Potomac two-step

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"Potomac" refers to the culture of Washington, DC, located along the Potomac River. The Two-Step is a dance. Dance is a popular metaphor for the avoidance of responsibility.


Tom Clancy brought the term to a large audience in 1994 with the release of the film Clear and Present Danger (film). The phrase described creative evasion of public responsibility by some elected and some appointed officers of the government of the United States, especially in this case, the CIA. In the film, the President tacitly OK'd signals intelligence and covert military action in Colombia. The motivation for the actions related to approximately $650,000,000 skimmed by a friend of the president from Colombian drug cartels.

Below is the quote from the film.

The President: "You'll take the blame. Cutter and Ritter will take some too, but it won't amount to much, they'll get a slap on the wrist. Then $20,000 an hour on the lecture circuit. The rest of the blame will fall on Greer. Oh yeah, you'll take him down with you. You'll destroy his reputation. But that´s as far as it will go. The old Potomac two-step, Jack."
Jack Ryan: "I'm sorry, Mr. President, I don't dance."


The term was picked up by journalists and used, e.g., in the following contexts

  • numerous promises to cut gasoline taxes while they quietly gradually increase them[1]
  • the government creates what is advertised as strong anti illegal immigration legislation, but when the public is pacified, even available enforcement measures are ignored[2]