Friday, October 5, 2012

Q Day 8: Ethics Question

Okay, last one. Thanks for all the questions, and sorry I couldn't get to them all -- I just went through and answered a bunch in comments on the original post. But I'll end with a morbid one about political ethics, from Matt Glassman:
If a major party POTUS nominee discovered that he had serious but probably treatable cancer in October, would you want him to tell the American people before the election (potentially altering the outcome), or wait until after he/she won to disclose it?
Hmm...that's a good one, and I'm fighting the urge to say "depends." I mean, how "probable" is probably treatable? How debilitating is the expected treatment? Is this the kind of illness where revealing it would almost certainly cost votes, or is the kind of thing that people mostly accept as no big deal? And I suppose another very practical one: how confident can the candidate be that it won't leak if it's not disclosed?

The interests to balance here, I suppose, are the responsibility to the electorate and the responsibility to the party. Both are real and serious, and yup, they seem to be in conflict here.

And...I'm going to use one of the outs I mentioned. Because calculating the proper response to the responsibility to the party has to include not only the risk to election of disclosing but also the risk to election of not disclosing and then being discovered, I think I'll say that the responsibility to party and supporters won't outweigh the responsibility to the electorate. So you least up the last few days before the election, at which point you can also make the (dubious?) argument that revealing such a thing in the last few days may be as likely to give the candidate an unfair advantage as it is to produce an unfair disadvantage.


  1. this was a major story arc of the west wing!

    1. Yeah. I was wondering whether I should mention that or not, but decided that the hypothetical was different enough that it wasn't worth it.

    2. Hilarious. I'm probably the only person who works in DC politics who has never seen a single episode of West Wing. I had no idea!

      Jonathan: how would your opinion change if the cancer was terminal, wit, say, 6 months to live. I'm very much of the mind that candidates shouldn't enter primaries if they know such things, but once the nominee, they have a duty to NOT reveal such things. We have a perfectly fine system of replacement, and any such revelation in October would almost certainly turn the election into a farce from a partisan/policy perspective.

    3. The candidate's decision may also be influenced by what he/she really thinks of the running mate, too.


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