise or deviation should have been allowed
    on, but clearly there are many other liberals who believe otherwise.

    Isn’t this a fundamental problem-that most citizens have somewhat varying expectations and requirements
    of their elected representatives, and even on issues that they agree on, they often have different
    degrees of interest in seeing these issues properly addressed? Presumably, most reasonably astute
    politicians exploit these differences to push through agendas they are interested in. I also think this same
    vacuum (if you will) is exploited by special interest groups and lobbyists. Crudely, this is a bit like the
    issue of rules vs. discretion in economics.

  6. Mark Murphy says:

    @Mr. Finklestein:

    “After everything from the net reformers being USED in a blatant partisan smear…well, those should be big warning flags that SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH THE THEORY, and yet more manifesto won’t make it right.”

    That sounds like an argument one might hear for intelligent design: lay people can’t, in five minutes, explain to other lay people how the human eye would have arisen via evolutionary process; therefore, SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH THE THEORY and evolution is impossible and a Supreme Being created all life. With the Supreme Being possibly being made from pasta.

    News flash: these things take time. I’m not aware of anybody working on applying the Internet for improving democracy who thinks that this will be done in five minutes, or even five months. IMHO, it’ll be more like fifty years. Will there be setbacks along the way? Sure. Might there be SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE THEORY? Possibly, and we’ll work through that along the way. There’s a reason why the expression is “trial and error”, and not “trial and perpetual rampant success”…

    “That cannon-fodder of digital-sharecroppers is easy prey for manipulation by flacks and paid liar lobbyists, who have their entire career based on figuring out how to manufacture scandal and throw mud.”

    Precisely. Well, except for the “digital-sharecropper” pejorative part.

    However, it should be possible to get people past that, given lots of time, education, and a reason for them to care. Giving people a greater voice in democracy will be a key part of that “reason for them to care”. But until the education takes hold, we will need to live with a public that may make some screwball decisions. Anybody who told you this would be easy was probably trying to sell you something.

  7. The difference is that Creationism is not a scientific theory – it makes no predictions, cannot be falsified, and provides no basis for further knowledge.

    Whereas “You’re going to be chewed-up and spit out by professional political operators who have it as all in a day’s work to take advantage of naive people like you”, is a pretty workable idea.

    Note also the problem of every failure can be answered with cries to do more and work harder and give it more time.

    I want evangelists to set measurable goals where they’ll admit: IT’S NOT WORKING

    If they never will, or it’s always so far in the future that win or lose they’ll be gone with their ill-gotten exploitation gains, that tells you something.

  8. Tom Poe says:

    If we assume the role of the lobbyist is to represent the views of their clients, and their access to representatives is due in large part to their monetary contributions to the representatives’ need for financing their continued presence in Congress, why attack the form of financing? Why not attack the role of the lobbyist?

    My interest in gaining access to all the representatives of Congress is severely restricted to my specific representative. A lobbyist can walk through any door, changing her client profile to match the representative’s particular constituency. Why can’t I do that?

    Actually, I could. If every community had a broadband infrastructure, and a virtual world for its residents in place, every resident would have direct access to every voter in every district in the country. There would no longer be a need to rely on lobbyists. Information needed to make decisions would be possible without relying on lobbyists. Further, every voter would have equal access to every representative in Congress. If a representative in Ohio needed to hear from me, in Iowa, I could “walk” through their door at the click of a mouse. More importantly, the cost of a representative to stay in touch, or to reach their constituents, would drop to near-zero.

    Is your fight misdirected? Might you be more effective in the pursuit of your mission by focusing on the root issue, that of giving a declaration of independence to our representatives, rather than your apparent goal to control the form of financing of power?

  9. @Tom Poe

    I like the way you think.

  10. Cat Dancer says:

    Read well until this sentence on the last page: “We all know such dependencies are impossibly difficult to correct”. You appear to be using “impossible” as a synonym for “hugely”, but for those of us who read “impossible” as “can’t be done” I don’t think that’s what you intended to communicate.

  11. Mike Ross says:

    LL is absolutely right that Congress is broken. The Executive and Courts are also broken and together the three branches are now collaborating to erode our civil liberties at a tremendous rate, especially given the move of the Executive to consolidate power post-911.

    I applaud LL’s ideas on changing congress, but how many election cycles will we have to go thru, spiraling farther into debt, watching inflation erode our our currency, and engaging in military expansion around the world before we finally bring the ship of state back on course. The inertia of the ship is simply too strong at this point and those in congress and those in the bureaucracy to entrenched and too vested to give up power willingly.

    I believe that the ‘revolution’ will have to be quite a bit more abrupt that LL proposes if any real change is to occur. Unfortunately, however, we’ve let Congress and the executive militarize the country in the name of security to the point where any meaningful revolution would instantly be characterized as sedition or terrorism and snuffed out before it could take root.

  12. lessig says:

    @JT: RTF/DOC now supplied. And if you make a useable web version, I’d be happy to post it as well. Thanks

    @MichaelM: True, though the same could be said of the courts, though most don’t believe that (at least the federal courts) are dependent upon this sort of soft influence. In my view, the most you can do is increase the possibility for Members to be good (in the “I’m only dependent upon my voters” sense). There are no guarantees.

    @SF: 2c4c.

    @kris: not less accountable, differently accountable. I agree flipping is kryptonite (especially for a pol with Obama’s image). But that a candidate flips does not show it is costless. And my statement re the FISA vote was not intended as apologia. It was intended to sharpen where there is proper criticism. I criticism him (too) for the change, but because of the political mistake of the change. You say isn’t it the problem that politicians can always shift when it is not costly enough. They can. And they should. We need to remember, we’re in a democracy, where the votes of a majority (not a righteous minority of us) matter.

    @Tom: I (obviously) don’t disagree that better infrastructure would help lots. But I also don’t agree that there is no role for a lobbyist. Defanged, a lobbyist is a supplier of information to an information poor entity — government. I’d love to improve the information gov’t on its own can produce. But regardless of how well it does, more will be better.

    @Cat: true enough. Thanks.

    @All: Thanks for the comments, especially the sturm&dranm-less comments.

  13. Dlanor says:

    Many wish dirty political money could be banished, but who has a clearly thought out solution? Surely, no one recommends that politics be surrendered to those who have inherited or obtained the most wealth or been indoctrinated into service for the richest families or cliques.

    In mire of legalism, effective enforcement of fair campaign financing seems unlikely. So, must we, through commendable efforts of persons as Lawrence Lessig, resort only to public shaming?

    If so, are strategies of public shaming being applied even handedly, such as by mainstream media and netroots? Has Senator McCain been credited at least for good intentions regarding campaign finance reform? If not, why not? Have mainstream media or netroots resolved to shame Murtha or Feinstein for their shenanigans with earmarks and funding, as much as were they Republicans? Is it appropriate to hold Obama severely accountable for electing to avoid public financing?

    I doubt political campaigns would become “fairer” merely were campaign financing more constrained or regulated. In a way, money translates towards speech. The solution to unfair speech is more speech in an expanded market. Part of a solution to unfair influence in respect of access to money would seem to consist in programs for narrowing chasms in wealth (progressive consumption taxes instead of income taxes).

    I would very much like to see a viable plan for reforming campaign financing. However, arguing that such reform would be a good thing if it could be done does not quite explicate how it could be done.


  14. I know more and more Article III judges are “retiring” to private jobs in order to earn more money. But last I checked it wasn’t an epidemic phenomenon. The judicial branch is still the least dangerous from the point of view of dependencies. I just don’t share that view.

    The larger point of disagreement seems to be over whether government servants should be viewed as agents of their constituency of voting principals. I don’t want Congress, the President, or the Courts to serve me anymore than I want them to serve Bear Sterns or Halliburton. I want them to serve the long-term interests of everybody, including the non-voting minorities. And again I’m not sure that a move to public finance would be a step forward in that direction. I think the best we can do is achieve a detente among competing special interests. People (including government servants) will never be free from the influence of other people, and we don’t want them to be. We just want to know who’s influencing whom and by how much.

  15. Mr. Lessig,

    Will you please provide an ODF (open document format) version of your Declaration?

    Thank you,

  16. Paul Davis says:

    I read through the manifesto a couple of times. I confess that despite its fine explanation of the problem, I don’t find anything to suggest what the solution(s) could be. The Supreme Court has already established the limited equivalence of campaign spending and free speech. There are already limits on campaign donations. So what precisely is the proposal? Tighter limits – well, what, precisely? Eliminating campaign donations – impossible. Something else? A lot of fine rhetoric (I particularly like the alcoholic analogy) and prose, but I don’t see any actual suggestion for how to fix this fundamental problem. Did I just miss it?

  17. James Morris says:

    Great writing, but….

    1. How do you prevent 527-like spending or George Soros. Even if I’d never met Soros, his spending $1M on my behalf would corrupt me.

    2. Wouldn’t micro-contributing and mirco-lobbying via the net help? I would send a congressman $10.00 with a message like “I’m in favor of chinchilla subsidies”. It would be transparent but ineffectual unless thousands said the same thing. It’s sort of “One dollar, one vote,” instead of “One person, one vote.” It still advantages the rich, but doesn’t freeze out the poor. Consortiums of millionaires can beat a billionaire, and mobs of salarymen can beat CEO’s.

Leave a Reply