During an especially venomous debate exchange last week, Sen. Barbara Boxer launched a blistering personal attack against her Republican opponent, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. The focus of Boxer's broadside was Fiorina's tenure as a top executive, which Boxer said demonstrates her opponent's ineptitude, greediness, and embrace of "Wall Street values":
"People are going to decide if they want to have me back, or of they want to elect someone who made her name as a CEO in Hewlett-Packard, laying thousands and thousands of workers off, shipping their jobs overseas, making no sacrifice while she was doing it, taking $100 million. I don't think we need those Wall Street values right now."
Boxer hammered away at the $100 million golden parachute figure throughout the debate until a questioner pointed out that the actual number was closer to $20 million. Regardless, the implication was clear: Boxer was accusing Fiorina of accepting a severance package she didn't deserve. (The message? Boxer = Fighting for us; Fiorina = fighting for affluent elites). This line of attack was so simplistic, and was so devoid of nuance, that even Boxer herself managed to grasp it and commit it to memory. But it doesn't even come close to telling the whole story, and there are some additional facts that Californians should know.
(1) For all of Boxer's demagoguery about Wall Street, guess who shows up among the top Senate recipients of financial sector campaign contributions this cycle? You guessed it. Plus, this style of vilification is a bit rich coming from a former stockbroker.
(2) Boxer's sniping was laden with with class envy rhetoric, conspicuously drawing attention to Fiorina's wealth as if it were a disqualifying factor. May I quote The San Francisco Chronicle from this past June?
"Barbara Boxer [is] also among the wealthiest lawmakers in Washington, according to annual financial disclosure reports released Wednesday."
To this, conservatives should respond, "Good for the Boxers!" But the fact that Boxer chooses to make an issue of her opponent's assets opens the door to the counter- charge of hypocrisy and shameless opportunism.
(3) Boxer repeatedly mentioned Fiorina's millions from HP, but here's another statistic involving millions of dollars that Californians ought to know, and it's very specific: $3,612,700. That's the amount of money--in salary alone--that Barbara Boxer has accrued in taxpayer-funded income during her long, rather undistinguished career in Washington, DC. She hauled in nearly $1 million as a member of the House, then over $2.7 million more after joining the Senate, blithely benefiting from Congress' self-imposed automatic pay raises every step of the way.
After 28 years in Washington, Barbara Boxer has made herself famous for a scorched earth brand of partisanship, for insulting the leader of the Black Chamber of Commerce, to hectoring military personnel for failing to call her by her preferred title, and for a grand total of four pieces of legislation in the Senate. Voters in California have invested not only $3.6 Million, but their public trust, in Barbara Boxer. How will they assess their return on investment this fall?