Did Carly Fiorina Negate the Reason for Her Presidential Run?

08 May 2015
Hillary Clinton photo courtesy Jim Livesay / Carly Fiorina, live video capture

Hillary Clinton photo courtesy Jim Livesay / Carly Fiorina, live video capture

Carly Fiorina claims her presidential candidacy offers the unique perk that she can stop Hillary Clinton from playing the “gender card.” Yet in an interview with The Hill, Fiorina defended her “rocky tenure” as CEO of HP by agreeing that ‘underlying sexism contributed to her firing.’ She said, “There’s no question that women in positions of authority are scrutinized differently, criticized differently and characterized different.” By playing the sexism card, did Fiorina invalidate her reason for running?

Ms. Fiorina also states:

“Men understand other men’s need for respect, but they don’t always understand women’s need for respect.”

“The situation that transpired in the boardroom was all about certain board members wanting to protect their position when they felt threatened, because their behavior was against the code of conduct, and they knew that I as a leader would not tolerate that conduct.”

Since she has acknowledged that women are treated differently in business and held to a different standard, how does this neutralize Secretary Clinton?

For argument’s sake, let’s assume what Fiorina claimed about her tenure at HP is true: She was a good CEO forced to make “tough decisions.” When she wasn’t able to turn the company around fast enough, she was forced off the glass cliff. That’s no different from what women who reach the top have long reported: not being part of the boys’ club, they had no established networks of protection and were the first to go. If that is so, pretending gender has no part in Fiorina’s argument won’t hold up.

And if the statement of Jason Burnett, grandson of late HP co-founder David Packard, is correct:

“My grandfather David Packard had a real belief that the employees created the value in the company…that worked for many, many decades and built HP into one of the greatest companies of the 20th century. Carly took that and completely dismantled it.”

…then she cannot lay claim to good leadership. As a businesswoman with no legislative or foreign policy experience, she will have a difficult road, particularly if she leads with her “unique” ability to bash Hillary Clinton. Hillary has plenty of bashers. Republicans need someone who can articulate coherent policy. It is unfortunate that an intelligent woman would allow herself to be used by a Republican field that likely looks to her only to have another female “rough up” Hillary.

Fiorina’s argument that Hillary can’t “play the gender card against a female nominee” is absurd. Clinton ran against eight men in 2008 and won more votes than any candidate in primary history. She didn’t get a pass because she was a woman. She was graded harder because of it. Voluminous research confirms that claim. Also, accusing Clinton of shouting, “I am woman, hear me roar” may not find purchase since the issues Hillary discusses that are related to women, families and childhood development resonate with men, too.

Further, Fiorina’s feint that Clinton has “no accomplishments” will not ring true to anyone who takes 10 minutes to do a Google search. Her record of working on behalf of education, first responders, the military, women and families dates back to her days with the Children’s Defense Fund 40 years ago.

While there is no doubt that both parties pander to women at election time, since Clinton has dedicated much of her career to elevating the lives and fortunes of women, it is unlikely to be idle chatter in her case. And by Fiorina echoing the talking point that the “War on Women” is a Democratic Party fiction, she panders to men in power who are content to have women relegated to subordinate roles.

We would be foolish to assume it’s only men on the right who like the status quo, but the “war on women” is more than a campaign bromide. There is still a real crisis of violence against women in this country, a wage gap even among identical professions, and work rules allowing for no paid parental leave (which hurts both men and women).  While I despise women being treated as “one issue voters” by either party, the war against a woman’s right to choose may not seem real to Fiorina, but it is very real to millions of women who disagree with Republicans “no exceptions” platform.

At the recent Women of the World Summit, Clinton spoke of the need for women’s greater economic participation as a way to strengthen families and the economy for all of us. In subsequent speeches, she discussed the mental health crisis in this country and gave a powerful speech about the need for criminal justice reform, even crediting Senators Paul, Lee, Booker and Durbin with bipartisan efforts. This was capped off by her aggressive stance on immigration.

Agree with her or not, Hillary is running as the adult in the room. Anyone who ignores this does so at their peril. I welcome any woman to the presidential race, but Fiorina criticizing Secretary Clinton for wearing sunglasses inside a Chipotle isn’t going to cut it.

Ms. Fiorina has stated, “Every issue is a woman’s issue.” I loved this talking point when I first heard it from longtime Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski at the 2012 Democratic Convention. One hopes Ms. Fiorina will have success convincing her fellow Republicans of the value of this sentiment, since they have convened Congressional Committees on women’s health without having any women on the Committee or asking women to testify.

If Fiorina’s candidacy finds traction, she will combat the same problem Mitt Romney did in 2012: her own Party’s platform. Instead of arguing that there is no “war on women,” Fiorina should acknowledge the truths that Clinton is sharing and demonstrate that she has the better solution.

Ms. Fiorina, a breast cancer survivor, has bravely overcome many struggles. While I appreciate anyone who has the guts to step into the cesspool that is national politics today, one would hope Ms. Fiorina elevates herself beyond a token weapon. Hillary Clinton may be her prospective “opponent,” but she is not the enemy. Just as womanhood itself is not the enemy. Part of the problem we have in American society today is that it still operates under a male paradigm that, intentionally or unconsciously, still keeps women secondary in the equation.

Ms. Fiorina says she found that one out the hard way. She cannot pretend otherwise now.


Anita Finlay is the bestselling author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin — exposing media bias in a society not as evolved as advertised.  #1 on Amazon’s Women in Politics books for 16 weeks.

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