Political Animal


November 25, 2011 2:35 PM Brownback’s thin skin

By Steve Benen

When a governor and his staff has been reduced to complaining about random tweets from teenagers, it’s time for them to reevaluate their priorities. (thanks to several alert readers for the heads-up)

A Kansas teenager is in trouble after mocking Gov. Sam Brownback during a mock legislative assembly for high school students.

Emma Sullivan, a senior at Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village, was in Topeka on Monday as part of Kansas Youth in Government, a program for students interested in politics and government.

During the session, in which Brownback addressed the group, Sullivan posted on her personal Twitter page: “Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot”

Now, a teenaged student is, of course, allowed to tell a governor he “sucks.” She’s also allowed to tell others that she told the governor he “sucks.”

But Brownback has his staff monitoring social media, and was so offended by the random tweet that the governor’s office contacted event organizers about it. The teenager was then told by her principal that she would have to write letters of apology to Brownback, the school’s Youth in Government sponsor, the district’s social studies coordinator and others.

Keep in mind, we’re talking about a high-school student with just 60 followers on Twitter. It’s a personal account, unaffiliated with the school or school programs, and didn’t even use the student’s full name. The tweet was written among other messages about “Twilight” and Justin Bieber’s holiday album.

Why on earth would a governor’s office care?

If the student had said something threatening, sure, take it seriously. If she’d raised the prospect of violence, it makes sense to take it seriously.

But this makes it sound as if Brownback and his team have such thin skins, that they take random, largely-unseen, mildly-snarky tweets from teenagers as worth their time. That’s just sad.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • ManOutOfTime on November 25, 2011 2:41 PM:

    He does suck. Big time.

  • rrk1 on November 25, 2011 2:48 PM:

    Fascism requires total obedience from everyone at all times.

  • Steve P on November 25, 2011 2:48 PM:

    And now his suckage is a national story. Assholes tend to get asshole staffs, but these guys are cosmic dumb to boot.

  • West of the Cascades on November 25, 2011 2:51 PM:

    I also think it's outrageous that the school principal ordered her to write a letter of apology (another story I saw on this situation included that he "gave her a list of talking points). It would have been really nice to see the principal do one o

    f two things - either stick up for the student's right to free speech (and the Constitution that people of Sam Brownback's ilk claim to hold so dear), or order the student to write a letter to the Governor, but without specifying its content -- maybe encourage her to explain in more detail why Governor Brownback sucks, or what specific things he should do to stop sucking, or, if she no longer feels good about using that word, explain why she thought he sucked in the first place. Maybe even have had the whole school write to Governor Brownback (although I imagine most of those letters would be "I wuv you Governor" letters).

    Just seems like a great teaching opportunity turned into a situation where government-coerced speech prevailed. If I were this student's parents, I'd be in touch with the ACLU to see if the principal is violating her rights by forcing her to write a letter of apology (I'm no First Amendment scholar but I think free speech protections are weaker for high school students).

  • tamiasmin on November 25, 2011 2:52 PM:

    Well, you know, something called "Kansas Youth in Government," a program for students interested in politics and government, shouldn't have participants who hold and express strong opinions about politics and government.

    Ms. Sullivan is 18, and therefore eligible to vote. She's not a child who can be told to stand in the corner. Maybe the principal should write her a letter of apology.

    As for Brownback ... ah, what's the point?

  • Marko on November 25, 2011 2:53 PM:

    But Brownback has his staff monitoring social media, ...

    Oh? And how much do they get paid to camp out on Facebook and Twitter all day? Sounds like "too much government" to me.

  • newinfluence28 on November 25, 2011 2:53 PM:

    For a supposed "lover of the Constitution," Brownback sure seems to have a problem with freedom of speech.

    This story, like the story of the assaults on First Amendment rights on the UC campuses and in countless cities, should be frightening to us.

    Shame on you, Gov. Brownback. (Feel free, Mr. Governor, to contact me for an apology. I'm sure you're monitoring all mentions of your name.)

  • Werewolf on November 25, 2011 3:08 PM:

    Emma's apology should read:
    "I'm sorry if the Governor was offended by my Tweet"-IOW, the kind of passive-aggressive non-apology that is the stock-in-trade of of bigoted wingnuts.

  • Mimikatz on November 25, 2011 3:10 PM:

    Steve P. FTW. Brownback's aides ensured he is held up to national ridicule. Way to go, guys!

  • Paul Gottlieb on November 25, 2011 3:15 PM:

    There are times when you just have to be brutally honest: Brownback is an asshole. There's just no other explanation. And the Principal is a bit of an asshole too, although he is probably scared for his job, which is a bit of an excuse.

  • Josef K on November 25, 2011 3:30 PM:

    The teenager was then told by her principal that she would have to write letters of apology to Brownback, the schoolís Youth in Government sponsor, the districtís social studies coordinator and others.

    I'd heard about this episode yesterday, but this bit is news. I wish someone could enlighten me as to what authority the principal has to compel this action; I suspect there isn't any (authority, that is) and he's just bullying one of his students so's to look good.

    We're such a sad species somedays.

  • Blue Girl on November 25, 2011 3:31 PM:

    I think she should write a letter of apology, alright.

    But she should write it in German.

  • Robert Waldmann on November 25, 2011 3:47 PM:

    Yes but the tweet was uncivil. How would you feel if #heblowsalot became one of the top hashtags on twitter.

    Me too so get tweeting

  • Objective Dem on November 25, 2011 3:52 PM:

    I definitely agree that the Governor's office is overreacting and should not have complained.

    However, I'm not that upset at the principal for telling her to write an apology. She is a student, meaning she is suppose to be learning life skills and useful knowledge. Telling someone or tweeting that they "suck" is juvenile and rude (even though accurate). I have been to many a public meeting where someone says something rude to a politician and it just makes them look stupid.

    I think it would be appropriate for the principal to ask the student to apologize for the language but to also write in the letter the specific reasons they feel that way. This does not suppress the students freedom of speech and helps improve it to be more effective.

  • jsjiowa on November 25, 2011 4:01 PM:

    Check out Brownback's Facebook page -- people are really letting him have it. It's got to drive his staff nuts to see this thing snowball like this. If Brownback was smart, he try to do some damage control, like firing the staffers who made this stupid move, and apologizing to the student. I doubt he'll do any of that however.

    She had the right to political expression through her private Twitter account. She hardly did it as an active part of the school activity. I do hope the ACLU steps in.

  • DAY on November 25, 2011 4:10 PM:

    A popular Zen expression during the 60's was "the sound of one hand clapping."

    Today it is "the sound of a whole planet laughing."

  • N.Wells on November 25, 2011 4:16 PM:

    Just in case Emma Sullivan needs some suggestions for her letter of apology:

    Dear Governor Brownback,

    I'm really sorry you suck. I'm additionally sorry that Kansas keeps electing such a thin-skinned politician, not to mention one who is such an embarrassment. I am additionally very sorry that Shawnee Mission East High School has a principal who lacks both a spine and a sense of proportion.

    I am sorry that you belonged to such a dubious and embarrassing group as The Fellowship when you were a Senator. I'm sorry that you have the poor judgment to associate with the Family Research Council, and I'm sorry that you are so close-minded on civil rights for homosexuals. I'm really sorry that you did such a gosh-awful job on Appropriations and Commerce when you were a senator. I'm sorry that you were so short-sighted as to abolish the Kansas Art Commission, and I'm also sorry that you are so stuck in your stupid right-wing mindset that you cannot understand the need for legal abortion. I'm really sorry about your initial shameful and ridiculous posturing regarding the appointment of Janet Neff. I am additionally sorry that you lack the understanding of why it was really stupid of you, indeed downright unamerican of you, to lend the status of your office to Rick Perry's prayer rally. I'm sorry that you haven't bothered to read and understand the old Southern Baptist writings on the reasons for separating church and state. I'm not just sorry but also highly embarrassed that you are evidently too uninformed to accept the scientific consensus on evolution. I'm also sorry that you don't understand the shortcomings of a flat tax rate. I'm sorry that you don't accept a constitutional right to privacy, and your inability to understand the problems with a constitutional amendment against flag desecration is also sorrow-inducing. However, to end on a positive note, thank you for your work on neglected diseases.

    Yours sincerely, etc., etc.

  • schtick on November 25, 2011 4:21 PM:

    Big Brother is not only watching, but he's monitoring your twitter accounts. Everything we say and do is being taped in one form or another.

  • Jim H on November 25, 2011 4:24 PM:

    Dear Gov, Brownback:

    I am truly sorry that you suck.

    (s.) Emma

  • c6Logic on November 25, 2011 5:16 PM:

    Dear Gov Brownback,

    I am sorry that the voters of Kanas are so stupid that a majority of them voted for you. You not only suck big time, but you waste the taxpayers money on trivial and ridiculous things like tracking public communications about you. That is exhibit A that you are a pathetic loser who sucks worse than any governor in the history of this country. The only thing in Kansa that is sorrier than you is the sorry ass Principal that kisses your ass like you are Dear Leader and has demonstrated that he is not qualified to hold his current position. My only hope is that you both end up in the unemployment lines. Kansas deserves better.

  • Bob M on November 25, 2011 5:45 PM:

    Sorry, but I think he's not thin-skinned, but doing the right thing. She's a kid and she should be taught how to behave. I've seen attitudes degrade for fifty years, mes amis, and someone has to take a stand. If you don't, the Repubs get the benefit. If you don't want kids screaming out the f-word in the local mall, then what are you going to do? It's not like Obama is raising his daughters to be like her. Not in the least. Follow his leadership.

  • joe quinton on November 25, 2011 6:15 PM:

    I is not the Govs thin skin that wories me but the fact that he has people monitoring private communications.
    The inmplications of this are frightening. Are we to be followed on our private thoughts to make sure we follow the official line. Very american. Also very Republican

  • joe quinton on November 25, 2011 6:16 PM:

    I is not the Govs thin skin that wories me but the fact that he has people monitoring private communications.
    The inmplications of this are frightening. Are we to be followed on our private thoughts to make sure we follow the official line. Very american. Also very Republican

  • Bigmonk on November 25, 2011 6:18 PM:

    Where are the student's parents? If a principal tried that on my kid there would be hell to pay.

  • newinfluence28 on November 25, 2011 6:53 PM:


    She posted on her PERSONAL twitter feed. It would be one thing if it was a sanctioned school platform that was used, but this is an invasion into the personal.

    Was it juvenile to say he sucked? Maybe. Then again, she is in High School.

    Was it juvenile for the Office of Governor to complain over name-calling? Without a doubt.

  • Todd on November 25, 2011 6:54 PM:

    For those of us that have known Brownback have know for 35 years that he is a back stabbing worthles SOB. He says one thing to your face and another behind your back. He has become so fanatical far right religious freak, not because he believes it, but because he thinks right now it makes good politics.

  • nemisten on November 25, 2011 7:01 PM:

    What a d*ck.

    Sounds like the GOP has another not-Mittens potential candidate!

  • Texas Aggie on November 25, 2011 7:10 PM:

    The article says that she has just 60 followers. When you go to her Tweet, you find that it says 100+.

    So in her letter of "apology" she should thank his thin skin for greatly expanding her list of followers.

  • Phalamir on November 25, 2011 7:59 PM:

    "Sorry, but I think he's not thin-skinned, but doing the right thing. She's a kid and she should be taught how to behave. I've seen attitudes degrade for fifty years, mes amis, and someone has to take a stand."

    Well then go back to your native Germany. Here in the United States, we have civil servants, not demi-gods. Every one of the bastards begged and wheedled to get their job from us, the citizenry. They are our bought and payed for whores, and we may speak to and about them as we please. "Brownback sucks" has to be the mildest and most lovey-dovey sentiment every expressed about an American elected official ever; 18th- and 19th century political discourse was pretty much a blood-sport. If you want her to learn traditional respect for elected officials, we're gonna have to get her to unleash her inner-Lenny Bruce, and teach her how to verbosely castigate him, his family, his proclivities for sex with farm machinery, and anything else that she can fling. The 1950s were an aberration of excessive repression in the United States - to glorify the height of American totalitarian mediocrity is to be un-American - politicians need to learn their place, and moaning we are not servile enough is the sign one is part of the Loyalists good patriots hung during the Revolution and/or Confederates good patriots shot in the Civil War. Which flavor of traitor are you? Suck it up nancy-boy and ponce on back to lick Brownback's taint like the tyranny-loving slug you are.

  • Donald G on November 25, 2011 8:14 PM:

    I'm sorry, but the young woman in question is eighteen years old and a legal adult, despite still being a high school student. She's old enough to legally vote, and she certainly has the right to criticize elected officials, whether said elected officials or her school likes it or not.

    When one is as perpetually wrong about things as often as Sam Brownback, one probably should work to correct his personal deficiencies rather than attempting to bully and silence the person who dares to point them out.

  • exlibra on November 25, 2011 8:25 PM:

    I don't have a Twitter account, myself, and am, in general, pretty ignorant of the Twitter lore, but... Isn't there a 140 characters limit on Twitter messages? If so, the young lady has managed to be extremely economical, clear, and accurate with her "Governor sucks" posting, given that she used less than 10th of her allotment to sum him up.

    Of course, this *is* Kansas; electing this sucker isn't the only thing that's wrong with it.

  • doloresdelrio on November 25, 2011 8:58 PM:

    Brownback sure is thin-skinned. Emma--Brownback sucks. That's all there is to it. His staff sucks. Now, email him and tell him you're sorry he sucks,but that's his fault. As for your principal, I will say this for you. You suck too.

  • jcricket on November 25, 2011 9:56 PM:

    I didn't realize that the Kansas state government fancied itself as latter day Nazi enclave-- or a sleeper cell of the Soviet Politburo.

    I guess that answers the old question: What's The Matter With Kansas.

  • Arachnae on November 25, 2011 11:45 PM:

    "It's a personal account, unaffiliated with the school or school programs, and didn't even use the student's full name."

    Why isn't anyone asking how the governor's office knew who was behind the tweet, and what school she went to?

  • CJ on November 26, 2011 12:30 AM:

    @Bob M

    You believe that the reason Brownback demanded an apology was her choice of vocabulary and not the intent?!?!?! Wow. I'm all for wanting a more decent public discourse, but I'm also for calling a fucktard a fucktard in Internet forums and using "sucks" in private twitter accounts. I'm more for having public servants not asking their constituents to apologize for criticizing them. I'm also really for blowing up #heblowsalot.

  • a on November 26, 2011 12:58 AM:

    Living in Kansas is so embarrassing. We are the butt of every joke and deserve it. My eye roll muscles get lots of exercise.

  • John Sawyer on November 26, 2011 2:03 AM:

    When people like Brownback call for small government, what they mean is "small-minded government".

  • slf on November 26, 2011 8:36 PM:

    More than sad, Steve. Unconstitutional.

  • Jim McNelly on November 27, 2011 3:12 PM:

    Nothing like then California Governor Ronald Reagan filming and arresting two hecklers at his Spring, 1970 talk at Cal State Fullerton.

  • nvrbl on November 27, 2011 6:22 PM:

    Brownback's website is down for maintenance.

  • Objective Dem on November 28, 2011 2:14 PM:

    In response to Newinfluence28,

    I agree with you that it is fine for her to say "he sucks" on her twitter account and no apology is in order for that.

    My comment was based on her saying "Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person." at a school-related event. Later stories indicates she just tweeted but didn't actually say anything. This update changes my opinion.

    I think a lot of people suck and would find it emotionally rewarding to call them all sorts of names. But it is rarely effective and makes life less pleasant for everyone. However, if you make reasonable arguments, it may be effective. Even if the Governor is a first class jerk who could care less, other students and people might be swayed by the right comment. For instance, after explaining my rationale, you and others might say you don't agree but understand my point of view. However, if I insulted you, people would think I was just a hypocritical jerk.

  • Frank on November 28, 2011 2:14 PM:

    If an elected official uses the power of office to quash a U.S. citizen's speech, isn't that a fairly serious violation of constitutional rights? Isn't that specifically what the First Amendment is about?

    Am I missing something or is the ACLU contemplating what kind of sauce to serve with Sam Brownback's sliced ass on a platter?