Carl “The Dig” Diggler has covered national politics for 30 years, and is the author of “Think-ocracy: The Rise Of The Brainy Congressman”. He currently resides in New York, but also spends time in Washington DC and Los Angeles (but most of all, airports!).
When Harvard Law professor and internet activist Lawrence Lessig announced his candidacy for the Democratic Presidential nomination last month, the response from me and my colleagues was a collective “Huh?” Running on the single issue of campaign finance reform, Lessig promises (if elected) to resign immediately after passing a package of reforms meant to get money out of politics. And here I thought things couldn’t get any sillier than a Socialist running for President.
Underscoring his aversion to properly financing a campaign, Lessig has raised a pathetic $1 million — in other words, one measly Clinton donor. Along with his nonexistent poll numbers, that weak haul was part of why Lessig was refused entry to the Real Candidates debate earlier this week. Lessig’s supporters — a motley group of Silicon Valley nerds and Ivy League undergraduates — have been complaining nonstop about this supposedly unfair exclusion (if only they had the money to run ads about it!). But as any grownup can tell you, Lessig not only didn’t deserve to be in the debates — he doesn’t even deserve to be a candidate. If the fusty old Professor will settle down I’d be happy to teach him why:
First, Presidents are elected for four years, minimum. That’s in the Constitution. Once you’re in, the only way out is via impeachment or a pine box. Sure, a President can resign in the event of a major scandal such as Watergate or running a private email server, but to plan for resignation is unconscionable. What, is being the head of the free world going to get too boring for a genius like you? Are you going to look for more interesting job opportunities? The Presidency isn’t a marriage, Professor. You can’t just throw it all away after one year and one son just because you’re “unfulfilled.”
Second, Presidential elections aren’t referendums on policies. Style matters just as much as substance, if not more. Voters are here to elect a President, not a Provost. They want someone with courage and vision, someone who can empathize and connect. They crave a candidate with swagger and toughness, who can make them feel good about being Americans. In short, they want a commander of state like Hillary or tough guy like former Virginia Senator Jim Webb. Voters are more impressed by the crud on Webb’s combat boots than they are by your pince-nez glasses and Powerpoint presentations.
Lessig hasn’t figured out yet that Democratic primaries aren’t decided in air-conditioned conference rooms in Harvard Yard or Silicon Valley. They’re decided in farmsteads in Des Moines and living rooms in Manchester, where voters are more concerned about making America strong than they are about learning what the heck a Super PAC is. Rule one of messaging: don’t be a reader; just be a leader.
Lessig’s campaign is a sloppy loogie, a slap across the face with his weak, effete hands, soft from years in the classroom. He’s asking voters to trust him on the basis of his books they haven’t read, instead of real results. He’s never rolled up his sleeves to pass legislation. One can just imagine the squint that would come across Lessig’s face, looking like a boiled egg in the process of peeling — his furrowing brow as that slimy, hot skin in between the shell and the white — if he so much as tried to rename a Post Office.
The only justification for allowing Lessig on the debate stage this week would have been to see how a veteran of the battlefields of Washington and Vietnam like Jim Webb would react to this frail subhuman if they ever crossed paths. Surely, voters would cheer as a virile alpha decimated the dowdy academic’s face with repeated blows, crushing both his Indiana Jones Gestapo villain glasses and his gross fantasies of a moneyless political utopia with rhetorical uppercuts and hooks. Perhaps only then would this pompous fool, who has never had to live and die by the wins of the week, understand that politics is a combat sport, not an Ivy League debate team match.
Sorry, Professor, but politics ain’t a classroom — it’s a war room where candidates lacking in money and testosterone succumb to will of the mighty few who are plugged-in to Beltway conventional wisdom. Save yourself a hazing and head back to the library while the rest of us chug hefty beers at a little frat party called the campaign trail.