This is a short post that sparked my curiosity about conditionals. Take it as you want.
Recently a story has emerged about Hilary Clinton. The popular quote is this:
And if we were going to push for an election, then we should have made sure that we did something to determine who was going to win.
A more extended quote is this:
First, I don’t think we should have pushed for an election in the Palestinian territories. I think that was a big mistake. If we were going to push for an election, we should have made sure we did something to determine who was going to win instead of signing off on an electoral system that advantaged Hamas.
According to the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, CGEL (Huddleston & Pullum, 2002) there are two kinds of conditionals – open and remote. Open refers to something that may or may not be the case, remote refers to something being unlikely or remote.
Remote conditionals must have a modal auxiliary in the main clause (e.g. should) and a modal past form were in the if part.
For the first Clinton quote we have these two features hence this is a remote conditional.
If we look at the fuller quote we can argue that Clinton wanted to emphasize to this particular audience that the Bush administration at that time made a mistake. She uses the conditional to highlight this by imagining an alternative world where she was involved in making the decision. In this world she would have done something more than “signing off on an electoral system that advantaged Hamas” and “did something to determine who was going to win”.
Now as to whether this means she would have rigged the election is up for anyone to speculate and whether that applies to election rigging in the US is similarly up for grabs.
I’d be very interested to get your opinion, thanks for reading.