Sales Ethics and the Democratic Campaign ’10

Published online 18 September 2010.

This is a diary which attempts to pose a question in sales ethics to those who struggle to GOTV in November’s elections. (crossposted at Docudharma)

Now, before today, my impression of the Democratic Party “sell” for the 2010 elections was that it was composed of what I called the Elmer Fudd Theory of Electoral Victory. Yeah, I know this is a caricature, but it runs as follows: 1) Praise Obama’s big resume 2) Show how bad the Republicans are 3) Be VEWWY VEWWY QUIET about EVWYTHING else

So in this thread here on Eve’s health care diary I have put the Fudd Theory to the test a bit: you can read and evaluate the comments below. Potatohead’s comment about sales, however, brings up a question in sales ethics which has also appeared in a course I am teaching online in “business communication.” What responsibility do sales reps have to disclose important information about their products? Canvassers who march door-to-door soliciting votes for Democratic Party candidates can in this sense be said to “sell” the Democratic Party as a “product.” Here are some aspects of the Democratic Party which its sales reps may not (or may) wish to disclose:

  • A bank bailout that further enriched the rich and finance reform that won’t stop them from tanking the economy again
  • An out-of-control military industrial complex which continues to rain down suffering upon Afghanistan and Yemen and Somalia and Pakistan and wherever else they’re fighting wars and won’t tell us
  • A “health insurance reform” bill which leaves its enforcement provisions up to bankrupt states while imposing mandate penalties on those who refuse to buy
  • Obama’s Catfood Commission
  • The White House’s insistence on targeted assassinations, indefinite detentions, and so on
  • Arne Duncan’s Race To The Top programs
  • Congress’ failure to even consider abrupt climate change legislation
  • The ineffectiveness of the 2009 stimulus

So here’s how the question can be framed in business ethics terms: sure, you can sell the Democratic Party in glowing terms, using the Elmer Fudd Theory of Electoral Victory. Hope and Change won, and look at Obama’s big resume! I’m sure there’s plenty to be said in that light — The Sanders provisions of PPACA, for instance, or credit card law. You might argue that we don’t really have any problems that wouldn’t be solved by putting a few more Democrats in office. How believable will that be to the unemployed, the underemployed, those being screwed over by the insurance companies, and so on? Or maybe you will be believable now, but your audience will feel later that your case was dishonest, and lose faith in you later? I suppose there isn’t a lot at stake in canvassing — your audience doubtless feels that each of them will be casting only one vote, whereas in sales you are asking people for their money, which they tend to prize more highly. Or is there a way in which you can sell Democratic Party victory in 2010 while disclosing unrecommending information about your product? potatohead thought so, and you can read his nuanced approach and judge for yourself. I thought the best approach would be to offer a disclaimer: “sorry, we screwed up, we’ll do better next time.” This would be the “honesty” approach — it may not make you look so good the first time around, but you do come off as not hiding anything. Will respondents generally respond to this approach the way Whimsical says they will? I’m not very practiced at sales — I would prefer to give people things for free. In the comments section, please do try to adhere to the frame of sales ethics which I’ve erected in the diary.


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