Doing my part for American democracy

Enough is enough. Between a polarizing president and a polarized Congress, the wheels of government have all but ground to a halt. Our elected representatives seem unable to do even the basic blocking and tackling of governance, let alone the truly hard work of negotiating and compromising on solutions to the challenges we face as a nation. From climate change to health care, from stagnant wages and grotesque wealth inequality, to the opioid crisis, from nuclear security to cybersecurity—the list goes on and on—our system is failing. Today’s political leaders are more concerned with stoking fear and anger than with governing, eager mostly to get on TV and into social media to blame the other side. No democratic system, not even one as old and robust as ours, can survive this kind of dysfunction for long.

Which is why we launched the Madison Initiative: an ambitious effort to harness philanthropy to save U.S. democracy. We set out despite derisive sneers behind our backs from others who said philanthropy didn’t have a role to play and grant dollars couldn’t fix what ails U.S. democracy. We set out to show them what patient, strategic philanthropy—Hewlett-style philanthropy—can do.

Five years later, unfortunately, it seems they were right. Congress is still broken, the current occupant of the Oval Office has failed to bring Americans together (shocker!), and don’t get me started on the Supreme Court (really, don’t). Despite our and our grantees’ best efforts, we have not restored the Madisonian system of government our Constitution established, or even moved the needle significantly.

But if there’s one thing I have learned in my time at Hewlett, it’s that it is okay to admit failure and try something different. And that’s why, today, after months of soul searching, discussion with my family, and consultation with advisors, spiritual and otherwise, I am happy to announce that I am throwing my hat into the ring and running for President.

You know, of the United States. I’ve already got the Hewlett thing.

I hesitated at first, thinking it an awfully rash move. But, then, everyone else seems to be doing it, and most of them are also unqualified. So, I thought, why not me?

The idea came to me during a meeting with grantees last fall. I made some offhand observation about the direction our funding might take on a new issue. It was, I am sure, insightful and pithy, but from the crowd’s reaction you would have thought I was some combination of Albert Einstein, Mother Theresa, and Lenny Bruce. There was furious nodding and raucous laughter. I swear the head of a leading think tank (who shall remain nameless) had a tear in his eye. All for some nothing-burger of a comment I had tossed off without reflection. Like most of our political leaders, I thought to myself with a smile. And then it hit me, and I realized this happens to me all the time. And I mean All. The. Time. More even than this, I realized, the people in that room—an ideologically and demographically diverse group with nothing in common but their good sense (and the fact that they receive grants from us)—wanted nothing more than, well, more of me. So who am I to deny them? To deny all of you? I imagine Howard Schultz had a similar epiphany at some point.

Our platform—to Make America Tolerable Again, or MATA—is one that all Americans can get behind:

  • A Greener, Newer, Bigger, Louder Deal. Because if the current President has taught us anything, it’s that bigger and louder is better and substance is irrelevant.
  • A new foreign aid package amounting to 28 percent of our federal budget. It’s a lot more than the one percent we spend now, but what the heck, it’s what people think we spend anyway.
  • A huge increase in federal funding for the arts, with a special emphasis on Beatles tribute bands. Who doesn’t like the Beatles?
  • An impenetrable cybersecurity wall. Walls are all the rage these days, but we might as well build one that actually matters. Russia will pay for it.
  • Compulsory study of the Federalist Papers for all students, grades K -12. It couldn’t hurt.

Many Hewlett Foundation grantees will recognize their priorities in this platform, and that’s no accident. After years of funding them, I think it’s only right that their concerns get a hearing in my campaign. Conversely, I think it only fair, after all those grants, that they chip in to help me achieve the goals we’ve shared all these years. So, if you’re a Hewlett grantee, just text IOU1 to 466-233 to donate.

My fellow Americans, I did not come to this decision lightly. I don’t have the Medium posts to prove it, but I have been thinking about this for months, or at least days. I am, as they say, tanned, rested, and ready. Plus, my launch video is super compelling.

Let’s Make America Tolerable Again! All the Way with LBK.

A note from Elizabeth Peters, the Hewlett Foundation’s general counsel

The preceding is a parody (seriously, check out that “launch video”), the latest in a tradition Larry began when he arrived at the Hewlett Foundation. One that, quite frankly, has gotten a little out of hand. Larry is not running for President. Grantees, please do not text IOU1 to 466-233. To anyone offended by this juvenile behavior—particularly anyone who works at the IRS—I offer my sincere apologies and the assurance that it won’t happen again. At least not for another 364 days.

Search Our Grantmaking

By Keyword