Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I Say, Sir, It is CORRUPTION! A Review of Lesterland: The Corruption of Congress & How to End It by Lawrence Lessig

Imagine Patrick Henry speaking in his booming voice and railing against the CORRUPTION of the age. Or, perhaps if you’re not in mood for a stem-winder, think about how Madison or Hamilton (the two greatest minds among the Founders—sorry TJ) might address this. Come to think of it, everyone should be—must be—against corruption, right? However, in fact, in a manner of speaking, CORRUPTION works. In the jargon of social science, it results in an equilibrium that has built-in antibodies against change. The concept is simple: if someone doesn’t participate in the CORRUPTION, then she or he won’t get elected. It’s that simple. 

Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig argues, and I agree, that we do have CORRUPT system in exactly the way that the Founders would have known and used the term. Not corruption in the way of paper bags and Rod Blagojevich; this happens, but it’s not a big problem (well, at least outside of Chicago). No, the CORRUPTION of wherein I speak (I can’t resist a little Revolutionary typeface and usage) is endemic to our system and perfectly legal. (Thank you, Supreme Court.) The CORRUPTION is the system that requires members of Congress to go begging for the money to run their campaigns to get re-elected or elected. (Of course, once you’re elected, you’re in pretty good shape to stay there because of your money-raising potential—unless you’re a “moderate Republican” (archaic: a species essentially extinct, having suffered a plague from the RIGHT, most recently identified as the Tea Party virus.) Whether the money comes from the Right (think Koch Brothers of Sheldon Adelson) or the Left (think George Soros), it buys INFLUENCE that we the 99% can’t match. (Gotchya’ if you think “1%” is accurate; it’s way high). 

Lessig tells us all of this in his TED Talk and this book. I’ve now read the book, and I agree that you should watch the TED Talk first: it’s the executive summary. If you can’t read the book, you’ll still have the message. For me, I wanted the gory details, and this proved worthwhile. Not only does Lessig document the problem well (he is a Harvard law prof, after all), but he makes clear that this is a problem for both the RIGHT and the LEFT, that CORRUPTION causes problems that reach across the aisle (well, at least something does these days besides Obama’s unwanted hand). CORRUPTION affects government and the political process in ways that no UNINTERESTED PERSON could endorse. 

How good is this book? It’s not a fun read. It’s not a deep read. But it’s a book with a mission; TO WIT, to get us out of our lethargy and engaged to REFORM this most vile CORRUPTION of our polity. To this end, I’ve joined Lessig’s organization, ROOT STRIKERS (from a quote of Thoreau that we should strike at the root of evil), and I’ve once again written my congressional representatives to ask them to take THE PLEDGE. Consider this, and join us, as a PATRIOT. 

BTW, the title may seem puzzling, unlike his earlier, more easily identifiable Republic Lost. Lessig refers to “Lesters” as those of the tiny minority—I mean TINY—who fund elections with BIG BUCKS. I think it’s a South Park reference, but then, that’s out of my league.

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