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Student Voices

Larry Lessig, we barely knew you

Durham, NC – Larry Lessig is an eminent law professor at Harvard, and the founder of Creative Commons and the Mayday PAC. And until Monday, he was also one of the top four remaining Democratic candidates for president.

Lessig dropped out of the race on Monday, citing the fact that he was “just shut out” of the primary debates. The fact that he wasn’t better known is problematic. A proponent of fewer copyright and trademark regulations in the Internet age, his platform was rooted in fixing the ‘broken’ American democracy, bolstering an equal right to vote, mandating true equal representation and campaign finance reform.

Despite raising more than $1 million dollars in the first month of his campaign, more than seven other ‘serious’ candidates at the time, Lessig was included in very few polls. He was not allowed to participate in the first Democratic debate (although CNN did keep an extra podium ready if Joe Biden announced his candidacy. In fact, two months after filing the paperwork for his candidacy, Lessig had not been recognized by the Democratic Party as an official candidate, despite qualifying for public funding.

CNN’s failure to include Lessig in the Democratic debate and the Democratic Party’s unwillingness to acknowledge him is evidence of the very broken democracy that Lessig denounces. Lessig wasn’t included in a majority of polls, and in order to participate in a debate, a candidate must be polling at least 1 percent nationally. The few polls that included Lessig showed he in fact was polling at approximately 1 percent, yet there were not enough national polls including Lessig’s name to qualify him for the debate.

While there must be threshold for admittance to a debate, announced candidates should be included in polling; if 15 Republican candidates can be included in polls, four Democratic candidates certainly can be.

More importantly, the failure to include Lessig in the debates and properly acknowledge his candidacy reveals a schism in the Democratic Party. It’s no secret the DNC is backing Hillary Clinton, but failing to include candidates whose platform diverges from the DNC establishment script destroys the party’s credibility. By refusing to acknowledge candidates that appeal to a very real part of the base, and allow these candidates to explain their ideas, the Democratic Party remains inert in a time where inertia is a distinct weakness.

The success of candidates like Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Ben Carson corroborate the notion that establishment candidates are not necessarily the most popular, and the DNC’s lack of welcome for Lessig shows an inability to understand the sentiment of the American public.

The DNC’s job is not to cater to the American public, but if it is unwilling to change or allow an open dialogue among all of its candidates, it will ultimately place its establishment candidates at a disadvantage. Depriving them of the opportunity to refine their platform and respond to criticisms from their own party means that establishment candidates like Clinton and Martin O’Malley won’t do well either.

In reality, Lessig had little chance of winning the Democratic nomination, but if he chooses to run as an Independent, he will likely siphon off some votes from the Democrats.

Just because Lessig has ideas that the mainstream Democratic Party potentially finds too leftist and radical doesn’t mean that his ideas are invalid and should be ignored. Open discourse is a cornerstone of the founding documents of this nation, and at a bare minimum, the DNC should have made at least a half-hearted attempt to recognize his candidacy.

Although I’m not a registered Democrat, the Democratic Party has been my ‘party’ for as long as I can remember. So to see the party I once so wholeheartedly supported and worked for shutting out candidates—and issues important to those candidates—is frustrating. Winning elections is important, but not at the cost of the credibility of the party.