In answer to Carly's critics
By Robert Bidinotto
I've been writing a great deal lately about Carly Fiorina, for three reasons. First, the GOP nomination process this year is of critical importance to the future of a desperate nation in rapid decline. Second, it is also crucial to the Republican Party's credibility and future as a viable alternative to the Democrats, who are stampeding us toward all-out statism. Third, her debate performances have focused and riveted public attention on her now, and it's always best to discuss things that people are talking about while they are still interested and engaged.
I have addressed in posts on Facebook the negative memes circulated by her opponents about her past business career as CEO of Hewlitt-Packard, and why I think those criticisms are, at best, only partly justified, but mostly unfair and inaccurate. (See, for example, this objective-if- mixed assessment: http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-09-18/carly-fiorina-s-hewlett-packard-record-in-one-chart And this argument that Carly's long-term strategy for HP turned out to be correct: https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/compaq-hp-ultimately-urge-merge-was-right)
Here, however, I want to take on a few other criticisms—then end by comparing Fiorina to the rest of the Republican field, on the basis of the criteria that I think matter most.
"Fiorina praised and supported Hillary in 2008"
That's a claim of somebody posting on Facebook this morning, who said there was even a videotape to prove it. I watched that tape. (You can too: http://www.buzzfeed.com/andrewkaczynski/heres-audio-and-video-of-carly-fiorinas-forceful-praise-of-h#.gxr3zBMPv) It was a campaign video for John McCain—not Hillary. He had enlisted Carly to try to appeal to Democratic women voters who were disappointed that Hillary—whom they dreamed of being the first female president—had just lost the nomination to Obama. So, she made a "soft pitch" to them in the video, talking in general terms about how Hillary was a strong leader and an inspiration and role model for many women—but that now, they should "take a look at John McCain," rather than support Obama. In other words, she was just trying to win over Democratic women with a bit of salesmanship. She certainly was not "supporting Hillary in '08."
"Carly gave a speech praising Islamic culture"
I read the transcript of her 2001 speech (http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/execteam/speeches/fiorina/minnesota01.html). It was a talk to a business audience about corporate culture and the role of leadership. At its end, she used the history of Islam's "golden age" era to illustrate the point. About that history, she was saying nothing more than what has been acknowledged by most historians.
Back in the Sixties, I read a book promoted by the seminal pro-free market, pro-limited government Foundation for Economic Education, Henry Grady Weaver's The Mainspring of Human Progress. Its theme was that individual human freedom was that "mainspring." And it went into great detail about the flourishing of civilization and trade within the Islamic caliphate after its conquests. Weaver attributed that to the relative day-to-day freedom of even subjugated populations, across the caliphate, to engage in trade and scientific inquiry, despite the ideological dogmas and political constraints imposed by Islam. This view is largely echoed by Rose Wilder Lane in her seminal libertarian book The Discovery of Freedom. In other words, the interpretation has a long pedigree in right-wing, free-market literature.
Islam did in fact enjoy a "golden age" period; that flourishing is a historic fact; and it was championed by several notable Islamic scholars who tried to accommodate the religion with modernity and intellectual tolerance. At the time, Islam also preserved, drew upon, and assimilated elements of Greek and Roman culture. (Go look up "Islamic Golden Age" on Wikipedia.) Yes, it has since reverted to its early barbarism, but for a while it was far more civilized.
So, Carly was not being a squish toward or endorser of Islam. Nobody listening to her foreign policy views during the debates could rationally conclude any such thing. She was simply using the example of the Islamic Golden Age in a business speech to make a non-controversial point about the importance of a culture in fostering creativity and growth, and the desirability that leaders draw upon a diverse range of ideas to fuel that creativity and growth.
"Carly is really a 'squishy Establishment moderate,' not a conservative"
This is the biggie, an understandable meme in conservative circles, because in the past, she was. (You can even find hints of it in the conventional terminology she employs in the 2001 speech referencing Islam, and linked above.) Conservative critics like Mark Levin and John Hawkins have been pounding her for moderate views and positions that she advanced as late as her 2010 California senatorial campaign against Barbara Boxer. (Here is Hawkins's scathing piece: http://townhall.com/columnists/johnhawkins/2015/09/19/the-conservative-case-against-carly-fiorina-n2053948/page/full )
Given that politicians usually tell their audiences whatever they want to hear, and given how often we have been betrayed by politicians who talk a good game only during campaign seasons, this is an understandable concern. But here's why I don't think it applies in her case.
I've read Fiorina's issues statements and watched closely her speeches and talk show interviews. In contrast to her past "moderate" positions, she now articulates much harder-line free-market/limited-government/strong-national-defense positions. But she does so with a depth of detail, understanding, logical coherence, and sheer passion that I do not believe can be faked. Unlike a Donald Trump, who speaks vacuously and vaguely in bumper-sticker generalizations, Fiorina presents her views as a coherent logical whole, each element of which she has clearly studied and pondered a great deal.
You can find this in her harsh denunciations of "crony capitalism," and her willingness to take clear free-market positions that are anathema to the Chamber of Commerce, the GOP country-club Establishment, and what she derides as "the political class" generally:
I have to conclude one of two things: Either she has believed these "conservative" things all along, but was soft-pedaling and hiding them in the past in order to pander to various audiences and constituencies, or Carly Fiorina had an "epiphany" and/or has been undergoing a philosophical evolution that has moved her strongly and steadily to the right over the past five or six years.
I do not believe the former alternative, because pragmatic pandering doesn't seem to fit her history and character. In the previously cited speech, she was in part defending her controversial decision to merge HP with Compaq, despite a lot of internal company dissent and industry criticism. She spoke of the importance of courage as an element of leadership, saying: "[A]s leaders, we must be bold in our actions—ahead of the market, using the courage of our convictions and our judgment, experience and instincts as our guide…. [T]he role of leadership is sometimes to take bold actions that defy conventional wisdom."
In all the criticisms of her I've read, not one has faulted her for lack of courage. As we've all now witnessed in her debates and interviews, Carly is a force of nature. She didn't climb from a temp secretary to the top of HP, and then impose her disruptive strategy on the board and the company bureaucracy by blandly telling everyone what they wanted to hear. Rather, she fought like a tigress for her vision. She bucked the corporate Establishment and industry conventions to force dramatic, controversial changes at HP. Later, she ran for Senate in deep-blue California as a Republican, persisting in the race even while undergoing traumatic treatments for breast cancer.
This news story should put to rest any suggestion that she is an unprincipled pragmatist and panderer:
National Journal has what happened next:
"Carly believes that it's not the government's job to determine market access," said Anna Epstein, Fiorina's press secretary in a statement. "She supports phasing out sugar, oil, and renewable fuels at the same time so that we're not impinging on any one state or industry." (See: http://www.dailyiowanepi.com/2015/05/14/ethanol-divides-hopefuls-in-iowa/ )
Remember, Carly said this to the faces of a powerful bloc of influential people in a primary state whose votes she wants and needs to win. That's principle. That's courage. That's leadership. And she did so by adamantly opposing the mother's milk of the GOP Establishment: crony corporatist subsidies, across the board.
That just doesn't fit the portrait of a "squishy Establishment moderate." Like Ted Cruz, Fiorina is not afraid to plant her flag firmly in the soil and ask people to rally around it, instead of changing the flag's colors to appeal to every demographic or political constituency.
And this is the kind of principled leadership the GOP and America urgently need.
What do we need in a Republican candidate?
Whatever you think of her past political positions or her corporate history, I believe you should consider one very important thing.
What qualities do we desperately need, not just in a Republican candidate, but more importantly: in a leader who will actually institute dramatic reforms that will rescue our nation, and then change it for the better?
Our nation is in disastrous decline right now, on a host of fronts. To stop that decline—to reverse course—will require, above all, a combination of leadership qualities that is very, very rare and difficult to find in any single human being:
We need someone who has a clear philosophy and commitment to the principles of free markets, limited government, and a strong national defense. Someone who understands the implications of those principles; who can articulate and defend them; and who can translate them into specific policies and programs. Someone who has a clear vision of where he or she wants to lead America—not someone who simply proclaims vague bumper-sticker slogans. Someone with an actual track record of imposing change in the face of great obstacles and entrenched, powerful opposition—not someone who is untested, or who "goes along to get along" and caves under pressure or temptation. Someone of demonstrated strength, resolve, and sheer character. Someone with an iron will. Someone who commands respect and admiration. Someone who also has the personality to attract identification and empathy with a broad swath of Americans.
We need a standard-bearer who possesses the relentless, tirelessly driving determination to get the job done. Who possesses a vast wealth of knowledge of important world and national issues, coupled with the ability and willingness to learn—including learning from past mistakes and failures. Who can craft and champion specific ideas, programs, and policies to engineer a national turnaround.
Perhaps most importantly, we need a person with the ability to inspire hope and change, in the face of despair and cynicism. Who not only espouses the right abstract principles and political philosophy, but who can convey a clear, inspiring vision—a compelling Narrative—of an alternative national future. And who has the great leader's intangible ability to generate personal empathy and trust, drawing people to him or her through an inspiring personal narrative, so that millions will be not only willing but eager to identify with and follow that leader.
You will note that I appropriated those two words, hope and change, from Obama. Whatever you can say against him (and I've said plenty), he did have the ability to galvanize and inspire millions, getting them to identify with his own personal narrative and to go along with his program. That alone is a very, very rare talent.
Ronald Reagan possessed all of these qualities. Margaret Thatcher had them—even more so, in my opinion, and the forces she confronted were even more formidable and powerful.
So now, go down the list of Republican candidates; visualize their debate performances; consider their personal histories. Try to match them to each of the qualities that I have mentioned.
Trump? He has attracted a sizable following based on personal charm. But where will he lead us? He has no principles, no identifiable philosophy, no depth of knowledge of important policy issues, and no agenda that can't be comfortably fit on a bumper sticker. And his record is filled with contemptible crony-corporatist assaults on private property (see this devastating video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmM4ZBoppNQ ), advocacy of single-payer socialized medicine (http://spectator.org/articles/63738/trump-no-friend-free-market-health-care), support of the 2008 Wall Street bailout and higher progressive taxation on high-income earners (http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/09/15/club_for_growth_1_million_trump_attack_free_market_super_pac_takes_aim_at.html), as well as economic protectionism and opposition to free trade (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-mullen/trumps-protectionist-fall_b_8056400.html). He is exactly the kind of crony corporatist that Fiorina is targeting for extinction.
Carson? An admirable human being, highly intelligent, incorruptibly principled. But clearly he lacks a depth of understanding of many key issues, and his positions and statements have sometimes been embarrassing in their naiveté. (In a book and in the most recent debate, he said launching the attack on al Qaeda and their Taliban protectors in Afghanistan, in the wake of 9/11, was a bad idea—a position not even "noninterventionist" Rand Paul has taken.) You also wonder if he has the philosophical depth to craft a clear and coherent vision about where he wishes to guide the nation.
Cruz? He was once my first choice, for a lot of good reasons: highly principled, remarkably intelligent, deeply knowledgeable about a vast number of issues, a formidable communicator, and an uncompromising opponent of the Ruling Class Establishment. But as time has gone on, his electoral weaknesses and liabilities have emerged. They are mainly stylistic, but they are serious. Cruz is not seen by a large percentage of people as very likable or relatable. He comes across to many as emotionally inauthentic, scripted, and overly rehearsed—as constantly "stagy" and inappropriately theatrical, even in casual and intimate settings. Cruz is always the champion college debater, scoring technical points on stage, but never coming down off the stage to relax and relate to people with emotional spontaneity. He is simply failing to "connect" with a large portion of the voting public that he will need to beat the Democrats. I don't believe this style, an intrinsic part of his character, can be changed.
Rubio shares many of the great qualities that Cruz possesses, with the added benefit of personal warmth and relatability. He ties his own personal narrative to the broader Narrative of American Exceptionalism. All terrific. However, Rubio does not always project the intensity and boldness of a "man on a mission." He did not stand up as strongly and publicly as did Cruz against his own party's leaders during their various sell-outs. Rather, he has demonstrated more caution, more interest in maintaining collegiality (he backed Senate Establishment leader Mitch McConnell over his Tea Party challenger, Matt Bevin, in the 2013 GOP primary: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/marco-rubio-endorses-mitch-mcconnell-over-tea-party-challenger/article/2537437 ), and (as his flip-flopping debacle about immigration shows: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/419744/has-marco-rubio-really-learned-his-lesson-immigration-jim-geraghty), more tendency to compromise. Is that what our desperate nation needs most right now?
Walker and Christie have demonstrated feisty willingness to stand against powerful opponents, but only on isolated political issues. Yes, they have courage. But they do not demonstrate any deep philosophical motives, any clear vision or overarching Narrative for America. Their philosophies are conventional and mixed. They, like all the governors (certainly Bush and Kasich), are running on their resumes, as policy wonks and managers. But we do not need a manager of the welfare state status quo. We need a visionary— someone who is willing to come in, break the furniture, fire people, and close down entire departments, combating entrenched leftist enemies throughout government and the media...all to boldly impose a radically different vision. Walker and Christie lack the bold vision and a coherent philosophy; Bush and Kasich lack those things, plus the spine.
Rand Paul? Even leaving aside his astoundingly naive and dangerous foreign policy, his willingness to buy into liberal nonsense about the criminal justice system, and his pandering to traditional liberal constituencies, he simply lacks most of the leadership qualities I've mentioned, and he suffers from very high "negatives" in the polls. He's going nowhere.
None of the other candidates, except for Carly Fiorina, show up as even a blip on the polls. They are all circling the drain and will be gone soon.
Now, rate Carly Fiorina on those same leadership qualities. Philosophy? Check (at least in recent years, and as she articulates her views now). Vision and Narrative? Check. Specific ideas, proposals, programs, policies? Check, check, check, check. Demonstrated strength of character to stand up against powerful, entrenched opposition? Big check. Ability to articulate her vision and ideas persuasively, to win against those adversaries, and impose her vision? Another big check. Tireless energy and relentless determination? Super intelligence? A vast and constantly expanding reservoir of knowledge and information? Check, check, check.
Finally—and critically—a great leader's intangible ability to generate personal empathy and trust, through a compelling personal narrative, so that millions will identify with and follow that leader through the difficulties ahead?
It seems so. The first CNN poll taken in the wake of the second GOP debate shows Carly surging hugely, into second place. She is now positioned just behind Donald Trump, whose poll numbers slumped sharply. His decline came not only from his own anemic performance, but also from Carly's feisty assault on him. As a woman, and a businesswoman to boot, her withering criticisms cut right at the heart of his macho bluster and appeal. She is the bold, outspoken "outsider" candidate that he pretends to be, with the intellectual substance that he lacks.
We can't predict the future, of course. It's impossible to know whether some hidden past skeleton will emerge from her closet, whether she will in some way embarrass herself and undercut her credibility and standing. We can't know how, when challenged, she will reconcile her past "moderate" views with her current crusade for free markets and against crony corporatism. She evokes in me, and others, the ghost of Margaret Thatcher—another brilliant, driven "outsider" who charged into the political arena to challenge a corrupt bipartisan Political Class. She has not yet earned such comparisons.
But another metaphor that occurs to me is what it takes to successfully bake a sensational cake. It's the result of a process that requires a combination of ingredients, all mixed together in just the right proportions at just the right time, then subjected to high heat, and brought out at just the right time. If there's a missing ingredient, if their proportions aren't balanced, if the timing isn't just right—you get an unhappy result.
It's like that with the emergence of a leader. Carly Fiorina, from what I can see, has all the ingredients to become the great and pivotal leader we need at this historically critical time and place. Will she rise to our expectations and history's demands? Or will her candidacy emerge from the testing heat of the electoral process half-baked and disappointing?
We can't know. But when I consider all the options, I see essential missing ingredients in her rivals. I can only watch the news and the polls in coming weeks and months, and hope my judgment about her proves to be correct.