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  • Dems don’t have to agree with Hillary on everything.

The missing square puzzle, which in one variation or another has been around for centuries, is based on distortion so subtle our eyes don’t see it.

So is a lot of op-ed punditry.

In a recent column in the conservative Washington Examiner, Timothy Carney argued that Hillary Clinton would bring “four years of war, corporatism and power-hungry secrecy” to the White House with her, and by nominating her for president Democrats would be “openly discarding” the “lofty ideals” that motivated them back in 2008: “good government, progressive goals, elevating grassroots over the establishment and the business lobby.”

The Tribune excerpted this portion of Carney‘s column on its editorial page Tuesday.

“How low is the self-esteem of America’s Democrats?” Carney wondered.

Carney made an argument Democrats will have to deal with. Hillary Clinton is a flawed candidate. But, I wondered as I read, is it possible for progressive Democrats to vote for her and not worry about throwing away their principles?

And the answer is yes. A vote doesn’t need to be wholehearted—though that’s a nuance of electoral politics easily forgotten. Chicago just went through a mayoral election that became grotesque because so many of the city’s most sensible people felt an urgent need to be single-minded about it. Either you supported Chuy Garcia in order to pry our city from the fingers of a bullying tool of soulless one-percenters, or you championed Emanuel and predicted civic disaster if Chicago were to fall into the hands of an ingenuous incompetent. I thought Chicago had a choice between imperfect candidates that other cities should envy, but no one warmed to that conversation.

Now here’s Carney taunting Democrats who support Hillary Clinton or expect to. The passage that scraped my nerve endings was “openly discarding their ideals.” This was Carney’s money shot, his precisely aimed zinger, and as with the missing square puzzle, if you don’t stop and work it out you’re apt to fall for the illusion. Many people do. I’ve seen elections turn on the unwillingness of highly virtuous voters to countenance a candidate who strayed from the one true path. But we don’t actually discard our ideals if we vote for someone who doesn’t perfectly fit them. And “openly” sounds extra terrible here but means nothing. It’s a verbal flourish hinting at public disgrace.

There are moments in many an opinion piece when you sense a switch being thrown, the down-shifted gear of analysis giving way to the smooth overdrive of rhetoric. Be aware of it. Once they’ve picked up speed, pundits like to coast home, and never in neutral.