Carly Fiorina is the latest longshot to join the Republican presidential primary field. But whatever her prospects may be, she brings two important issues to the campaign that ought to be at the top the GOP agenda.
First, if you understand that the free market is rapidly being replaced by a crony system that rewards political pull, yet is blamed for the corruption wrought by cronyism, know that Fiorina is targeting cronyism as a centerpiece of her campaign.
And second, if you’re working for a prosperous techno-future, know that her focus on the importance of entrepreneurial innovators could help frame a much-needed appeal to the Silicon Valley types who, in the long run, will otherwise be destroyed by the crony system.
Fiorina portrays herself as the anti-Hillary Clinton, the woman from business rather than politics. She worked in jobs like secretary while pursuing advanced college degrees in business management. She worked her way into the top ranks at AT&T and Lucent before becoming CEO of Hewlett-Packard, one of the country’s biggest tech companies. After her departure from Silicon Valley—more on that in a moment—she ran unsuccessfully for a California Senate seat in 2010. Since then she’s busied herself with a foundation she personally funds to promote social and charitable causes.
Hillary Clinton, by contrast, worked her way up through politics. She rose as an adjunct to her husband, Arkansas governor and later U.S. president Bill. She pushed Hillarycare, which failed. She was elected Senator from New York 2000, and became President Obama’s first secretary of state as a consolation prize when he beat her in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary. She’s busied herself with the foundation she and Bill formed, sucking up money from big donors and foreign governments seeking influence through the political duo.
Carly has been aggressive in challenging Hillary. When Clinton touted her globetrotting at State, Fiorina replied that “Unlike Mrs. Clinton, I know flying is an activity, not an accomplishment,” and Fiorina has challenged her to name her achievements. Part of Hillary’s standard pitch is, “Aren’t you ready for a woman president?” That won’t work against Fiorina who, in any case, declares that “It is time to declare the end of identity politics.”
But as a major contrast with Hillary—and many politicians in both major parties—the centerpiece of Fiorina’s campaign is her opposition the current crony system. In a crony system, individuals and interest groups use political connections to secure special government privileges, regulations that cripple their competitors, or loans, handouts, and bailouts from taxpayers. Hillary Clinton is the crony politician poster child. One report recently found that 181 companies that donated to her foundation lobbied the State Department while she was there. By contrast, in a true free market, entrepreneurs and enterprises prosper by offering goods and services to voluntary customers without government help.
Fiorina decries cronyism, even saying that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a far left favorite, is right about the corrupt nature of the system, though wrong about the solution; like all lefties Warren wants even more government control of the economy. This, of course, would attract lobbyists and interest groups the way a dung heap attracts flies!
Fiorina declares: “Our government is rigged in favor of powerful interests,” and she denounces the toxic union of big business with big government. But rather than simply attacking the former, she goes after the latter. Flaunting her non-politician creds, she argues: “Our founders never intended us to have a professional political class. They believed that citizens and leaders needed to step forward.” Her ask is, “If you believe that it's time for citizens to stand up to the political class and say enough, then join us.”
Fiorina argues that as a top business executive she understands what is needed for economies to grow, in particular, the sort of entrepreneurship that dominates the tech sector. She’s right, of course, but her tenure at HP was controversial and could be a political disadvantage outside of the GOP.
In 2005 she was fired from HP by the board. Her business decision to purchase Compaq, the PC maker, was seen by many as a bad move, leaving the company worse off with lower earnings and profits, which upset shareholders. Fiorina counters that HP’s revenues doubled and that the company grew from the 28th largest to the 11th largest in America from 1999 when she arrived to her departure.
By the way, Hillary Clinton was fired during her career, when she was a staffer on the Watergate committee investigating the erased tapes and unethical conduct of President Nixon. Clinton was fired for unethical conduct. Hmmm, and now she erases emails!
Be that as it may, Fiorina was seen by many in Silicon Valley as the anti-Steve Jobs, a polarizing rather than an inspiring CEO. Indeed, one can imagine that, if Jobs had chosen to run for public office, whatever his policy positions, he would have been universally acknowledged as a top value creator who revolutionized the economy.
Democratic opponents will come at Fiorina the way they came at Mitt Romney, arguing that she cut thousands of jobs at her company and sent many overseas. She counters that she took the tough decisions to take her company through the dot.com bust that shrunk or even sunk many firms. That much may well be true, but “At least HP survived” doesn’t make an inspiring bumper sticker.
However one judges Fiorina’s HP years, all of us who understand that prosperity depends on both exponential technical innovation and free markets should appreciate the opportunity that her campaign offers us to frame the discussion about the country’s direction.
The country is in a civil war between makers and takers. It is the producers, those exemplified by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, against the expropriators, those exemplified by the cronies inside and outside of government.
The former value human achievement. They understand the power of the human mind to change the world for the better. They are individuals pursuing their own visions. And they love and take pride in their work.
The latter resent the achievers, damn them for growing prosperous through their own efforts, and punish them with confiscatory taxes, and demand that they apologize for their virtues.
Fiorina comes close to defining this battle with her celebration of entrepreneurship and opposition to cronyism. But she hasn’t framed the issues clearly enough.
Those of us who see the positive contributions she’s making to the GOP primaries can push her to be even clearer. (Rand Paul, also running for the GOP presidential nomination, notably has already reached out to Silicon Valley!) More importantly, we can challenge all Republican candidates—and Democratic ones as well—to take a stand either with the achievers and individual liberty or with the destroyers and government chains.
And we should understand that this is the value basis by which to reach out to achievers who often see themselves as standing on the Democratic side of the political divide.
Fiorina takes many positions that will not endear her to socially liberal young entrepreneurs. Fiorina opposes abortion, though she focuses on restrictions in the third trimester. She opposes same sex marriage but favors some form of civil unions and points out that at HP she provided benefits for same-sex couples. Will she continue to give priority in her campaign to restoring liberty or to a liberty-limiting social agenda?
Libertarians will not find her perfect. But the Fiorina campaign is an opportunity to define and frame issues, to make it clear that cronyism and punishing achievement will simply lead to an impoverished, dystopian future. Meanwhile, individual liberty and the human achievement ethos can lead to a fantastic non-fiction future.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.
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