Green Room

Can someone explain the fascination with petitions, please?

posted at 7:16 pm on January 10, 2013 by

Because, frankly, I have never grasped it.  Even in high school, we’d have people insisting that signing petitions would change administration policy if only enough people signed them!  All it took was a few hundred John Hancocks in a school of around 2,000 students, and Utopia would soon arrive in whatever form these junior activists envisioned it at the moment.  Of course, it was nonsense, and the school made it pretty clear that the administration took a dim view of the practice anyway.  The adults ran the school, and even back then the amount of influence wielded by parents was minimal, and students non-existent.

At least, though, the scale was rational.  A couple of hundred students in a school of 2,000 or so equals 10%, a decent level of vox populi for the demand for a real cafeteria or an open campus, or whatever the cause du jour happened to be. Now we have constant stories about petitions at the White House suddenly becoming significant at 25,000, and big stories at 100,000.  Why?  In November, somewhere north of 125 million people cast ballots in the election.  Even 250,000 signatures on a petition would amount to 0.2% of the electorate, which is less than a rounding error in elections and way below the margin of error in polling.

About the only thing this signifies is that 250,000 people got exercised just enough to “sign” an online petition, but not enough to actually do anything meaningful.  Or am I missing something?

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I think that the White House site petitions are actually a clever and fun way of pointing out the stupid faux populism of the Barry administration. They set up this ridiculous petition site so they can “pretend” to have grassroots support for liberal initiatives that they wanted to pursue anyway. Gun control is so popular, the administration can point to, because it has gotten so much support on our website. Why not point to the fact that the petition to launch the Death Star also got 25,000 signatures? None of the people who signed the petition thought it was any more than a good lark, but it was fun at the expense of an supposedly serious part of the White House PR wing. I’m all for things that make the Barry administration appear foolish.

Illinidiva on January 10, 2013 at 7:44 PM

The right “to Petition Government for a redress of grievances” is a part of the First Amendment, and as William Lee Miller details in “Arguing About Slavery: John Quincy Adams and the Great Battle in the United States Congress” citizens submitted tons of petitions in antebellum days. So maybe petitioning is just having a bit of a rebirth.

My objection is this idea of having a website maintained by the government ( a forum for submitting petitions. Another right enshrined in the First Amendment is a free press, but the government isn’t expected to provide the press and if it did, that would smack too much of Pravda for our American democratic tastes. By the same token, I find it uncomfortable having the federal government facilitate petitioning when government is the very thing the First Amendment tells us we may petition against.

One last thing: how stupid were people not to realize that with a small threshhold like 25 K signatures, they’d get a lot of dumb petitions to respond to? Could the Death Star petition really not have been foreseen?

radjah shelduck on January 10, 2013 at 7:44 PM

It’s a form a free speech, Ed. You may not think it matters, and it’s true that the silly WH petition website means little – other than they may be taking names for Chicago style retribution – but people should speak out.

The frustration is that for those of us who dissent it seems that no matter what we do or say makes no difference. The BO administration is all about, “I won.” And the Republicans are useless.

Instead of wondering why people sign petitions it might be worth encouraging people to keep speaking up rather than giving up.

If/when that day comes, you will have little write about. And if you do, you will be a lonely, courageous voice.

Cody1991 on January 10, 2013 at 7:48 PM

It makes you feel like you’ve taken a stand.

Zaggs on January 10, 2013 at 7:50 PM

You’re not missing anything, EM.

Dumb petition twaddle like this proves it’s better to be a Republic than a democracy.

locomotivebreath1901 on January 10, 2013 at 7:53 PM

It makes you feel like you’ve taken a stand.

Zaggs on January 10, 2013 at 7:50 PM

Yep, it makes you feel like you’ve done something, without actually doing anything.

supernova on January 10, 2013 at 7:56 PM

Can someone explain the fascination with petitions, please?

I’ll answer your question when you get signatures of 30 other people who also want the answer.

Weight of Glory on January 10, 2013 at 8:29 PM

It is about validation. A person has a really strong opinion. Passing around a “petition” is an excuse for someone to educate someone on the issue. The signatures provide validation that they have chosen the right position on the issue. Petitions also provide a false sense of agreement because there is no “NO” block on a petition. It records only favorable responses. The number of those responses can only go up. If someone presents you with a link to or a hard copy of a petition with 20,000 signatures, you may have no idea that 10 times that many people refused to sign it after reading/hearing the pitch.

Want to really upset a petitioner in a mall? Stop, listen to the pitch, read the petition, reply “what, are you nuts? I’m not signing this.” Then the petitioner must wait until everyone within earshot of that has left the area before presenting it to another. You have provided invalidating information and the petitioner relies on the 100% validation of all the signatures. You can agree or you can go unrecorded, but there is no place on most petitions for a “no” response.

Petitions are not a good indication of popular opinion.

crosspatch on January 10, 2013 at 9:11 PM

Why the heck are you asking us, Eddy?

Ask Preezy of teh United Steezy Barack Hussein Obama’s White House.

It’s their show.

The whole shebang.

Obama’s White House started the site.
Obama’s White House advertised the site.
Obama’s White House run’s the site.
And Obama’s White House solely responds to the site.

Not us.

Not anyone else in the whole wide world.

Obama’s White House, and only Obama’s White House, does.


SD Tom on January 10, 2013 at 10:18 PM

People on the internets really want to believe they have juice.

Moesart on January 10, 2013 at 11:45 PM

It is an opportunity to tweak some noses with petitions like:

Deport Piers Morgan

Require the U.S. Senate to pass a budget

Carney had explain a few days ago why the Administration was not going to deport Morgan.

It was worth a lol

slp on January 10, 2013 at 11:47 PM

Tsk, tsk, Ed. You have forgotten Alinsky’s Rules For Radicals #4:

RULE 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules.

The Obama administration started this stupid petition site and we are just choking them with petitions and making it a farce.

Plus its fun to stick it to them.

mustng66 on January 10, 2013 at 11:59 PM


President Obama is a firm believer in Füherprinzip. He is the giver of all law. He is the executive, legislative, and judicial branch all in one because only he knows the true voice of the people. It’s kind of like democracy, but things like rule of law, the Constitution, and contrary opinions don’t get in the way. Remember, we must act now to [insert liberal cause here].

Glenn Jericho on January 11, 2013 at 12:01 AM

Like all aristocracies, there must be some pretense to listing to “the people” in some way. (And a way to accumulate info on people to add to your Enemies List.)

The White House petition site is just another example of the Middle Ages practice of having that “Open House” with the common folk once every so often.

But hey, if you want to, sign the White House Petition against Gun Free Zones at:

And you too can feel like you’ve “Done Something!”

ProfShadow on January 11, 2013 at 8:02 AM

Random observations seen via social media: Kool aid liberals adore petitions and Move On dot Org is one of the most obnoxious petition generators. Honorable mention goes to groups like Amnesty International (cause du jour – the NRA’s opposition to U.N. arms treaties) and the World Wildlife Fund (polar bears are dying!). Petitions amp up emotions, raise money for a cause, and get your name so xyz groups can bug you for eternity with spam.

I would never sign a W.H. petition, no matter how worthy (like Congressman Tim Griffin’s Senate budget petition) because they are nothing but data mining schemes for Organizing for America.

Buy Danish on January 11, 2013 at 8:19 AM

Yep, it makes you feel like you’ve done something, without actually doing anything.

supernova on January 10, 2013 at 7:56 PM


The Rogue Tomato on January 11, 2013 at 9:37 AM

You can agree or you can go unrecorded, but there is no place on most petitions for a “no” response.

crosspatch on January 10, 2013 at 9:11 PM

I agree with your analysis and response, with one suggestion: sign the petition (very legibly) “No Freakin Way” or “Not A. Chance”. It means they have to weed that signature out later, and it puts your disagreement on display for all the other potential signers (at least the ones that get that sheet). Yeah, it’s a minor thing, but it can be … cathartic. 🙂

GWB on January 11, 2013 at 10:21 AM

You are not missing a thing.
It seems most conservatives thing “political activism” consists of online petitions, blogging, etc.
The “main thing” is actually increasing voter turnout for your candidates and actually getting signatures to get candidates and voter initiatives onto the ballot. That requires pens and clipboards.
Unfortunately, it seems most conservatives either never had a course in basic American Civics or slept through it.
The real ball game of politics is played every month at the local political party committee meetings of both parties.
Conservatives: find out where your local Republican Party committee meets and go to the meeting. Now. Take along every conservative you know. Find out what you need to do to become a voting member of the committee: a precinct committeeman. It’s highly likely there’ll be vacancies — there’s about 400,000 Republican PC slots nationwide and about half are vacant. If conservatives filled up all the vacant slots, they’d OWN the Party.

(Hint: Ever hear any incumbent Republican say a word about this? Wonder why?)

Precinct committeeman has been called, rightly so, The Most Powerful Office in the World.

Go here to learn more.

Thank you.
Cold Warrior

Cold Warrior on January 11, 2013 at 11:12 AM

Precinct committeeman has been called, rightly so, The Most Powerful Office in the World.

Go here to learn more.

Thank you.
Cold Warrior

Cold Warrior on January 11, 2013 at 11:12 AM

You are correct as usual, Cold Warrior. I watched three of our six precinct committeemen submit an entire slate of candidates for our area with no discussion and a vocal vote. It’s a right-leaning area so three people chose who will be our local government, three.

Fallon on January 11, 2013 at 11:47 AM

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