Larry Lessig is a Harvard professor, campaign finance reform activist, and attorney; he is not seeking the Democratic nomination to the 2016 presidential election. That last bit is new, as of yesterday: He was seeking the nomination before that—didn’t you know?—and now he is not. Baby shoes, never worn.

Lessig’s résumé, by any reasonable standard, is very impressive. He is among America’s most credible and authoritative voices on political and campaign finance reform, as well as on technology and internet rights, which will be among the most important areas of public policy in the 21st century. He has degrees in economics, management, philosophy, and law; he has clerked in the Supreme Court; and he is one of the top professors at Harvard Law School, from whence graduated the current presidents of both the United States and Taiwan, five of the nine sitting justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, sitting U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and damn near every other political figure whose name you know who has a law degree. He helped write the constitution of the nation of Georgia! He co-founded Creative Commons! He was fictionalized in an episode of The West Wing, for god’s sake! How many of the other candidates have been portrayed by Emmy- and Independent Spirit Award-winning thespian Christopher Lloyd, I ask you? None of them.

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And yet, none of this—nor a campaign as formally and legitimately declared as any other, nor fundraising and polling numbers not meaningfully smaller than Jim Webb’s or Martin O’Malley’s—could even get Lessig on the stage for the Oct. 13 Democratic debate. You see, he has not previously been an elected participant in a government everyone of all political stripes decries as an insular, gridlocked, dysfunctional wreck; nor has he made his bones in a corporate culture everyone of all stripes condemns as craven, amoral, and inhumane. He is not a known quantity. This disqualifies him from competing to be nominated for leadership by the party nominally concerned with progressing toward a better future.

Imagine you are an alien from a distant, highly advanced, space-faring civilization. You have been sent to observe the species in charge of planet Earth, to determine what relationship, if any, your species should have with theirs. From your invisible spaceship high in the atmosphere, you download to your quantum meta-cortex (at bitchin’ data-transfer speeds) all the information you can get about the contest currently underway to choose a leader for what has been Earth’s most powerful nation for the past 60 years or so. This nation is in decline; on that there is near universal agreement. It faces major challenges, among them what might eventually be existential threats to human civilization. This is serious business, and from it you will learn a great deal about these curious sweaty hominids.

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And, hmm, well, jeez. Whatever can this mean? They found room in their persuasive arguing contests for Lincoln Chafee; for Donald Trump; the supposedly progressive party carved out space for Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy to rail against racial inclusiveness in anti-discrimination policies; the supposedly pro-business one made room for a business executive whose boldest and most defensible claim to leadership mettle is that the corporation from which she fired 30,000 workers had not altogether ceased to exist when it got around to firing her for incompetence. But, for the renowned expert on law and representative government, the one with practical experience in and actual informed positions on the major public concerns of the day? Shit, I guess they ran outta lecterns.

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Which button are you eyeing, up there in your spaceship? I bet it’s red.

Photo via Getty


Contact the author at albert.burneko@deadspin.com or on Twitter @albertburneko.