It was a match for the ages: a three-term United States Senator against the former CEO of a Fortune 50 international corporation. California politicos had been looking forward to the highly anticipated debate between Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina. Last night, the two finally met for an hour-long debate that could be the only time voters get to compare the candidates side-by-side before casting their vote.
If there were one way to summarize the overall tenor of the debate, it would be this: Get Carly. As the two candidates were questioned by the journalists on the panel, the moderator, and questions submitted from voters, there was an unmistakable slant towards attacking Fiorina, while Boxer slid by almost unchallenged. Among the gems softballed to Boxer: You’ve been in office three terms, why not give someone else a chance? Is there any issue where you would challenge President Obama? And shouldn’t federal agriculture subsidies also go to smaller farms?
Contrast that to the pounding Fiorina took regarding her tenure at Hewlett Packard, whether she supports Proposition 8, whether she’s pro-life, and why she supports “tax cuts for the wealthiest.” Granted, each of these issues needs to be discussed during a serious debate. But the manner in which the questions were framed was decidedly biased against Fiorina and conservative principles in general.
During the clash, both candidates sought to draw a stark contrast between their positions. On first appearance, the contrast was clear when both entered the stage; Boxer in a subdued, simple gray pantsuit and Fiorina in an elegant blue skirt suit. Although it may be discounted as mere aesthetics, the outfit a politician wears at such a critical public appearance is always the topic of much discussion amongst consultants and campaign staff. Fiorina appeared feminine, stylish and classy, while Boxer appeared to have just stepped out of a mundane business meeting. Fiorina looked fresh and vibrant; Boxer’s appearance reflected the tired complacency of an incumbent.
As expected, jobs and the economy were the main focus of each candidate in their statements and responses to questions. While Boxer repeatedly assailed Fiorina for “shipping jobs overseas to China,” Fiorina reminded viewers that it was under Boxer’s watch that California’s unemployment numbers have risen to well over 12 percent—despite the massive $826 billion stimulus bill Boxer supported. Fiorina also addressed the matter of cutting jobs at HP by explaining that sometimes difficult decisions have to be made so that a company can be better off in the long run and create even more jobs. She’s had to make those tough decisions in the real world.
A typical Democrat ploy of evoking jealousy amongst voters, Boxer also engaged in blatant class warfare by attacking Fiorina for the salary she received as one of the top CEOs in the world: $100 million. Fiorina deftly diffused the attack when questioned about why she supports teacher pay being tied to performance, when she received such a significant salary while laying off workers (again, another biased, illogical question from moderators). Fiorina explained that she “tore up” her contract with HP and made her salary something the board voted on annually. In other words, every year Fiorina was forced to justify her salary to her employers.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the debate was Boxer’s inability to effectively respond to Fiorina’s presentation of the fact Boxer has failed to offer any significant legislation during three terms in the Senate. For a senator from one of the most powerful states in the union, such an abysmal track record is noteworthy. Fiorina chalked it up to Boxer’s being “one of the most bitter, partisan members of U.S. Senate,” even citing then-Senator Joe Biden’s disgust at Boxer playing political football with a war-funding bill.
Boxer was asked a questions about her now infamous dressing-down of Brigadier General Michael Walsh, whom she instructed to call her “senator” instead of “ma’am” because she “worked so hard to get that title.” Boxer tried to explain away the incident as simply a way to make things more professional during a heated committee hearing. She later called the General and asked him whether she needed to apologize (an admission that reflects she still believed she had done nothing wrong and didn’t think an apology was necessary).
But in her opening remarks and throughout the rest of the debate, Boxer repeatedly touted her support of the military and veterans; even returning to the topic when answering completely unrelated questions. The “call me senator” incident has obviously resonated with voters and Boxer’s overemphasis on the military indicates her campaign is concerned enough about mending fences that she spent a significant chunk of her time appealing to veterans and supporters of the military.
When it came to social issues, Boxer acted as though she were in a debate two or three decades ago, trotting out an astonishing array of antiquated talking points. Abortion? Fiorina wants to make it illegal and send doctors to jail and women to their death!
For her part, Fiorina explained that she is pro-life, but supports funding for adult stem cell research, and believes abortion should be a states rights issue. She supports Proposition 8’s protection of marriage, but favors civil unions for same-sex couples.
However, after succinctly stating her positions, Fiorina redirected the debate to the real issues on voters’ minds: jobs and the economy. In doing so, Fiorina showed that she understands voters much better than her counterpart. While Boxer appealed to her base with scary prognostications about Fiorina sending abortion doctors to jail, Fiorina recognized finding a job to feed one’s children is of much more concern to voters these days.
Boxer’s attacks on Fiorina for sending jobs overseas rung hollow when the topic of environmental regulations was discussed. As the proponent of one of the most expensive pieces of legislation in the nation’s history, Boxer has advocated Cap-and-trade and other severe environmental regulations that have contributed to the climbing unemployment rate. As Fiorina pointed out, no state can act alone in the face of a global issue, yet that is exactly what California and the United States have done. As the poster child of extreme environmentalism in Congress, Boxer has prevented water from flowing to the agricultural centers in the Central Valley, where unemployment is extremely high. Boxer even threatened that if Fiorina is elected, California will lose its place as the nation’s green leader. How about instead of being the nation’s “green leader”, California becomes the job-creating leader once again?
It was rather stunning to see a three-term United States Senator make such sophomoric arguments and engage in petty demagoguery. In Carly Fiorina, Barbara Boxer didn’t just meet her match, she met her superior—a woman vastly more articulate, knowledgeable, and accomplished. If it were anyone other than Barbara Boxer one could have almost felt pity at her obvious inability to keep up with Fiorina. It was akin to watching the Harvard Debate Team take on a lowly junior high team with no concept of how to string together a cogent argument. Thanks to Carly Fiorina, this could very well have been Barbara Boxer’s last debate.