Updated Nov. 4, 2016 7:47 a.m. ET
Americans go to the polls next week facing what millions believe is the worst presidential choice of their lifetimes. As we wrote after Donald Trump won the Indiana primary in May, the New Yorker and Hillary Clinton are both deeply flawed. But one of them will be the next President, so in the next two days we’ll try to summarize the risks—and the fainter hopes—of each candidacy in turn.
Start with Mrs. Clinton because the costs of her Presidency are easier to see in advance. To wit, she would continue President Obama’s progressive march to a French-style welfare and regulatory state. On nearly every domestic issue, she has embraced Mr. Obama’s agenda and moved left from there.
She wants higher taxes, more spending on entitlements that are already unaffordable, more subsidies and price controls in ObamaCare, more regulations on businesses of all kinds, more limits on political speech, more enforcement of liberal cultural values on schools and churches.
The greatest cost of this would be more lost years of slow economic growth. The U.S. economy hasn’t grown by 3% in any year since 2005, and the explanation from Mrs. Clinton’s economic advisers is that America can’t grow faster and inequality is a bigger problem in any case. More income redistribution is their patent medicine.
But as we’ve seen with the rise of nativism and protectionism, the costs of slow growth are corrosive. Flat incomes lead to more social tension and political enmity. The fight to divide a smaller pie would get uglier in a country that was once accustomed to rising possibilities. Imagine the 2020 election after four more years of 1% growth.
Some Republicans say Mrs. Clinton would be more willing to negotiate with them than Mr. Obama has been. That’s a low bar, and during the 2016 campaign she hasn’t thrown a single policy olive branch to Republicans. None. Her current agenda may reflect her real beliefs going back to her activist days before the failure of HillaryCare caused her to adopt some New Democratic coloration. In 2017 she would also have Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders pulling her to the left.
Mrs. Clinton would also be less restrained by the courts. Mr. Obama has remade most of the federal appellate bench, and the Supreme Court is on the cusp. A Hillary victory means progressive judicial domination for a generation or more. This would mean more green lights for the abusive rule by regulation that has characterized Mr. Obama’s second term—and little chance to block the likes of his immigration order or Clean Power Plan.
Mrs. Clinton’s clearest advantage over Mr. Trump is on foreign policy, where she has shown more respect for America’s role in maintaining global order. She has sometimes shown more hawkish instincts than Mr. Obama, but then she also embraced his worst mistakes: the reset with Russia that badly misjudged Vladimir Putin, the nuclear deal with Iran, the withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, and the abandonment of Libya after Europe and the U.S. toppled Moammar Gadhafi.
Even if she wants to revive U.S. leadership abroad, however, there is the question of means. Her entitlement expansions and higher taxes would squeeze the economic growth and budget space needed to finance more defense spending. This is Western Europe on the installment plan.
Lurking behind all this, as we’ve seen these past two weeks, is the familiar pattern of scandal fed by her penchant for secrecy and political paranoia. As journalist Carl Bernstein has noted, she shares Richard Nixon’s “obsession with enemies.” She surrounds herself with henchmen like Sidney Blumenthal and David Brock, who feed her instinct to stonewall and attack.
The most astonishing revelation of the 2016 campaign has been that neither she nor her husband learned anything from the ethical traumas of the 1990s. You would have thought they’d want to shed the legacy of the Lippo Group and the Lincoln-Bedroom-for-rent, but instead they built the same pay-to-play structure via the Clinton Foundation.
Mrs. Clinton made the astounding decision to use a private email server for official business so she could duck federal records laws. But when that was discovered, rather than admit the mistake and release everything, she and her retinue continued to resist and deflect and deceive. By her behavior in the past year, Mrs. Clinton has ratified the worst things her critics say about her.
Some of our friends argue that Mrs. Clinton’s corruption is tolerable because it is merely about gaining and maintaining political power. This understates how much the Clinton blending of public office with private gain erodes confidence in honest government. It feeds the leftist narrative that business is merely another arm of the state and thus reduces support for free markets.
All of which means that if she does win on Tuesday, the manner of her victory would damage her ability to govern. Rather than win a policy mandate, she has chosen to destroy Mr. Trump personally. She would face a Congress that wants to investigate her from the first day and an electorate that is polarized and doesn’t trust her. Her instinct would be to lean even more on the left for political support, making compromise with Republicans in Congress even more difficult.
We’re as optimistic as anyone about the resilience of American democracy, but four more years of aggressive progressive rule would more deeply entrench the federal Leviathan across ever more of the economy and civic life. The space for private business and nonpolitical mediating social institutions would shrink.
The case for Mrs. Clinton over Donald Trump is that she is a familiar member of the elite and thus less of a jump into the unknown, especially on foreign policy. The case against her is everything we know about her political history.
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