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On Lessig’s Run for Congress

Stanford Law professor Lawrence Lessig, co-founder of Creative Commons and thought leader on issues of technology and intellectual property, recently switched the focus of his advocacy and research to the reform of the U.S. legislature.

At almost the same time, longtime Congressman Tom Lantos died in office, leaving an open seat in the very district where Lessig resides. A group of peers, friends, and fans of Lessig’s work have seen this as a sign that the professor and change agent should run for Congress himself–that he might work to change the system from the inside.

Lessig is taking the suggestion seriously, and is asking for additional input as he weighs his decision whether or not to run. The centerpiece of his campaign would be a pledge that he would take–and that he will encourage other members of Congress to take–

A significant counterargument to his candidacy is that he would have to compete with Jackie Speier, a longtime California pol with the name recognition, resumé, organization, grass roots support, and progressive bonafides to crush him in an election.

But that’s not what I wrote to him about. In my email I posited that:

Adherence to the pledge opens a member of Congress up to becoming an easy target for accusations of hypocrisy, regarding any behavior, past or present, that could be spun as a violation of the pledge. (Cf. Today’s NYT feature about John McCain.)

What’s needed is an open-source methodology for grading adherence to the pledge on some kind of percentage or value scale, rather than a binary system (did she or did she not violate the pledge). Until that value scale is established, the mass media narrative of “balance” will stick to a binary assessment, allowing political opponents to apply our culturally shallow definition of hypocrisy to discredit any member of Congress who takes the pledge.

Your help will be needed on the *outside* of Congress to help develop this alternative system of assessing success in adhering to the pledge, and communicating the results of those assessments to national and regional media in ways that move the discussion forward.

Once you are within the halls of Congress yourself (and perhaps long-term it will be required for you to maximize your success), you will be unconscionably scrutinized in ways that will draw focus from the overarching objectives.

Chris Ereneta

Moreover, I am concerned that Lessig could be chewed up and spit out in a media-driven election.

This is a brilliant, thoughtful, careful man, who made the unfortunate choice of using the word “Corruption” denotatively to describe his next area of focus. After a few months of having to explain his meaning in contrast to the word’s connotations, he has switched to the expression “Change Congress“. Politicians typically succeed with voters when they leverage the established cultural connotations of language, to maximize the communication within the limits of a media soundbite.

Lessig’s much more precise language constructions might not serve him well as a politician.

He’s more careful with his words than I am, and look how many popularity contests I’ve managed to win. Is all I’m saying.

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Matt Mullenweg’s Third Law of Social Media

Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, speaking last week at the Northern Voice conference in Vancouver (audio available here):

“Unfiltered interaction is worse than useless at scale.”

Which Seesmic is learning the hard way.