In the first exciting installment of this series, I complimented PCCC on showing some real boldness. Their pledge, at near 200,000 signers, has signers such that many if not most were former volunteers or contributors for the Obama 2008 campaign.* Real boldness, worthy of the name, has to have the potential to threaten power. (Dennis Rancourt, an activist who has thought and written what constitutes effective activism, is worth reading, e.g., here, where he says, “Truth will not set us free.”.)

Unfortunately, many of PCCC’s actions could not have been effective, and not only did not threaten power, but probably caused snickering by Obama and/or Congress. These are the “Tell X to do Y” petitions, where X is either Obama or Congress.

E.g., here is a PCCC email from 1/21/2010:

In the 48 hours since Democrats lost Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, a whopping 150,000 people signed a petition telling congressional Democrats not to learn the wrong lesson.

Americans want faster, bolder, more populist change — not slower change, regardless of what Joe Lieberman says.

Momentum is growing for Congress to pass the public health insurance option by using a Senate procedure that only needs 51 votes instead of 60.

Can you add your name telling Democrats to be bolder — and pass a bill with the public option? Click here.

The New York Times and others have reported on this petition, which we launched with our friends at Democracy for America and CREDO Action. We’ll soon deliver signatures to congressional offices, so please pass this email to your friends so our numbers grow.

Speaking of numbers, yesterday we announced some stunning new poll results from Massachusetts that all Democrats need to see.

We polled people who voted for President Obama in 2008 and then for Republican Scott Brown for Senate.

On health care, they overwhelmingly support the public option (82%) and oppose the Senate bill because it “doesn’t go far enough.”

On the economy, by 2 to 1 they think Democrats put special interests ahead of the little guy — and they overwhelmingly want stronger regulation of Wall Street.

And 57% say Democrats are not “delivering enough on the change Obama promised.”

Why did they vote for Scott Brown? They’re angry, and Democrats weren’t seen as fighting for the little guy. Brown pretended to be a populist, so he won.

Can you sign our petition telling Democrats to be strong populists in 2010 — and to start by passing the public option?

Then, please send this to your friends.

Thanks so much.

– Stephanie Taylor, Adam Green, Aaron Swartz, Andrew Perez, Natasha Patel, and the PCCC team

(emphasis mine)

At the risk of being Captain Obvious, what is different about the latest petition is that it’s not just “telling” people with vastly more power than they have, what to do, but threatening real consequences. And the significant consequence is not the fact that signers of the latest petition are promising to withold money (which banksters, corporations, and other hight rollers can and will compensate for), but more importantly because the signers are threatening to withold volunteer hours.

There are 2 ways to look at this. (I make lots of assumptions in the following, so don’t get hung up on the numbers.)

The first is as a straight economic loss of contributions to the Obama campaign. Assuming the 200,000 signers would have donated an average of $75, that is only $15,000,000, which is about 1.5% of the campaign’s anticipated billion dollar price tag.

The second is as an adjusted economic loss to the Obama campaign, due to the loss of high quality volunteers. Now, here, I have no real data, so please continue pardon the guessing. There are almost 200,000 signers of the petition. Let’s assume that they would have donated 20 hours, each, and we value their labor at $10/hr. That amounts to $40,000,000. The Obama campaign is expected to spend about a billion dollars, so dollar wise, on a percentage basis (4%), this is still not a big loss.

However, paying people to knock on doors and make phone calls for Obama can’t possible be as effective as having real enthusiasts perform the same tasks. Let’s assume that the Obama campaign budgeted 70% of it’s expected pot for TV ads, and 20% for what I’ll call ‘person-to-person’ outreach. I’ll make another assumption here (frankly, one that I’m not at all certain of). And that is that for each dollar of free volunteer labor, a campaign needs to spend 1$ on supporting that volunteer labor.

Thus, on a straight dollar basis, a withdrawal by PCCC volunteers is going to amount to about 4%/((2*20%)+4%), or about 9% of the cost basis for such outreach. However, it’s tough to fake enthusiasm and earnestness. Consequently, I will rate an hour of a PCCC volunteer equal with 3 hours of a paid-for “volunteer”, who has to take their place. Consequently, the real economic hit to the Obama campaign is more like the equivalent of 3×9% = 27% of their total budget, which exceeds my guesstimate for the entire “person-to-person” budget. And that, I believe, is enough to make Obama lose a state or two. In a sour economy, when incumbency becomes a predictor of loss, carrying out the PCCC’s threat could well cost Obama his re-election. I consider this a real threat.

EVen so, especially given all the guesswork in the above, IMO if the “Bold Progressives” want to live up to their names, they need to do more. And, indeed, there is much more they can do – both for dealing with the ‘Obama problem’, but more significantly for the long term (and dearer to my heart) problem, that of addressing the systemic corruption issues in American democracy.

In the next installment of this series, I will be mentioning some of the relevant implications of the accomplished political game theorist Bueno de Mesquita. (Not just the one you’re probably thinking about, viz., the stupidity of lesser evilist voting.)

In the meantime, I hope that PCCC members keep in mind the “snicker test” when deciding – as I hope they do – whether a particular action in the future can threaten power, or not. If you were Obama, or you were a Congress critter, and PCCC “told you” what to do, with no promised consequences not to your liking, would you snicker, or not? If the answer is “Yes, I’d snicker”, then that is not an action you want to be associated with, much less one that does justice to the adjective “bold”.

Remember, “Fortune favors the bold”.

* The petition allows you to specify whether or not, in 2008 you were an Obama Volunteer, Donor, and/or Paid Staffer. However, PCCC has not released the aggregate data for these checkboxes.

ETA: Today, Huffpo reported the following, from PCCC:

Sroka said the 200,000 people represent more than $17 million in donations to Obama’s campaign in 2008 and about 2.6 million volunteer hours.

Wow, I was really close in my guesstimate of PCCC member campaign contributions! I guesstimated $15 million, vs. $17 million.

I was more off on my guesstimate of PCCC volunteer hours. I had guesstimated 200,000 x 20, or 4 million hours. PCCC reports 2.6 million.