Activist Lawrence Lessig was once a presidential candidate, now he's interviewing them
WASHINGTON — Lawrence Lessig has a twinge of regret about not joining the massive field of candidates in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, so he’s doing the next best thing — starting a podcast to interview and cajole them to support his agenda of political reforms.
The prominent Harvard Law School professor and political activist briefly ran for president in 2016, an experience that he describes as both “the worst of times” and “the coolest thing I've ever done.”
He didn't make the Democratic debate stage last time, but thinks he would this year under new Democratic National Committee rules that prioritize small donors. "I kind of regret that in February when they announced the rules, I wasn't in a position to spin it up and try to run," he said during an interview over iced tea in Washington this week.
So instead, he’s using his new podcast to go deep with candidates on campaign finance reform, voting rights, gerrymandering and more, and to push what he calls "POTUS 1” — a play on the name of a similar bill House Democrats’ passed this year called HR1.
Lessig argues a future Democratic president should prioritize political reform before health care, climate change, immigration, or anything else, “because it makes everything else easier.”
The first episode of his podcast, sponsored by his group Equal Citizens, launches this week with an interview with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., whom Lessig praised as “better than I was” for her “democracy dollars” idea to give every American $600 to donate to candidates they support.
He’s not too impressed yet with the details put forward by the rest of the field, including his former Harvard Law colleague Elizabeth Warren, nor does he have much sympathy for the longshot candidates in the race, even though he once was one.
"I look at some of these candidates and I’m wondering why they’re running,” he said, saying he ran to advance a clear set of policy ideas, while some candidates today seem in it for themselves. “It’s like a vanity show.”