Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ Tweet: Is This The Most Perfect Example Of Ethics Estoppel Ever?

To recap from past posts and comment threads. ethics estoppel attaches when a public figure makes an ethics-related assertion or levels criticism of conduct that he or she is uniquely unable to make without inducing near fatal laughter in all who read or hear it, since the position is so obviously and audaciously at odds with the individual’s own past behavior or statements. The current statements may be wise, true or have validity, but their speakers’ past so undermines their credibility on the topic under discussion that they actually weaken the otherwise legitimate position by the identity of its advocate. Thus such advocates should shut up.

It is not the same as hypocrisy. An individual can change his or her beliefs: a former drug user is not being hypocritical when he says one should not use drugs. Even a current drug user may not be hypocritical to make the same statement. However sincere they may be, however, those who were prominent violators of the principles they are currently espousing are terrible advocates.

The late Senator Ted Kennedy apparently understood ethics estoppel long before Ethics Alarms defined it. As a Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Anita Hill ambushed Clarence Thomas, Kennedy was unusually silent, especially for a Senator who had been the designated attack dog against other Republican Supreme Court nominees, notably Robert Bork. However, the idea of Ted “Chappaquiddick” Kennedy—or any Kennedy, really—criticizing someone else for alleged sexual misconduct was too ridiculous. Ted knew he was ethically estopped from weighing in.

White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders got in a twitter war with Congressman Ted Lieu (D-Cal)—the reason is irrelevant—and Sanders tweeted in part,

“You should spend less time tweeting, more time doing your job.”


If there is anyone in the universe who is less well-position to say that, it is the White House spokesperson. Or does Sanders get a slight, teensy-weensy pass because her boss saying it would be worse?

I think so. Thus she just falls short of my top three examples of ethics estoppel in the breach, all tied, because you can only equal them, you can’t surpass them.

They are:

 “Who wants a president who will knowingly, repeatedly tell you something he knows is not true?”

“The American people and Members have a right to know the full impact of this legislation before any vote in Committee or by the whole House.”

  • Hillary Clinton (2016), who tweeted, incredibly:

You just can’t top those.

Sorry, Sarah; close, but no cigar.



30 thoughts on “Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ Tweet: Is This The Most Perfect Example Of Ethics Estoppel Ever?

  1. “Or does Sanders get a slight, teensy-weensy pass because her boss saying it would be worse?”

    Depends on just how much you can divorce a person’s off the job interactions with her on the job interactions. As White House Spokesman, she’s essentially the “mouth of the President”, to a degree, and such a comment IS ethically estopped for her.

    This, seeming to be an off the job tussle, would depend very much on whether or not Sanders is ever not the White House Spokesman. And such a high profile role in the Nation would lend itself to her, being, to a degree, ALWAYS on the job, and therefore ethically estopped from such a comment.

    In pure hypothetical realms:

    All that being said, what if the Congressman she was in an argument with could quantitatively be demonstrated to tweet even more than Trump, and spend even less of his time actually doing his job than Trump? Would Sanders’ consideration that Trump tweets an “appropriate amount” un-estop her from commenting about someone she considers tweeting more than is appropriate?

    What if the two people tweeted exactly the same amount, but the one was horrendous at doing their actual job, while the other, despite the volume of tweets did what the job required? Would such a comment specifically targeting volume of tweets in relation to job execution be appropriate?

  2. I hate public officials hashing out their differences on a public domain. I miss the good old days were they fought behind closed doors and we only read about it in tabloids or in tell-alls long afterwards.

    • Valid point. I think she’s estopped from her comment purely on the merits that any political squabbling by two officials on Twitter estops either from criticizing the other’s use of twitter.

  3. Do you think that before Hillary wrote that tweet, or approved that tweet, there was, however fleeting, a recognition of the irony? Pelosi sis too dumb and bill is too pathological, but I would think there would be a split second where Hillary might think, in her heart of hearts, I’m probably not the right messenger.

    • ”Do you think that before Hillary wrote that tweet, or approved that tweet, there was, however fleeting, a recognition of the irony?”

      Maybe someone swiped her phone, ala Anderson Cooper, ”misspoke,” or was ”inartful?”

      The cynic in me says no; the realist? “How the f**k could it not???”

      Her monumentally arrogant, singleness of purpose Id (channeling a laughably unearned Sally Field “You like me. Right now! You like me!” moment), gathering steam, barreling downhill with a strong tailwind, and ignoring any Super Ego intervention, likely cut appropriate cognition off at the pass.

      You ever start to shut your car door and, though seeing your keys sitting on the console, follow through? That kind of disconnect.

      Something like that, or she thinks we’re all too goddamn stupid to notice; I lean heavily toward the latter.

  4. Twitter is “evil”. (I’ll never participate in this platform)

    For some people, Facebook is rapidly becoming a close second.

    What’s sad about social media is that the true losers are the people that seem to react without really thinking and flush everything that makes them who they are, it’s an intentional destruction of the individuals own personal character and they seem to be doing it to keep up with the Jones’s. Once civil people have turned themselves into tit-for-tat demons of revenge.

    • That’s fine for you or I but what about kids these days with their snap-tweets and their swipe rights and their pokemon-go (though a congressional version could be amusing) and the noise they call music?

      • valkygrrl wrote, “That’s fine for you or I but what about kids…”

        Come on valkygrrl, I wasn’t talking about you or I or kids, I was very specifically talking about “everyone in government leadership positions”. Aren’t we supposed to holding our government officials, and for that matter you and I, to a higher standard than kids?

          • valkygrrl wrote, “Yes but how are the people in government supposed to communicate with the young?”

            If these young you are talking about are younger than 18 then it’s kinda irrelevant; if they are over 18, it’s the citizens/voters responsibility to know what’s going on not the responsibility of the individual government official to communicate directly with the individual citizen; there are other effective means of mass communication that are far better than random tweets that are less than 300 characters.

            Tell the “young” to get their heads outta their ass and do their friggin’ part in society like real adults and stop looking for the equivalent of participation trophies (likes and such) from social media.


                • Thank you for the interesting article, Paul. As an engineer, I knew of the addictive aspects of the tech and suspected that companies were exploiting this for profits. However, I did not know that they are using psyops techniques to manipulate the vulnerable.

                  I agree even more with Z after the article. Get the kids away from the drug dealers: after all, how long until these companies start attempting to influence voting habits through these apps?

                  My kids will be reading this.

                  • My takeaways?

                    (bolds mine throughout)
                    ” ‘The technologies we use have turned into compulsions, if not full-fledged addictions,’ (Nir) Eyal (author of ”Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products”) writes. ‘It’s the impulse to check a message notification. It’s the pull to visit YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter for just a few minutes, only to find yourself still tapping and scrolling an hour later.’ None of this is an accident, he writes. It is all ‘just as their designers intended.’ ”

                    “(Tristan) Harris, who has been branded ‘the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience,’ insists that billions of people have little choice over whether they use these now-ubiquitous technologies, and are largely unaware of the invisible ways in which a small number of people in Silicon Valley are shaping their lives.

                    “Harris lift(ed) the curtain on the vast powers accumulated by tech companies and the ways they are using that influence. ‘I don’t know a more urgent problem than this. It’s changing our democracy, and it’s changing our ability to have the conversations and relationships that we want with each other.

                    His 2013 memo, (A Call to Minimize Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention) ”struck a chord, spreading to some 5,000 Google employees, including senior executives who rewarded Harris with an impressive-sounding new job: He was to be Google’s in-house design ethicist and product philosopher.

                    “…Harris sees that he was promoted into a marginal role. Still, he adds, ‘I got to sit in a corner and think and read and understand.’ ”

                    Promote ’em to stifle their influence & shut ’em up; a story as old as time itself.

                    A lot of my pals-n-acquaintances regularly wonder aloud why I don’t participate in any social media, I’ll send them this so’s they don’t have to wonder no more.

                    And isn’t Silicon Valley suppose to be, you know, like, all Kumbayah Lefty & somesuch to whom the ethical approach should be second nature?

              • Adding to that: 300 characters or less is not ‘communicating.’ It can be many things – virtue signalling, pontificating, grandstanding, emoting – but not communicating in a meaningful way. Politics need more citizen participation that the low information voter we commonly have.

  5. I mean… I understand why it doesn’t matter why Lieu and Sanders were in a tiff for the subject matter of glaring, brazen hipocrisy, but can we take a minute to examine the exchange for a minute? Because especially in light of my last exchange with Charles, I think it’s amazingly pertinent.

    Sanders appeared on Fox and Friends, and said this:

    “Democrats shouldn’t need to be begged to be a part of cutting taxes for the American people. They should’ve been begging and banging down the door of the building behind me to be part of this process and to be part of helping more Americans be more successful.”

    The Hill interpreted that into: “Huckabee Sanders: GOP ‘begged’ Dems to work on tax reform.”

    Lieu, taking The Hill as trustworthy for some unknown reason, @’ed Sanders: “Dear @PressSec: You don’t serve in Congress. I do. And I can say with absolute certainty that you are lying.” At which point Lieu’s tweet was quickly retweeted about 20,000 times.

    Which brought us to both a righteous slap down, and a jaw dropping “The hell she say?”:

    “Dear @tedlieu – I don’t serve in Congress, but I can read. If you had read the story, not an incorrect tweet, you would see that what I said was Dems should be begging to help Americans keep more of their money. You should spend less time tweeting, more time doing your job.”

    Less is more, apparently, because if she’d stopped short of that last sentence, I wouldn’t be able to agree more with her. Hell… all of that together is undoubtedly true, but it’s insane that she thought she could deliver it. Lieu agreed, apparently, because he recognized that Sanders had just snatched defeat from the jaws of victory:

    “Dear @PressSec: If the Hill tweet was incorrect, then my tweet based on it would also be incorrect. Unlike the Trump Administration, I am confident enough to admit errors. Also, I dare you to give the same tweeting advice you gave me to your boss.”

    A couple of hot takes off this:

    – First off, Ted Lieu is an idiot. I mean, he’s in the right line of work for idiots, but I can’t think of many politicians who have said more stupid things in bulk this last year or so than Ted Lieu, and I wonder if the people who beat him out only do so because they get more opportunity. Even Pocahontas Warren has been singing all the colors of the wind in relative obscurity lately.

    – One of the people who beat him, however, has to be Huckabee Sanders. I don’t know if she’s an otherwise intelligent person given the impossible task of somehow spinning Trump into something comprehensible, or if she is, in fact, at least a little bit stupid, because otherwise she wouldn’t have taken the job. Again, she’s in the right line of work though, if history is a guide, I haven’t seen this kind of unawareness since Spicer, and I hadn’t seen his kind of unawareness since Earnest.

    – Can we all sit back for a second, and revel in how little time it took for my point about fake news to be publicly… painfully…. reinforced? Less than 24 hours after I told Charles:

    “I’m saying that I don’t trust the news media anymore, and I mean that. They have violated my trust by routinely by misrepresenting facts, if not making things up from whole cloth, often along an ideological bent. Where I understand, and concede, that they will more often than not be more accurate than people on Facebook, I have no method of knowing which stories are true, and which aren’t, so I have to put everything through a process of verification that starts with skepticism, and because I have to put everything through that skeptical verification process, the sources become indistinguishable in their validity.”

    We have a traditional media outlet highlighting in the most public way possible exactly why I’m right.

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