header image

Charlie Nesson’s great idea

Larry Lessig says that Charlie Nesson’s ideas always seem crazy until about a year later…

So Charlie walks into the office yesterday and says he has an idea that is crazy even for him..(but once we hear it, we like the idea)

Charlie’s idea is to run a candidate for President of the United States who is supported by the worldwide community of web-enabled activists.  Essentially this person would be a second superpower candidate for the key power role in the first superpower. 

Charlie is suggesting John Perry Barlow as the candidate, because John is excellent at debating and discussing controversial issues, and the role of the candidate will be to change minds–not simply to win votes.

I don’t know who the candidate should be (as far as I know Charlie hasn’t told JPB about this yet!), but I do think the idea highlights some interesting issues about how the first and second superpower interact. The power sphere of the second superpower is in a different dimension from nations, and as such, the second superpower can and does work to influence the behavior and balance the power of nations.  As inviduals we are all members of one nation or another, and we may choose to be members of the second superpower.  We can be both.  And it should be alright for individuals living in one nation to try to influence the politics of another nation, as long as those individuals are operating in their capacity as members of the second superpower.  The second superpower is not limited by national boundaries.  This is not one nation influencing another, but a trans-national movement seeking to influence nations.

Second superpower people identify themselves as citizens of the world, and care about social development, collaboration, innovation, open societies, and commons.  They believe that at heart all people are precious and are one.  Second superpower people need not be conventionally liberal or conservative, because there is political and social innovation yet to be done, and current political categories are certainly outmoded.  Perhaps people with second superpower beliefs constitute a bit over 10% of the population in the US–let’s say 30 million people.  Perhaps there are 40 million more in Europe, and 10 million in Japan, and several million living in the rest of the world in Asia, India, Africa, and South America.  Web-enabled, this group is both “virtually local” and realtime mobilized, and is thus an increasingly influential force.  On a worldwide basis the activist numbers add up to a very sizable group, despite second superpower members being minorities in their own nations.

Charlie’s interesting and slightly paradoxical idea is to take this group and focus their activities on taking over the most prominent power position in the first superpower. Of course it is unlikely to “work” in the sense of winning the election, but it would certainly raise interesting issues.  For example, what is the stake that the rest of world citizenry have in the governance of the United States, given that the US has declared itself the leader of the world?  Does this make other nations stakeholders in the United States government? If not, why not!

Be Sociable, Share!

~ by jimmoore on .

13 Responses to “Charlie Nesson’s great idea”

  1. You really are a dreamer. Michael Moore spoke of fiction last week, your ideas are fiction from bottom to top.

    Even the fringe population Green Party has ten time more chance of success than you. 🙂


  2. Barlow for President, Moore for VP 🙂

    In Norman Spinrad’s Classic 1969 SF Jack Baron is a talk show host with huge popularity. A conspiracy cottupts him and then blackmails him into running for president, where they assume he’ll be a puppet. He agrees if he can pick his VP, an Andrew Young type.

    Barron wins the election, reveals the conspiracy and the resigns so his VP can take over.

    Perhaps the blog elected pres is another variation

  3. Is it just me, or does the plot of “Jack Barron” sound a lot like the plot of the (fairly lame) movie “Dave”? (Well, the bit about the assumed-puppet president turning on the conspiracy that put him there by implicating both them and himself, and then resigning so that his good conscience VP can take over.) I never knew.

  4. The whole problem is that NO ONE cares about third party candidates excapt their supporters.

    Even a well known person like Nader wasn’t taken seriously.

    Without being part of the debates a candidate will not be heard by the general public.

    Jesus Christ could run for President and the “religous right” would not vote for him because he wasn’t a Republican.

  5. Bad idea. The American voting system is rigged against small parties, so all you would be achieving would be to take votes from “Anyone but Bush”.

    Rather use the “Second Superpower” to take back the Democratic party.

  6. There’s something telling psychologically with taking a failed political movement in one country and combining it with teens and tweens of populations elsewhere and calling the end result a “Superpower”. Are you forgetting that the same Internet tools are available to everyone? Glenn Reynolds has far more influence than John Perry Barlow, and could mobilize many times the number of individuals if he so wished. And a tranzi candidate would invite opposition from moderate Democrats to paleo-cons and everybody in between; assuming they could get the attention the Communist candidate gets. I find it amusing that the same people who can suggest the real superpower has no right to interfere in a dictatorship blithely think a transnational movement would be appropriate or effective in US politics. It looks more like a fanciful attempt to revive socialism than a real attempt to influence events.

  7. I think it’s a bad idea, but as a purely intellectual exercise, might I suggest something more original than creating a marginal party with a candidate and platform supposedly representing the opinions of “second superpower people.” Rigorously examine and implement simple mechanisms to create an emergent system that is open to participation by all comers. Then put forth candidates with a conviction toward Emergent Democracy strong enough to allow them to act based on the “will of the people” even if such actions would otherwise run counter to their own political views. The gimmick wouldn’t be enough to get either votes or significant media attention, but at least it might serve as a testbed, or even help lay the groundwork, for a true Emergent Democracy.

  8. Hello, Jim. I’m Frank Ruscica, a candidate for the FX Network’s upcoming
    reality TV show The American Candidate. Not long ago, my business plan for a
    provider of lifelong learning and career services (LLCS) was circulated
    internally at Microsoft. Soon after, I received the following email from Randy
    Hinrichs, Manager of Microsoft Research’s Learning Sciences and Technology Group:

    “Frank, you are a good man. Have you thought about joining this team? Your only
    alternative, of course, is venture capital. But their usual models require
    getting rid of the ‘originator’ within the first eighteen months. With Netscape
    it took a little longer, but you get the idea.”

    An updated version of the business plan is now online at

    For reasons introduced on the site, turbocharging maturation of the LLCS
    industry will be the centerpiece of my campaign platform.

    Which may have some appeal to the Second Superpower, given that the Superpower
    comprises “people who are attempting to take into account the needs and dreams
    of all 6.3 billion people in the world.”

    And given that as the LLCS market matures, providers will race to develop and
    fund their own student loan programs, as most customers will need financing in
    order to consume their initial bundle of LLCS. These loan programs will, in time, democratize access to LLCS.

    So let the word go out: I am happy to debate — or, perhaps more appropriately, blog-counterblog — any and all prospective endorsees of the Second Superpower, at any URL, any time :^)


    Frank Ruscica

    The Opportunity Services Group :: Have Fun to Get Ready

  9. I’ve been kicking around the same idea myself, and it’s obvious the meme is out there. I’d prefer a third party over the Republicrat pseudo-parties, but time is short. I believe that, in the short term (i.e. for the 2004 Presidential election), the only alternative is to get the bulk of the Second Superpower’s (“S2”) American voters behind a palatable Democrat candidate.

    My current thinking looks toward using a coalition of popular gathering places for the Second Superpower (e.g. moveon.org, various partisan Weblogs) to act as a venue for:

    1. Identifying and gaining consensus on the most viable (and realistically electable) candidate to oppose Bush — this probably means a moderate Democrat like Howard Dean, with the party backing but also with a record of dissent. Obviously the most difficult part.

    2. A petition-like effort to have American citizens of S2 commit publically to voting for that candidate, if only to oust Prince Bush and his court — this means getting the Greens and the ANSWER types beyond looking at ineffective, low-appeal idealists like Nader, who will only split the vote like they did in 2000. If enough people nationwide back this, even DNC hacks like Terry McCauliffe might see an opportunity as regards a nominee who excites a significant group of registered voters.

    3. Identify the states where the candidate stands the best chance of dominating the popular vote (“blue” states and swing states like MN and Florida), and ensure 80% of the grassroots effort goes to securing the electoral votes of those states. I have no confidence in the electoral college, dominated as it is by the Republicrat duopoly, but at least they’d be willing to elect a Democrat.

    The effort I’m looking for should not be aimed at winning converts in the “Red states,” nor convincing pro-Bush libertarians about the obvious contradictions in their positions — attempting to do these things will result in frustration and wasted effort. This is a bare-knuckles knuckles fight that unfortunately has to be waged on the terms Karl Rove has set, so there’s only so much room for idealism.

    From the PNAC turn toward empire, to the subtractions from basic American rights, to basic economic health, this country simply cannot afford another 4 years of Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft, Rove, and Rumsfeld. My frustration at the moment is that, less than a year from the beginning of campaign 2004, there seems to be no effective political opposition to the Bush administration. The largest independent parties, the Greens and the Libertarians, are hapless boobs, with leaders and extremist issues that leave most voters cold, and little funding in any case. Most of the Democrats are even worse — they have the financial and political muscle to effect change, but have either squandered it on pandering to corrupt institutions like trade unions and racial-entitlement demagogues, or gotten in line with their GOP cousins. But in order to defeat Prince Bush, Emergent Democracy must focus on a candidate who has a practical chance of defeating him and creating a more conducive atmosphere for the Second Superpower.

  10. It’s new to me to be posting here — or anywhere in this world of blogging, other than on my own blog site (which got switched to a blog from a static html site), “Making Sense of These Times.” So this is my debut.

    I’m jumping in here because I’ve been working with ideas about getting a president elected — but, very specifically, one who may not be well know enough yet to have turned up in your discussion. Dennis Kucinich is the most unusual legislator in Washington, who at this time could be peculiarly possible to elect as a Mr. Deeds sort of guy, and then some. Kucinich is the only candidate who can glowingly paint the picture of how necessary it is that humanity evolve itself to where we care as much about one another as we do about ourselves.

    You won’t get much of that from how he has been showing up on TV, where he speaks from a progressive anti-war position, but doesn’t bring in the more visionary aspects of his understanding — like this, from a speech he gave at The Dubrovnik Conference on the Alchemy of Peacebuilding:

    “We need to remember where we came from; to know that we are one. To understand that we are of an undivided whole: race, color, nationality, creed, gender are beams of light, refracted through one great prism. We begin as perfect and journey through life to become more perfect in the singularity of ‘I’ and in the multiplicity of ‘we’; a more perfect union of matter and spirit.”

    There’s a website in development to count heads for who would support Kucinich, presuming there is in fact a large constituency, some of whom know him already and others of whom readily would support him if they did know who he is. The underlying purpose of counting is to demonstrate to ourselves that we are a force. Once we know we have that connection to each other, we act differently. Harnessing what is is different from whipping up what isn’t. Here’s what the site says:

    Are You a Dennis Kucinich Supporter?
    Vote Yes in Our Poll Today!

    We are looking at making the resistance to the powers-that-be into a force, using Dennis Kucinich as a flagpole to rally round. Millions of people, individually and in groups, are making eloquent arguments that oppose the Administration’s war policies, not to mention its domestic ones, but how do we whip all of us into one thing?

    We are using the Dennis Kucinich candidacy for President of the United States to get our force united, via an invitation to say that you are a Dennis Kucinich supporter. This is not a project to get millions of votes from people voting many times. Instead, it is an attempt to get a real head count to demonstrate to ourselves the power we could have.

    That would be invaluable. If we knew we could move the world, we would. No great heroes are in our picture, as coming along and rescuing us in God-like fashion. It is not time for such things. Dennis Kucinich is a person who is one of us, not above us. It’s time to come out of political passivity, where so many of us have been languishing in disgust at both political parties, because we can have enormous influence on the world through aligning, and we can align through being signatory to supporting this eminently trustworthy human being.

    If you don’t know who Dennis Kucinich is, and for more about the idea of alignment, here is a post from TheConversation.org website, “Making Sense of These Times,” which initiated the idea of counting heads: Polishing the Kucinich Star by Suzanne Taylor.

    I would appreciate any comments anyone has on what I have in mind here: suzanne@mightycompanions.org

  11. If the second superpower takes action “not from the top, but from the bottom”, then it seems a bit odd to focus (much) on electing someone president of the United States.

    That said, i find myself thinking about the next presidential election far more than i ever have 20 months before it happens.

  12. Hi all,
    This is my first time contributing to this blog.

    I like the idea of a “globally supported” candidate very much, since it seems only fair that the rest of the world should have a say in who the US leader is considering how much the US president will affect their countries and their lives.

    In any case, it seems more fair than the current situation where US politics(and by extension global politics) are dominated by a cabal of neoconservatives with support from evangelicals and ‘red-state’ residents.

    Of course the devil is in the details. One particular detail that worries me is that I believe it is illegal for US candidates to accept money from foreign sources(Clinton’s China scandals). This would put a serious damper in fundraising for such a candidate.

    Perhaps there are loopholes for getting around this? i.e people donate to US “proxies” which then donate to the candidate.

    Of course I realize that this idea would never “work” from a practical perspective without major changes in the US constitution(abolishing the electoral college for one thing) but it as Jim said, it might raise some interesting issues that would push the debate forward.

  13. Echoing the comments already made about marginalization and third-party candidates in the US.

    I think it’s both tactically and strategically more useful to get the phrase “second superpower” on a Democratic candidate’s agenda. If (say) a Howard Dean happens to mention this in a televised debate, it would force the other candidates to either engage the idea or ignore it.

    Opponents from further out on the ideological spectrum might then be moved to dismiss the idea as “fiction” or “fantasy,” which both allows one to get a gauge of their other feelings regarding global sentiment, and serves as a point of entry for a rather pointed critique: “Why do you feel American policy ought to ignore or override the stated desires of this emergent global constituency? Show me, please, how it is in America’s best long-term interest to do so.”

    Very interesting idea, but not one to be frittered away on marginal candidates.