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#Lessig and Reform

As mentioned in the previous post, Larry Lessig gave one of his master presentations (does anyone else make such effective use of powerpoints as he does?) at the University of New Hampshire on March 31. The idea for the talk emerged from the fact that I am teaching courses on Congress and Corruption (yes, those are two courses, not one), and found myself requiring his Republic Lost book in both. Since he teaches just down the road a bit at Harvard, a colleague suggested that I might extend an invitation to talk to my classes (both meet on Mondays), and in short order he accepted and the class visits turned into a well attended campus event.

The talk was an extended version of one Lessig had prepared for his most recent TED presentation, and once you see that latest TED it will become clear why he was so quick and willing to accept my invite. Lessig is a man on a mission, and New Hampshire plays a central role in his efforts to mobilize a movement aimed directly at campaign finance reform and fixing what he terms a critical “flaw” in the US political system.

His devotion to that mission is single-minded, and he just might succeed given the intellectual and rhetorical powers he brings to the effort. He draws inspiration from his friend Aaron Schwartz and the memorable work of Granny D that is associated with the now emasculated McCain-Feingold reforms. His NHRebellion group is small but energized, and the Rootstrikers effort grows with each view of his latest TED. Moreover, he seems in it for the long haul (through 2016) and he might succeed if he can reactivate the now latent energy of the Occupy movement to his more focused cause.

Lessig’s efforts have me thinking more about reform movements and their role in American history. I suspect there was no more important force in the development of modern US government and politics than the Progressive Movement — a movement that essentially engulfed and altered our political system. While today one thinks of political movements in terms of rallies and “occupy”-like tactics, the roots of the American Progressive Movement is found in the work of Lessig-like lectures in the 1880s pursuing specific but critical changes in the way we conduct governance and politics. Consider the work of Woodrow Wilson, fresh from his PhD, giving lectures on the need to reform the business side of government; or the efforts of many others during what Richard Hofstadter has termed the “The Age of Reform”. That “age” lasted for several decades, and along the way it ran into opposition and morphed into several variants. One can imagine that happening again if folks like Lessig are persistent and able to push the message through the current channels that can reach an increasingly cynical public.

April 9th, 2014 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | no comments