When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie used the phrase "clearly, mistakes were made" to make his non-apology apology for the closing down of access lanes on the busy George Washington Bridge by top aides as part of a political vendetta, he joined the ranks of some of the United States' most elite politicians.
The famous phrase is used so often by scandal-plagued presidents and administrations that William Safire, who has written and added to his book Safire's Political Dictionary for more than four decades, devoted an entire section to it.
How Safire describes the phrase:
mistakes were made: A passive-evasive way of acknowledging error while distancing the speaker from responsibility for it.
Here's a brief history of the company Christie now keeps.
"Mistakes have been made, as all can see and I admit it." —Ulysses S. Grant, addressing the scandals that plagued his two terms as president
"We did not achieve what we wished, and serious mistakes were made in trying to do so." —Ronald Reagan, addressing the Iran-Contra affair in his sixth State of the Union address
"Clearly, mistakes were made." —then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, also on the Iran-Contra affair
“Mistakes were made here by people who either did it deliberately or inadvertently.” —Bill Clinton, apologizing for having a meeting with bankers in the presence of a Democratic fundraiser
"Obviously, some mistakes were made. Certainly I regret that my own mistakes contributed to this controversy." —John Sununu, chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush, discussing a travel controversy
"In retrospect, grave mistakes were made." —former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, discussing U.S. policy in Vietnam
"Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me." —President George W. Bush, on the Iraq War
"Mistakes were made." —President George W. Bush, on the firing of U.S. attorneys
"Mistakes were made going back to 1964 or 1965; it has stopped now." —President Gerald Ford, on the CIA's involvement in domestic surveillance
"We would all have to say that mistakes were made in terms of comments." — Ron Ziegler, Nixon press secretary on Watergate
Andrew Kaczynski is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Andrew Kaczynski at email@example.com.
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