November 18, 2016

Clinton wasn’t better qualified than Trump

Clinton wasn’t better qualified than Trump

Claims that Hillary Clinton was better qualified than Trump for the role of Commander-in-Chief are misguided. There is a fundamental difference between an elected office and regular employment, argues Henry Hill.

One of the most common refrains trumpeted by Hillary Clinton’s bewildered supporters in the aftermath of her defeat last week is astonishment that voters could reject a candidate so ‘broadly and deeply qualified’ for the role. Very often this seems to be not just an argument about the merits of Donald Trump’s suitability for the role of Commander-in-Chief, which is a perfectly understandable and a very widely-held concern, but rather a suggestion that Clinton is so objectively right for the post that the motivations of those voting against her must be suspect.

I don’t intend to dispute whether the Democrat nominee was as well-qualified as her supporters insist – although it’s worth pointing out that if you think Barack Obama was a great President there’s a ceiling on how important you can argue prior experience actually is. Instead, I take issue with the idea we can discuss ‘qualification’ for political office as if it were a normal job. There is a fundamental difference between an elected office and regular employment. When hiring for a position in the normal way, the question at issue is finding the best individual to achieve an already-agreed goal. In an election, at least in a presidential system, voters must choose the individual and the goal at the same time. Ignoring this element – and ignoring the political dimension of an election seems to be easier than you’d think – leads to the fallacies of technocrats and the sort of ‘pragmatist’ who wants to ‘take politics out of it’.

Most businesses have a clear, quantifiable goal: maximising shareholder returns. This makes it possible, if not always easy, to take an objective view about what course to take and what roles to give people. The debate inside a business is about how, not what. This doesn’t exist in Government. An approximation of it might be possible in a highly consensual society with a narrow Overton Window, but the modern United States is anything but. As any number of post-election think pieces will tell you, America is more divided than ever.

Indeed the Republic has split into two broad tribes who, thanks in part to accelerated social clustering known as ‘The Big Sort’, have almost no experience of each other. They certainly have very different understandings of what the Government should do, and neither trusts the levels of power in the hands of the opposing tribe. This piece by one of the above-mentioned distraught Clintonians gives you a feel for the apocalyptic flavour each tribe’s partisans attach to the struggle for national institutions:

“It’s not just about who gets to be president. It’s about who gets to vote for the president, who gets to stay in America and make their families here and how those families get to be configured. It’s about who controls the culture, who makes the art, who makes the policies, whom those policies benefit and whom they harm.”

As a small-government sort, the idea that the Government should have any bearing on ‘who makes the art’ or ‘controls the culture’ makes me queasy, but that’s how many people on both sides of the divide seem to view politics. And if the stakes are that high the qualifications of the individuals at the tips of each spear become, paradoxically, even less important. That seems counter-intuitive: surely, the bigger and more important the job – and the Presidency described by Traister sounds about as important as can be – the more you want the best-qualified person in the role?

But think about it a little longer and the countervailing logic becomes clear: if an election is about preventing the powers of Government falling into the hands of the enemy tribe, such stakes can very easily eclipse the virtues and vices of the individual candidates. Trump is an awful person in so many ways, but if you’re opposed to Clinton’s agenda and view the race in anything like the way Traister does, your willingness to cede the Presidency on that basis is going to be very limited.  The same is true of the Blue Tribe’s partisans too (and perhaps this defeat will lead to a renewed appreciation of limited government on their part). As your intolerance of, or alienation from, the other side increases, so too does your tolerance of flaws in your own team.

In 2016 the qualification debate is complicated by the unique shortcomings of the President-elect. But we shouldn’t allow a broader, incorrect argument to establish itself under the cover of anti-Trumpism. It is perfectly rational in ordinary circumstances – and perhaps even more so during existential struggles – to vote against a better-qualified candidate for office whose programme you oppose. Qualifications are a how issue, and politics is first and foremost about what.

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Henry Hill
Henry Hill is a freelance journalist. He is assistant editor of ConservativeHome and also works as a communications officer for a Tory MP, as well as a commentator for BBC radio and television. He tweets at @hch_hill.
  • Nockian

    No article ? Maybe it’s spread to comment central ?

    Central banks don’t work any better than any other kind of soviet style producer. They produce too many tractors when we need more ploughs. This is because banking isn’t independent, it isn’t laissez faire capitalism that is being practised, but the soviet style economics of central planning. It is not, per se, the fault of the central banks, anymore than it was the fault of the Russian tractor factories for under/ over producing as a result of state diktat. Unfortunately we have a mixed economy, which is 50% socialistic and has been expanding for several decades-most of us now give over 60% of our earnings to government directly (it’s probably a bit more depending on inflation and inflexible tax bands).

    The answer is to get the state out of commerce, then the central banks will either survive or collapse within a laissez faire banking system, but first we must begin to accept the truth, that we cannot continue to sustain such a gargantuan welfare system and its associated government. If we want to produce more, we need to be taxed less, we must save not spend.

  • ratcatcher11

    If everyone saved and did not spend there would be a massive worldwide slump, so it is obvious there has to be spending. Making things for sale is thus important, services alone cannot sustain an economy. One of the biggest problems is Keynsian economics that are basically tax, print and spend socialist policies. We do not need the government to build a railway we need a private company to build the railway which will compete with air travel fairly, not by taxing air travel to make it it less profitable. Thus the governments air taxes should be scrapped and private companies encouraged to re open rail lines closed by Beeching. This is the development we need not government spending 90 billion of money on an HS2 line built from somewhere to nowhere and never stops to pick up passengers.

  • Debs

    Expansion of economies cannot go on forever no matter what so called monetary policy is. You dont need to be an economics expert to realise it.

    All I know is governments and banks seem to be constantly coming up with schemes to leave we the lowly tax payer with less of our money.Forget about the trumpeted tax cuts ,everything else is going up accordingly except real wages of course. Dont even mention the Green scam or the cheap labour scam.

    Bail ins and cashless society are two more scams I have seen trailed in various media outlets over the past few years. Gradually our hard earned money is being prised away from us to fritter away on who knows what.

    They wonder why Trump got elected.

  • Nockian

    The market will raise rates eventually, regardless of wether the central bank wishes it or not. The problem is that we have all become mesmerised at central bank control, when, in reality, at this stage they have little at all. They cannot raise rates to normal, because, firstly, we don’t know what normal looks like (it could already be normal) and secondly any increases will create an avalanche effect-let’s face it, no one but the wealthiest wants to bring down countries governments through a collapse in public spending leading to actual anarchy on our streets.

    The bogey man of fractional reserve is a myth that has permeated libertarian consciousness, in a free market banks would have to take risk or they would, by any definition, not be free market. Banks are not currently lending to private individuals because capital requirements are already so high-they have become zombified businesses that look like they function, but are like the shops we set up as kids with funny money and plastic fruit. The market is broken as far as banks are concerned, they are no longer part of it.

    Fixing the problem cannot begin by looking at the central bank, nor the main banks. It’s far too late to consider than anything can be done at this stage, we are so far beyond normal that we aren’t looking at a functioning banking system at all. It would be like bleeding the radiators to solve a broken boiler.

    The problem we have is at its heart a simple one. It’s the problem that labour refused to accept when the banks blew up. We have an unsustainable welfare system and an over sized government. We have to tackle our public spending first of all and I see little sign that any current, nor perspective government is prepared to give the public the awful news about the reality.

    Even the great Tory saviours have flunked out of the monetary boiler rooms. The situation is dire, there is no fuel left, we have been ripping up the ships timbers to maintain the illusion of tranquil sailing progress, but eventually the ship will sink for lack of substance. There is no monetary policy that can save us, all we are going to get is an ever growing war on cash, savers and anyone who tries to make a profit. We are going to end up in the late stages of a soviet style melt down whilst spinning mirrors to pretend it isn’t happening.

    We all know what’s going on, we can offer solutions, make sympathetic noises and talk up any temporary progress, but the reality of the situation is now apparent. We have to do what every debtor must eventually conclude; that our spending has unfortunaly exceeded our earning capacity and all those red letters mean some drastic rethinking is required. We are going to reach the end of the road, not by a sudden explosion, but the drift into monetary authoritarianism which will result in ever greater protectionism and falling living standards. We are in great danger of losing the West to the East and ending up as country cousins of a world of declining freedoms and the rise mysticism.

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