Thursday, November 05, 2009

Just Your Average Wealthy Business Leader

Well, now that the off-year election is over we can look forward to the mid-term election less than a year away. Among those congressional Democrats running for re-election is Senator Barbara Boxer (D, CA), one of those critters who has, for the most part, been a reliable liberal. That race is going to be an interesting one and will also be an expensive one. The two Republican candidates vying for the chance to unseat her are both business-friendly and wealthy enough to underwrite a big chunk of their own campaigns, and have enough connections to get even more funding from the business sector.

One of them, Carly Fiorina, officially kicked off her campaign over the past couple of days with op-ed piece in the Orange County Register and a rally at a company which makes "eco-friendly" cleaning projects. Michael Hiltzig, business columnist for the Los Angeles Times had a nice analysis of Ms. Fiorina's speech officially opening the campaign. Here are just a few of his points:

...Can someone who has spent the last few years running from her checkered record as a big-business CEO, shown so little interest in politics that she consistently failed to vote and has at best a tenuous grasp of such major issues as healthcare reform prevail in a statewide California election? ...

Fiorina spent most of her time onstage rehearsing a threadbare script. She reviewed her bona-fides as a glamorous business leader, reminding the audience of her tenure as chairwoman and chief executive of Hewlett-Packard Co. starting in 1999, without making too much of the fact that she was fired by the Hewlett-Packard board in 2005, or that its stock declined by 60% on her watch. She mentioned that HP is now one of the country's leading high-tech companies, but managed not to give too much credit to her successor, Mark Hurd, who led the turnaround.

But she may not have succeeded in settling the riddle of whether she's really serious about politics. Already she has been embarrassed by the disclosure that she failed to vote in 75% of California state elections since 2000, including all gubernatorial elections and presidential primaries.

In her Register op-ed, Fiorina explained that this was because "I felt disconnected from the decisions made in Washington and, to be honest, really didn't think my vote mattered because I didn't have a direct line of sight from my vote to a result."

Yet during her reign at Hewlett-Packard, according to public records, her corporation spent $4.7 million to lobby Congress and donated more than $390,000 to political candidates through its political action committee. Fiorina and her husband, Frank, a former AT&T executive, have made more than $100,000 in political donations personally since 2000.

That suggests not that Fiorina "felt disconnected" from what was going on in Washington, but rather that she understood all too well that in politics, money talks. Why bother to vote when you can get what you need with greenbacks?

Money talks: ain't that the truth!

It even accents her "interest" in health care reform. Ms. Fiorina is a breast cancer survivor. Obviously she intends to use that horrific experience as a credential when she speaks to the issue currently consuming the nation. I have absolutely no objection to that, and, I suspect, neither does Michael Hiltzig, but as he points out in another section of his column, she had health insurance through her husband's employer sponsored plan, something that a lot of women with that diagnosis did not. She also got a rather hefty golden parachute when Hewlett-Packard fired her, so she probably could have paid for her treatment out of pocket, something that very few of us can manage for just about any condition, much less one as expensive as cancer.

Did the experience leave her with any compassion for others facing the ordeal she just went through without the backup she had? Her speech certainly gave no indication of that. Her biggest complaint was that her doctors weren't communicating effectively with each other. She at least got to see doctors (plural).

Michael Hiltzig was not impressed:

So here's the tally thus far on Fiorina the candidate: Business celebrity with an equivocal record, cancer survivor with a secure employer-sponsored health plan, "problem-solving" candidate spouting ancient Republican nostrums. I can hardly contain my excitement.

I'm no so impressed either.

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