Launching the Campaign

09/09/2015 06:15 pm ET Updated Sep 09, 2016

[This is the text upon which the speech-launching the campaign was based.]

Seven thousand, three hundred and three days ago, two men -- Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich,the most powerful political figures in America at the time -- held a town hall meeting here (at the Earl M. Bourdon Centre), to try to find common ground for governing a nation. Gingrich had just led a Republican "revolution," with the Republicans taking control of the House for the first time in 40 years. Clinton was desperately seeking a way to govern, now that his party had lost control of Congress.

After opening remarks, the President and the Speaker took a seat, and a man named Frank McConnell asked the first question. Frank asked whether the President and the Speaker would agree to a blue ribbon commission to study campaign finance and lobbying reform. "In a heartbeat," the President said. "I accept." The Speaker said they should shake on it. And they did -- promising this community, promising America, they would work together to address what some even then had called a "cancer" on America.

Now, because this is New Hampshire, of all the things discussed and agreed upon at that town meeting 7,303 days ago, the campaign finance promise was the one thing, the only thing, that was memorialized in a historical marker which now stands next to the street.

But because the President and the Speaker lived in Washington, DC, of all the things that they discussed, 7,303, that campaign finance promise was the one thing that was quickly forgotten.

We are here, 7,303, to pickup where those politicians left off. We're here to answer Frank McConnell's question, not with a handshake, but with a movement.

Because in the 7,303 days since Frank asked his question, things have only gotten worse in Washington, DC, which means, things have only gotten worse for America. Those were the good old days; when it was still possible to imagine a government that might actually do something.

Those days are gone. Today, the cancer that Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich were talking about has spread. 7,303 days after they promised to cut it out, still, the surgeon has not even been called.

And so here is where we are today, 7,303 days after their promise. Here is the one central fact about democracy in America that we have to keep in view:

There is no connection between what the average voter wants and what our government does.

Let me say that again, because it's pretty important:

There is no connection between what the average voter wants and what our government does.

The largest empirical study of actual policy decisions by our government in the history of political science finds:

There is no connection between what the average voter wants and what our government does.

There is a connection between what the economic elite want and what our government does. There is a connection between what special interests group want and what our government does. But there is no connection between what the average voter wants and what our government does -- in a democracy; in a representative democracy, Congress does not represent the people.

So, many Americans believe we need to do a better job keeping dangerous guns from unstable people. After the Sandy Hook massacre, where 27 people -- including 20 children -- were murdered by a mentally unstable 20 year old boy, 89% of Americans (including 84% of gun owners), said they supported increased background checks for gun purchases. The President proposed it. Congress did nothing.

Three fourths of America believes global warming is happening. Yet in the decade since that issue has become front and center in America's mind, Congress has done nothing.

We are burdening our children with endless debt. But rather than actually paying for what we buy, the politicians pander to the rich to keep their taxes low. Indeed, some of the richest Americans -- hedge fund managers -- pay among the lowest tax rates. Yes despite the fact that not once in the past 20 year has Gallup found even a third of Americans who think the tax burden on "upper income people" is "fair," Congress has done nothing.

On every issue that matters to America, Congress doesn't listen to America. One every issue that matters to America, Congress listens to the funders of their campaigns.

America's government has been bought. But not by us. Not by the American people. America's government has been bought by the cronies and special interests. America's government has been bought not by those who care about America, but by those who want to use our government to get rich.

Now I'm all for success in America. The promise of getting rich by creating and innovating drives the American spirit. I know this, because my dad was a entrepreneur. I saw how it drove him.

But entrepreneurs succeed by working harder. By competing better. By creating more. They succeeded by innovating, not by hiring lobbyists to get them a special tax favor. Not by paying Congressmen to get a special subsidy. Not by begging Congress for corporate welfare, but by making money the old fashioned way: by earning it.

Yet today, 7,303 days after the Clinton-Gingrich pact, for too many in this economy, that's not the way wealth is made. For too many, wealth is made through the power of a lobbyist. For too many, wealth it secured through the special favor of government. For way too many special interests in America, the way they succeed is to get the government to favor them. Against others. Against those who don't hire the lobbyists.

The America we live in today would be unrecognizable even twenty years ago. 400 families have given half the money in this election cycle so far. That's not American democracy. That's banana republic democracy. We have a Congress that is dependent on the tiniest fraction of the 1% to fund their campaigns. A Congress that bends over backwards to keep those funders happy. A Congress that is not free to lead, because it is bound to its funders. A Congress that has been corrupted by the system they have allowed to evolve for funding their campaigns.

This is not a democracy any more. In no sense of the word, it is this a representative democracy any more. The basic commitment that our framers made -- of a Congress dependent on the people alone, where the "people", as Madison promised, meant "not the rich more than the poor" -- that basic promise has been betrayed by the politicians. And it is time that we -- we who are citizens, we who are not politicians -- fight to get it back.

My name is Larry Lessig. I'm a father, a husband, a teacher and a sometimes lawyer. And with the support of my incredible family, Bettina Neuefeind, my wife, and Willem, Teo, and Tess, my kids, I am here today at the place where Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich made their promise to announce my candidacy for President.

A candidacy that would be focused on the single purpose of getting our democracy back. A candidacy that makes a single promise: That I will rally America to build a mandate strong enough to force that Congress to give us a democracy. A mandate so clear that even that Congress could understand it. And after they pass that mandate, and start us down the road to a democracy, I would step aside. We will get one change -- the fundamental change that would make every other change possible -- on day one, and then the next great president, whether Hillary or Bernie or someone else, will finally have a chance to lead.

After 8,000 citizens rallied to raise more than $1M in less than a month, I promise you this: That I will give every ounce of my energy and my soul to wage a campaign that could rally all of America -- not just Democrats or Republicans, but all citizens -- to this fundamental ideal -- that in a democracy, all have a right to be equal citizens.

Not because that's a pretty ideal, and not because campaigns should be fought for moral notions alone. But because only if we can restore this fundamental principle might we have a chance to solve the problems that hold us back as a nation.

My friends Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein have written, "the country is squandering its economic future and putting itself at risk because of an inability to govern effectively."

We cannot afford that waste anymore. And this campaign, my campaign, our campaign, will be the first in the history of America -- since the revolution -- committed exclusively to establishing a representative democracy.

That's is not to say that is the first time Americans have fought for democracy. Soldiers in America volunteer to defend our democracy with their life. They go to the field with a backpack, not a SuperPAC. My grandfather joined millions to fight fascism across the world. And our forebears fought a revolution to free ourselves from governments controlled by Donald Trump -- sorry, I mean aristocrats. We have been fighting for the ideal of equal citizens since the beginning of the time of American citizens. And 7,303 days after the Clinton-Gingrich pact, we have to take up that fight again. And finally win.

Not for a reform that will happen some day -- become "some day" reforms never happen. Instead, we will take up a fight for a reform that will happen not some day, but on day one. A day one reform, to fix our democracy -- or maybe that's, to unfix our democracy -- to get us a representative democracy that could represent us.

Because we, the children and grandchildren of Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation," we must capture again the patriotism and the love in their sacrifices. We must promise our children the same patriotism and love. We must finally find a way to make good on the promise to give them a democracy that works. We must have the courage and the patriotism to rise to an idea that was given to this nation more than 200 years ago.

Because if we don't, then 7,303 days from today, our children won't be looking back at two politicians, and chuckling at how the politicians always promise reform some day, and how some day really means never. Instead our children will be looking back at us. And what they will ask us is this: How could your parents, your grandparents, and your great grand parents sacrifice so much for you, but you couldn't take even the small step not of war, but of politics, to get us a democracy back.

But I am certain, as I see the energy and passion that marks America today, that they won't have to ask us that question. Because I am certain, when they look back on this day, they will remember that today, here we began the fight to make good on the politicians' promise. Today we launched a campaign that would rally America to the fundamental change it needs to get America its democracy. Again. A change that affirms the equality of citizens. A change that will echo from the streets of Ferguson to Capitol Hill: that in a democracy, black lives matter because citizens are equal.

Today we launched a campaign will make it possible for all of America to be great. Not just Silicon Valley, or Hollywood. Not just Nashville, or Broadway. Not just the heartland or the White Mountains. But even Washington, DC too. Today we have launched a campaign to give us a government we can be proud of again, because the corruption that calls itself Congress is killing America's dream.

Join me today in a fight not to defeat any Democrats, but to defend the fundamental ideal of democracy. Help us fix this democracy. First, by building with us a campaign that rallies the most creative in America against the greatest threat to America. Not terrorists the living in caves, but the citizens convinced that there is no democracy anymore. The citizens who have given up.

We can be as great as we were taught that we were. Because we love our children, because we love our country, because we love taking on the hardest problems, and making them seem easy, we will be that great. Again.

Delivered September 9, 2015, Claremont, New Hampshire, at the launch of the Lessig for President campaign.