Pre-Election Ethics Quiz: The Campaign Fortune Cookie

I have not authored the usual number of unethical campaign tactics indictments this time around. One reason is that their desperation while facing an almost certain GOP wipe-out has led Democratic Party candidates into far more questionable devices than the confident Republicans as the Blues have increasingly defaulted to race-baiting, Koch brothers attacks, scare-mongering on everything from guns to contraception, and the “war on women” chorus. Combine that with the popular integrity breach of  Democratic incumbants virtually pretending that they never heard of the Democratic President in the White House, and I was faced with giving more ammunition to those who accuse me of partisan bias. Looking at the poll projections, it appears that the worst offenders—Wendy Davis, Allison Grimes, Mark Udall, and Mary Landrieu among them—will get their just desserts from voters without additional alarms from me.

Speaking of desserts: this campaign tactic is worthy of note. A loyal Rhode Island reader inquires if I have any ethical problems with the campaign of Allen Fung, the Chinese-American GOP candidate in the closely contested Rhode Island governor’s race, delivering thousands of fortune cookies to Rhode Island Chinese restaurants that look like this when you open them


So your Ethics Alarms Pre-Election Ethics Quiz is the question asked of me:

Is there anything unethical about this?

My verdict: there is, but I love it anyway, for the following reasons:

  • It is unapologetically ethnic and politically incorrect. (Imagine the uproar if Fung’s opponent planted cookies with the opposite message in non-Chinese restaurants!)
  • It is clever, and made me laugh, and believe me, do I ever need a laugh right now…
  • It has been so long since a message in a fortune cookie wasn’t insipid that I appreciate anything out of the ordinary.

What’s unethical about it? The campaign fortune cookie has the same ethical problem as the rock singer who harangues his captive audience about global warming or the Iraq war. It’s a bait and switch. Customers go to a concert for the music and a restaurant for the food, not partisan endorsements. It is unfair to subject paying cutsomersto political messages and electioneering…unless, of course, it is reasonably certain that the message won’t annoy anyone. I don’t think the restaurant can be sure of that. During an election like this one, people go to restaurants to escape the din.

I see nothing unethical about Fung’s campaign distributing the cookies, however.


Pointer: King Kool

Graphic: WPRO


19 thoughts on “Pre-Election Ethics Quiz: The Campaign Fortune Cookie

  1. You know what? I think you nailed this one.

    When I heard about this, I didn’t decouple the frustration I would feel getting a fortune cookie of this kind from the device itself. If Fung wanted to just hand out fortune cookies as Vote for Me buttons, that’s fine. But giving them out at restaurants ensures the customers leave with a bad experience regarding both him and the restaurant, so I still think that’s a bad idea.

      • No, if I had written something about this one right after hearing about it, I probably would have been way off-base. You cut to the heart of it, in that using a fortune cookie in itself isn’t by itself unethical. It just shows how burned out I get at the end of election season that I wouldn’t have made clear analysis.

  2. Pingback: The Fortune Cookies of Doom are Out to Get Me! » Club Adipose

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