Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Lawrence Lessig Headshot

A Reply to the @EdgeofSports: Who Exactly Are the 99%?

Posted: Updated:

Sometime-HuffPost blogger, and Nation contributor Dave Zirin has written a brilliant barn-raising response to my last HuffPost piece. Please read all of it, but here's the bit I want call out. Zirin states: "But by going to Occupy sites and arguing for a Tea Party alliance, Professor Lessig, to put it mildly, isn't helping."

Helping what, exactly, Dave?

Helping the Left rally the Left? Agreed. That isn't my aim. The #Occupy movements are doing that quite well on their own. As a Liberal, I celebrate that rally.

Helping the Left lead a movement for real reform? You tell me how your path does that better.

Here's the fact about America: It takes an insanely large majority to make any fundamental change. You want Citizens United reversed, it is going to take 75% of states to do it. You want public funding of public elections? It's going to take 67 Senators to get it. You want to end the corruption that makes it impossible to get any of the things liberals push? It's going to take a broad based movement that cuts across factions, whether right (as in correct) or Right (as in not Left).

So you tell me how calling people you disagree with "racists" (which you predicated of the Tea Party because of the behavior of some of its members, even though an ABC analysis has concluded that views on race "are not significant predictors of support for the Tea Party movement") is going to get us to 38 states? Or 67 Senators? Or 80% of the public's support, which any fundamental change is going to require? Explain how chest-thumping self-righteousness about how hateful "they" are "is helping" that?

Maybe you don't think such fundamental reform is needed, Dave. Maybe you think the political system is just fine. That the poor do perfectly well in a system where the rich fund political campaigns. That the middle class can hold its own in a world where corporations are free to spend endlessly to push the most ridiculous bullshit as "public" policy.

But if you think that, you're from Mars. I'm from Earth. And here on Earth, here in America, our political system is f*cked, and your self-righteous indignation "is not helping" us to get it fixed.

It's great to rally the 99%. It is a relief to have such a clear and powerful slogan. But explain this, because I'm a lawyer, and not so great with numbers: Gallup's latest poll finds 41% of Americans who call themselves "conservative." 36% call themselves "moderate." Liberals account for 21%. In a different poll, Gallup finds 30% of Americans who "support" the Tea Party.

So who exactly are we not allowed to work with, Dave? 30% of America? 41% of America? All but 21% of America? And when you exclude 30%, or 41%, or 79% of Americans, how exactly are you left with 99%?

Talk about wanting to have it "both ways"! How can you claim to speak for 99% but refuse to talk to 30%? (And just to be clear: the 30% of Americans who support the Tea Party are not the 1% "superrich." I checked. With a calculator.)

And finally as to one of the commentators on Dave's essay who finds me "poisonous," and said I said: "OWS needs to drop the 'We are the 99%' slogan because it might hurt the feelings of the rich." What I said was not that the movement should give up the slogan 99% because it offended. I said it should instead talk about the 99.95%. That's the percentage of Americans who did not max out in giving in the last Congressional election. That is the percentage that becomes invisible in the money-feeding-fest that is DC.

So if you really want to rally the 99%, you might begin by identifying those things that 99% might actually agree about. That the 30% of Americans who call themselves "supporters" of the Tea Party are racists is not a statement likely to garner the support of at least that 30%. (And again, as ABC found, it's not even true).

On the other hand, 99% of America should be perfectly willing to agree that a system in which the top 1% -- or better, .05% -- have more power to direct public policy than do the 99% or 99.95% is wrong. And must be changed. Before this nation can again call itself a democracy (for those on the Left) or a Republic (for those on the Right). This "Republic," by which the Framers meant a "representative democracy," by which they intended a body "dependent upon the People ALONE," is not.

That, too, must change. Meaning, in addition to all the things we Liberals want, we must change that as well. And my view is that if we changed that corruption first, we might actually find it a bit easier to get those other things too.