With three weeks to go, it is now clear that Hillary Clinton will win the election, taking the popular vote by a 4 or 5 percent margin and the electoral vote by 320-340 votes. [By comparison, Obama won the 2012 popular vote by 3.9% with 332 electoral votes.] The popular vote margin could go as high as 6-7%, and there is a very small chance of an electoral college blowout of 400 or more. There is a good but not great chance – maybe 2/3 -- that the Democrats will end up with the 50 Senate seats they need for control, and no realistic chance of their taking the House.
This is therefore a good time to address a matter that has received a good deal of attention lately, and is much misunderstood. The point I wish to make is quite general, and has nothing in particular to do with the two people currently competing for the presidency. I could make it directly with reference to Hillary Clinton, but her name is now so toxic on this site that it would be difficult for me to get my readers to attend thoughtfully if I were to couch my argument in reference to her candidacy. Indeed, I really suspect that if I were to put forward a syllogism in Barbara with “Hillary Clinton” as one of the terms in the major premise, there are some who should know better who would refuse to grant the validity of the argument.
So, let us suppose Bernie had won the nomination, and were now in the last weeks of his campaign. Let us also suppose, for the sake of argument, that Bernie really is a socialist, as he says. I have seen no evidence of that, by the way. His policies are essentially indistinguishable from those of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal, but let us take Bernie at his word. Imagine now that WikiLeaks releases a collection of hacked email messages between Bernie and his wife, Jane. In one of them, Bernie tells his wife about a talk he gave to the annual meeting of the Socialist Scholars Conference. [I spoke on two occasions to that group back in the day, but I have no idea whether it still exists.] The Socialist Scholars Conference would of course not have paid Bernie $250,000, but we may suppose that they hosted a brunch for him catered by Zabar’s.
It is easy to imagine Bernie saying to the assembled socialists, “You and I understand that what America needs is collective ownership of the means of production, but I cannot say that in a political campaign, because if I did, I would have no chance of winning. So I talk about billionaires and the one percent and I rail at banks too big to fail, because those have a wide appeal. You see, in politics, it is necessary to have both a public and a private position. [These are the words from one of Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street bankers.]
Had Bernie ever said this, he would have been quite right. The American political party system is one of broad uneasy coalitions of scores of millions of men and women with very different interests and commitments. In presidential campaigns, the inevitable and unavoidable compromises are made not, as in a parliamentary system, among parties each of which has an unambiguous stand on major issues, but within each of the two major parties, by compromises the selling of which to the electorate requires a distinction between the public and private positions of the party candidates. This is not a shocking revelation of the corruption of our politics; it is the normal and inevitable result of the need to achieve some sort of governing coalition in a nation of three hundred thirty million very diverse people.
What, after all, are the alternatives? A parliamentary system, which has its own strengths and weaknesses, or the war of all against all. What makes Clinton despicable is not that she has “both a public and a private position.” It is what the private position is. But we always knew that about her. So please, let us have no more channeling of Claude Raines in Casablanca [“I am shocked, shocked, that there is gambling in Rick’s place.”]