Carly Fiorina is being hailed as the winner of last week’s Republican presidential debate (a dubious honor if there ever was one). She certainly came across as more polished and articulate than many of her bumbling opponents. But the New York Times is giving way too much credence to Republicans’ argument that she could help the party appeal to women:
With a debate performance that was steely and at times deeply personal,Carly Fiorina appears to have improved her standing in the race to be the Republican nominee. But even if she falls short, she took a big stride toward filling a role her party badly needs: a credible antidote to the gender gap and the Democrats’ claims of a Republican “war on women.”
Carly Fiorina isn’t an antidote to the war on women. She’s a soldier in it.
Fiorina eagerly embraced attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, claiming that our nation’s character was at stake if Congress refused to shut down the entire government over it. She one-upped all the other candidates who agreed with her by fabricating a grisly video in which people discuss harvesting the brain of a living, kicking fetus. Challenge Obama and Clinton to watch those videos all you want; you can’t watch something that never existed. Stopping the provision of essential government services with the goal of defunding a popular and essential institution isn’t going to bring the women flocking.
Certainly it was satisfying to see her calmly but firmly call out Donald Trump on his misogyny. The NYT also highlighted her quasi-feminist moment when she dismissed the question about putting a woman on the $10 bill as symbolic and claimed that women aren’t a “special interest group.” Of course it’s symbolic, but symbolism matters. As someone the NYT notes is resistant to being seen as “capitalizing” on her gender, she couldn’t muster a statement supporting acknowledging the vast contributions of women to the growth of this country.
You’re in a much better place condemning empty symbolism when you are responding with concrete solutions to the challenges women face. Fiorina offered no proposals to address the struggles faced by women who can’t make ends meet, women who have to fear even going to the doctor because of their immigration status, or women raising their voices in the Black Lives Matter movement. She stayed comfortably in the Republican mainstream, rattling off militaristic nonsense and shredding the historic Iran deal (even trying to link scary, scary Iran with scary, scary Planned Parenthood). As Sean Illing writes at Salon, “Whatever Fiorina is or isn’t, this much is clear: apart from her gender, she’s indistinguishable from the other GOP candidates – and that’s the problem.”
I’ve said many times that it’s critical to have diversity amongst our elected representatives. People who have struggled with personal and institutional sexism and racism, who understand what it’s like to live in poverty, bring a much-needed perspective to government. But it’s not as simple as throwing anyone from a particular group in the mix. A black candidate who compares abortion to slavery isn’t helping black people. A female candidate who is willing to let the government interfere in medical decisions isn’t helping women. And voters are smart enough to see that.
No matter how intelligent and polished she might be, having a woman on the debate stage can’t make up for the way Republicans are playing politics with women’s lives and bringing our government to a halt because they are so offended by women having bodily autonomy. The Republican Party may have this delusion that Fiorina will be a panacea for their problems with women, but the media shouldn’t uncritically perpetuate it.