Carly Fiorina has become a darling among conservatives hungry for an unapologetic advocate for rolling back big government.
That — and the fact that she sees America as a land of opportunity, not sexist oppression — means she’s also driving liberal feminists crazy.
Liberals typically dismiss conservative women as tokens and lightweights. Yet Fiorina’s take-on-all-comers attitude makes such criticism absurd.
Fiorina speaks nimbly on the minutiae of public policy from taxes to energy issues, projects a commanding knowledge of foreign affairs and navigates the fraught terrain of social issues without alienating her base or moderates.
That’s no easy feat. She’s accepted hard-hitting interviews with George Stephanopoulos, Andrea Mitchell and the liberal-packed “The View.” She’s spoken at venues across the country, most recently winning accolades and a strong second-place finish in the straw poll at the Western Conservative Summit.
Compare this to Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose campaign consists of a carefully scripted “listening” tour — conveniently allowing Clinton to avoid saying anything herself — and a few high-profile campaign speeches, which were remarkable only for the total absence of memorable lines.
Feminists don’t seem to mind Mrs. Clinton’s unabashed use of her sex as a top qualification for the presidency.
In fact, Democrats are so cowed by Clinton and her “historic” candidacy that they overlook a deluge of scandal that would be disqualifying for any other candidate.
But it’s unacceptable to them that Fiorina might benefit from being a woman. As Ruth Marcus, the liberal Washington Post columnist, put it: “I don’t think we would be taking her seriously at all if she weren’t a woman.”
Don’t be so sure. Certainly, Fiorina capitalizes on conservatives’ desire to counter Mrs. Clinton and to demonstrate that the Right is welcoming of women leaders. But unlike Clinton, who implies America has a duty to elect her to bleach the country’s stain of sexism, Fiorina casts her story as a part of women’s steady progress.
She can tell jaw-dropping anecdotes about the sexism she faced in the business world, but offers a decidedly positive vision of the United States as a country making strides toward becoming a more perfect union.
“Here in this country, where women have more opportunities than anywhere else on earth, we still can make our country a better place by fully tapping the potential of every woman,” she said in a June speech in Washington.
Fiorina strives to reclaim the concept of feminism, which she says is embodied by “a woman who lives the life she chooses.”
She wants women to have greater power to pursue their dreams, whether that’s homeschooling their kids or becoming a CEO.
It’s no surprise traditional liberal feminists are livid at her attempt to appeal to women as women and offer a new, empowered brand of feminism.
Salon’s Jenny Kutner called Fiorina’s feminism “an elitist lie” and The New Republic said it’s an “empty marketing strategy.” But in fact it’s an attitude of true tolerance and respect for women’s choices.
The biggest legitimate knock on Fiorina is that she lacks experience. Undoubtedly, Americans deserve to hear more about her abilities as a manager and executive, and to assess if her lack of time in Washington’s political system is a liability or a new sort of strength.
Yet before disqualifying Fiorina, the left and the mainstream media ought to recall President Obama’s nonexistent executive experience when he began his presidential campaign as a very junior senator.
They might also want to consider what voters are supposed to make of Mrs. Clinton’s theoretically impressive resumé. Certainly she has experience, but the bragging rights that come with positions of power disappear when one can’t name a single accomplishment.
Americans ought to welcome a robust debate about the best path for our country.
And feminists should be pleased to see a strong woman playing a leading role in shaping that conversation.
Perhaps, eventually, even Mrs. Clinton will join in.
Carrie Lukas is the managing director of the Independent Women’s Forum and vice president for policy of Independent Women’s Voice.