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.
- Bill Clinton (2012)speaking at an Obama rally in Pennsylvania:
“Who wants a president who will knowingly, repeatedly tell you something he knows is not true?”
- Nancy Pelosi (2017) in a letter to Paul Ryan about the proposed GOP repeal of the Affordable Care Act:
“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.