One part of me wants to bash Carly Fiorina for her persistent dishonesty. The other part wants to defend her against Donald Trump’s persistent sexism. So here’s both.
Fiorina’s dishonesty is flagrant and unapologetic. Called on her misstatements, Fiorina doesn’t cede ground, she attacks critics. Exhibit A is her evocative description, at the most recent GOP debate, of a nonexistent Planned Parenthood video: “Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’ ”
Horrific, but untrue. The sting video, released by an anti-abortion group, features a former technician for a fetal tissue procurement company describing how a Planned Parenthood employee “taps the heart and it starts beating,” then instructs her to remove the brain.
As Factcheck.org concluded, “The video does contain images of what appear to be intact fetuses, but they don’t fit Fiorina’s description.” One clip, in which a fetus appears to move, is credited to a different anti-abortion group, and it’s unclear where it was filmed. Another shows a stillborn baby, it turns out, not an aborted fetus.
Fiorina’s comments could be chalked up to forgivable hyperbole, easily remedied. The audio from the technician is gruesome enough, and Fiorina could be excused for thinking, as the video’s producers presumably intended, that she was actually watching the scene being described.
But backing down is not the Fiorina way. Repeatedly challenged after the debate, she repeatedly asserted that she was correct and that any disagreement was lazy partisanship from critics who hadn’t bothered to watch.
“I didn’t misspeak,” Fiorina told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “I have seen those images.” Fox News’s Chris Wallace asked her, “Do you acknowledge what every fact-checker has found . . . there is no actual footage of the incident that you just mentioned?”
Fiorina: “No, I don’t accept that at all. . . . I haven’t found a lot of people in the mainstream media who have ever watched these things.”
This dishonesty is part of a pattern. Fiorina’s up-by-the-bootstraps foundational story — from secretary to chief executive — is similarly misleading. In fact, Fiorina is the child of privilege. Her father was a Stanford law professor, Duke Law School dean, deputy attorney general and federal appeals court judge. Horatio Alger this is not.
At the same time, Trump manages to put me in Fiorina’s corner. In Trumpworld, where women matter for their looks, there are only two kinds: attractive, and therefore “bimbos” (see, e.g., Megyn Kelly), or “dogs.” Which is not quite what he said about Fiorina to Rolling Stone but close: “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?”
Even when he is backpedaling, Trump can only do it condescendingly, in terms of appearance. “I think she’s got a beautiful face, and I think she’s a beautiful woman,” Trump said at the debate. Dig, Donald, dig.
And even when he’s not commenting on appearance, Trump’s criticism of Fiorina is laced with not-so-subtle sexism. “She’s got a good pitter-patter,” Trump told Stephanopoulos, “but if you listen to her for more than five minutes straight, you get a headache.” He used the same dismissive line on “Fox & Friends” the next day.
Pitter-patter? Headache? The first is classic trivializing of what a woman has to say. The second is classic invocation of woman as nagging shrew. It’s easy to imagine Trump complaining to one of his ex-wives that she’s giving him a headache. It’s hard to imagine him using those words in connection with one of his male opponents. (They are, instead, “low-energy” — shades of, ahem, low-T.)
Not that Trump’s fellow candidates are paragons of gender-neutral virtue. How revealing that Mike Huckabee picked his wife and Ben Carson his mother as candidates for the $10 bill.
Really, women are only valued as wives and mothers? They can’t think of a woman — an American woman, Jeb Bush, not Margaret Thatcher — with accomplishments besides marriage and procreation? What if a female candidate selected her husband or father to be featured on the national currency?
Fiorina rejected the premise as mere “gesture,” arguing that “we ought to recognize that women are not a special interest group.” But currency is inherently symbolic; including a woman is about equal, not special, treatment.
Fiorina’s response lets her appear above the fray of gender politics, even as she benefits from being the only woman in the GOP race and touts her ability to take on Hillary Clinton.
Anyone else get the sense that the only woman Fiorina would be happy to see on the $10 bill is . . . Fiorina?