Short answer. No.

Just asking the question spoils the answer. Talk about a ripe subject. Political writers are ripe by nature. Every election season produces a new legion whose livelihood depends on winning the prize (political office). Ripe to the point of bursting. Ready to eat. Soft. Lush. Juicy. Like a ripe Brie, outhouse, or fish.

Balanced answer. Perhaps.

Political writing over the last few decades has advanced steadily down the path of strewn truth, bruised egos, battered facts, blunted insight, and most recently, alt-news and alternative facts. Fact checking is more geometry than algebra. It’s not so much a difference between facts and opinions as it is between my facts and yours. So, the historic ethical norm of truth is not expected in political discourse. But until 2016, the historical norm of accountability was an ethical premise in political writing. Not so much in 2018. The convincing lie gets more votes than the doubtful truth. If your side doubts the truth of your opponent, you win without offering proof. Such a deal!

Funny thing happened to grass roots and brass politics. The short answer and the long answer is the same answer. Political, eh?  Post-truth politics. That’s our ethical reality. What was once a science is now a cult. The first liar never stands a chance. The midterms framed culture by debating emotion and deflating policy. Taking policy positions out of running for office is like taking the apple out of pie. What’s left are talking points. Ignore rebuttals. That’s the middle answer—political mush.

Long form answer. The ethics of political writing is nuanced.

It is ethically acceptable to overstate chances of success, make unlikely promises, and engage in rhetorical framing to fit any given situation. It is ethical for underdog candidates to ignore policy positions while trumpeting change if the administration in power changes.  It is stand-up politics to claim to be anti-regulatory schemes as long as it serves the interests of big business. You can be against corruption in office as long as you don’t raise taxes to fight corruption. You can be against dark money and accept some of it, unless it turns out to be politically incorrect, in which case you have to advocate, in writing, that you’ll give it back if the donor gets caught.

In the olden days you could not appear to be ruthless. Today it’s OK if you’re ruthless about whatever your base wants.

Reading books used to be a given for all political candidates, irrespective of ideological bent. Now known book-readers are suspect. Not of being ethical, but of being elite. Being elite is the new devil.

And he doesn’t wear Parada, she wears Target.


Gary L StuartI am an author and a part-time lawyer with a focus on ethics and professional discipline. I teach creative writing and ethics to law students at Arizona State University. Read my bio.

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