News & Politics

The Most Spectacularly Dumb Petitions From the White House’s Online Petition Tool

July 13th, 2013 - Unknown teenage girls demonstrate for their idol, Justin Bieber in July 2013 in Stuttgart on Schlossplatz.

We the People is an Obama administration program that invites regular folks to petition the government. If you can nab 100,000 signatures in 30 days (up from 25,000 in a failed attempt to curb the American appetite for joke petitions), White House policy experts will respond, like they did when fans of the smash Netflix documentary Making a Murderer sought a pardon for the show’s star. (In that case, the WH issued an an explainer on the jurisdictional limits of presidential clemency.)

The idea is fine, but the results have been exceptionally mixed. Let us not forget we live in a time when an entire nation voted to name a state-of-the-art polar research vessel Boaty McBoatface. The We the People site generates successful petitions concerning the issues of the day: gun control, Black Lives Matter, voting rights, discrimination. Because democracy + internet = WHATEVER, it also results in White House staffers answering pleas like “Ask President Obama to Appear on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher.”

Some petitions burn red-hot, often with an assist  from social media (“Deport Justin Bieber” scored 273,968 sigs; the WH declined to comment regardless) while others, sadly, die on the vine. These are some of our recent faves from both sides of the line.

Some of the most ridiculous petitions to earn POTUS-adjacent attention:

  • Deport Everyone That Signed A Petition To Withdraw Their State From The United States Of America.” Jon Carson, the former director of the WH Office of Public Engagement, responded, letting his answer take the form a of a 4th grader’s essay on the importance of democracy. “In a nation of 300 million people — each with their own set of deeply-held beliefs — democracy can be noisy and controversial. And that’s a good thing.”  He quotes the Constitution, the Supreme Court, and Lincoln because a perfect essay has three direct sources.
  • Deport British Citizen Piers Morgan for Attacking 2nd Amendment.” Americans love asking the prez to deport people (though asking for pardons is, paradoxically, also quite popular). In this case, the target was the former CNN television host Piers Morgan. The petition garnered four times the number of signatures needed, though it’s unclear that all signatories cared about Morgan’s Second Amendment claims. It is possible to object to Piers Morgan for just being Piers Morgan. Anyway, Jay Carney–former WH press secretary–was charged with writing Morgan’s defense. “The Constitution not only guarantees an individual right to bear arms, but also enshrines the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press.” Morgan may have seen this or he may have been too busy trolling people on Twitter.
  • Release the recipe for the Honey Ale home brewed at the White House.” Sam Kass, the former head of Let’s Move!, gave the people what they craved. Want to drink Obama’s beer? Cheers! Good luck sourcing honey tapped on the South Lawn’s own bee-hive, though. 

Some of the most ambitious  failures:

Contributing Editor

Amanda has contributed to Washingtonian since 2016. She has written about the right-wing media personality Britt McHenry, chronicled her night with Stormy Daniels, and come clean about owning too much stuff. She lives on H Street. She can be reached at [email protected].