The Unethical—But Useful!— White House “Oopsie!” Doctrine

rotting fish head

In a—oh, hell, I’m out of adjectives to describe “This is so ridiculous it makes me want to throw myself into a woodchipper”—move that will transform U.S. culture, the White House has pioneered a new and refreshingly simple way for wrongdoers and law-breakers to take responsibility for their misconduct.

Just say, “I forgot to obey the law. Sorry!” Let’s call it the “Oopsie!” Doctrine.

Yes, this is how the White House bravely owned up to intentionally violating the statute, the National Defense Authorization Act, that requires the Executive Branch to alert Congress of the pending release of prisoners from Guantanamo at least 30 days in advance. Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken called Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to officially say that the White House was sorry it failed to alert her, and therefore Congress, in advance of a decision to release five Taliban prisoners from the prison in Guantanamo in exchange for American deserter, and quite possible traitor, Bowe Bergdahl. The Obama Administration is calling this “an oversight.”

That’s right. The White House breaking the law is an oversight. Never mind that the President was well aware of this particular law, having stated that he regarded it as unconstitutional when he signed it. It was an oversight! None of the foreign policy experts and advisors, neither the Secretary of State or Defense or all their little deputies, nor the hoards of lawyers that Defense, State and the White House employ, remembered that there was a little matter of a relatively recent law that had to be followed in cases like this one. They all missed it, had a brain fart, whiffed, were day-dreaming, took their eye off the ball, goofed, tripped up, pulled a boner. It can happen to anyone!

Boy, John Dean must be doing a face-plant right now! The former White House Counsel under Nixon was supposed to be brilliant, yet he never thought of this obvious, clean, risk-free solution to Watergate—just explain that the White House forgot that burglaries and cover-ups were illegal! Problem solved! “Mr. Chairman, President Nixon has authorized me to say that he’s really, really, sorry for all that obstruction of justice stuff. It was an oversight.”  Scandal over! Presidency saved!

And Bill Clinton! How could wily old Bill have missed this one? Just explain that, like George Costanza’s mistake when he had sex with the cleaning woman on his office desk, President Clinton never focused on whether it was wrong to use a White House intern as a sex toy, and that lying about it under oath was illegal. It was all an oversight! Take that, Ken Starr!

To be fair, the spin being put on the suddenly rushed trade to free Bergdahl—after five years—is that his health condition was dire, and that justified ignoring the law, not that they did ignore the law, now, since they just forgot to follow it, or that it existed, or something. Anyway, can’t you just violate laws when you think it’s important?

Of course, the President cannot place himself above the laws that other Americans must follow, so the “Oopsie!” Doctrine, which may well stand as Obama’s lasting  contribution to the culture—but what a transformative one!—will naturally be available to everyone.

  • Park in a “No Parking Zone”? Oopsie! It was an oversight.
  • Fail to pay your taxes? Oopsie! Oversight! All is forgiven!
  • Shoot your husband for cheating on you? Wait, you can’t do that? Oopsie! Sorry! Oversight!

It works for workplace incompetence too, as indeed this is how it is being used by the White House as well. Wait—did we negotiate with terrorists, in contravention of national policy? Oopsie!  Did we send Susan Rice out yet again to lie about what was going on? Oopsie! Did we release a bunch of terrorists who we know might kill people, adding to the deaths of four American soldiers trying to rescue Bergdahl, and the deaths he may well have caused by assisting the enemy? Oopsie!

This principle has to be universal; after all, the President of the United States must be the epitome of lawfulness, trustworthiness and good citizenship. If “Oopsie!” is appropriate for him to use to duck accountability, and obviously it is, since “Oopsie!”  pretty much defines his entire inept, botched, incompetent, hypocritical, dishonest, cynical, divisive, feckless, disastrous, bungled presidency, then it is the standard for all citizens to live by.

The fish, after all, rots from the head down.


Facts: The Hill

13 thoughts on “The Unethical—But Useful!— White House “Oopsie!” Doctrine

  1. Jack, I think you are just being plain stupid in not recognizing that the Oopsie “doctrine” is really just a corollary of the “what difference does it make at this point” principle.

  2. What’s worse, over a year ago when Carney was asked out any possible exchanges, he mentioned that the WH would of course comply with the Act…

    Which means they did, in fact, know about the fucking thing.

  3. The President of the United States of America forgets what the laws are…that’s really confidence-inspiring, isn’t it? I’ll sure sleep better tonight, knowing it was an honest mistake.

    (eye roll…)

  4. I think you hit the nail right on the head in a reply to an earlier post, Jack. Obama has nothing to worry about, at least for the rest of this year, since there is no method by which he can be held accountable even if he violates the law. The House can do nothing without the Senate and I am convinced that he enjoys fairly strong influence over the Federal judiciary to the point where they will be reluctant to get involved in anything that could be seen as a political dispute. He frankly doesn’t even have to give the shrug that he has given this time out, but he has done it as a sop to his political advisors.

    The policy decisions of the last few weeks have appeared particularly rudderless and not to follow any particular theme except one, which leads me to believe he wants to hurry up and keep all his campaign promises: tighten up on the coal industry, empty Guantanamo, get us out of all foreign engagements, and so on, before the Senate flips and his power really is at its lowest ebb. Clearly no thought of the consequences to the nation or the future went into this, which is what really worries me. The last three presidents all played politics, but none of them were as transparent about putting partisan politics above all else. It’s as though 47% of the nation, the part outside the coasts and a few major cities in flyover country, has ceased to exist except to be pointed to as the way NOT to do things, and the welfare of that part of the nation that isn’t made up primarily of Obama devotees isn’t worth paying attention to. Maybe Obama is concerned about his legacy, more likely he wants to clear the field for Hilary in 2016.

    Unfortunately, this simply sets a bigger and bigger precedent for tyranny, as the presidents who follow him will all take note of this disregard for national interest, powers that extend so far but no farther, and general statesmanship. The presidency is on its way to becoming not a high office of government, whether a trustee of power as Teddy Roosevelt characterized it or a chief magistrate as Taft saw it, but a means for the forceful and smooth-talking to impose their will upon the gullible. I’d like to have faith that this isn’t a step down the road from small-d democracy to tyranny a la Hugo Chavez, but I’m beginning to wonder.

    • Yes yes, and he’s doing damn well considering the mess Bush left us in, and those white men in Congress stymie him at every turn because they just can’t stand to see a black man succeed and they need to get on board and move this coutry forward, etc. I hear this crap every day from the undereducated, over-mouthed black secretaries in my office who all have pictures of Obama next to MLK. The black lawyers, at least, are open to discussion, and some of them have even admitted that the president appears to have lost his way.

  5. In addition to everything else, the response is cowardly, weaselly. A case can be made that the law is unconstitutional, and if Obama wanted to assert and protect what he views as a Constitutional power (to make POW exchanges), then the open and honorable and responsible course is to make the (terrible) trade and own it. He can’t even do that. By apologizing, he simultaneously ratifies what he previously argued was an unconstitutional law, AND openly admits violating it! The worst of all approaches.

    I have studied the US Presidency since the fifth grade. I would not have believed that anyone could be elected to the office that could be this atrocious, and I am not even considering policies or ideology. I am almost certain that there are teenagers who could do a better job, more honestly, more ethically, more courageously, and with a better instinct for leadership.Isn’t that a terrible thing to think, to feel, to know? I’m trying to imagine: Which of our past Presidents would have been less able in today’s White House, by virtue of temperment, ability, experience, character? Pierce, Buchanan, A.Johnson. Anyone else? Harding was a dummy, but he at least wasn’t ideological and rigid. Grant had guts, and more leadership instincts in his fingernail clippings than Obama has in his whole being. Ford had nothing presidential about him, but he was a straight-shooter. I thought Jimmy Carter was as bad as it could get—he’d be better. Unbelievable. Just unbelievable.

    • It’s the pro wrestling approach, where the designated bad guy isn’t supposed to get away with anything without a warning from the referee and booing from the fans, but the fan favorite can get away with eye-gouging, hair-pulling, kicking, you name it, for the simple reason he is the fan favorite. Obama sees himself as the ultimate fan favorite. BTW, something I forgot to add last night. Is there a place on the various lists for an expression that I’m sure is MUCH older than NCIS, but has become one of “Gibbs’ Rules?” As you are probably aware, Gibbs, the lead character on that crime drama, has established a list of rules fo how he expects his agents to behave, you can even get a t-shirt with them all spelled out. Some are at least nominally ethical like “never screw over your partner,” but one is “It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.” This exchange and the subsequent apology to the lawmakers is redolent of this particular “Gibbs rule,” which encourages doing something you know is problematic, presenting those in authority with a fait accompli, and then expecting them to say it’s all right simply because it IS a fait accompli.

  6. But with Gibbs, the action itself must be the right thing to do, even if it doesn’t quite follow bureaucratic procedure….

    • Law and regulation has painfully become a matter of asking “can I do this and not be sued?” as opposed to what it should be which should incline people to think “is this the right thing to do? it is? OK!”

  7. This can’t go on for much longer. Either Obama establishes an outright authoritarian regime and America submits… or he’s removed by force. I don’t see any viable third option at our present point in time.

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