[I didn't take notes at the meeting I'm about to describe. If you were there and did take notes or have a better memory than mine, and if you find any mistakes in what I wrote, PLEASE LET ME KNOW AND I'LL CORRECT MY POST AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.]
I just returned from a Carly Fiorina townhall in Mill Valley, California. Just to orient you, Mill Valley is located in Marin County which, in 2008, saw 78% of its population vote Democratic.
When I arrived at the venue, I couldn’t find parking. This wasn’t just because more than 300 conservatives showed up to hear Carly speak. It was also because several dozen Boxer “community organizers” (and didn’t we used to call them “rabble rousers”?) showed up as well. Their little signs said that they were infuriated that Carly supports Proposition 23, which will suspend California’s Proposition 32 (aka California’s Global Warming laws). They also had signs lambasting Fiorina for firing HP workers during her tenure there.
Most amusingly, the protesters also had signs stating that Fiorina was “too extreme” for California. I had a hard time squaring this complaint with reality, considering that Boxer is one of the most partisan Senators in U.S. Senate History. During her 28 years — 28 years! — in Congress, Boxer has shown herself to be a tried-and-true liberal, who has never seen a tax she hasn’t supported, or a tax break she hasn’t attacked, whose support for abortion rights takes her to extremes even pro-Choice people don’t like to explore, who consistently fails to support our military (which is entirely separate from opposing the war as a matter of principle), who supported the stimulus wholeheartedly, who voted for ObamaCare, and who agrees with and votes for every cause near and dear to the liberal heart.
That’s the scene: outside, noisy, scraggly rabble rousers; inside, very happy, relaxed conservatives, delighted at long last to have a credible candidate running in a year in which she just might win. The room in which we sat had floor-to-ceiling windows on both sides and, until they got bored, the protesters kept plastering their little signs up on the glass, as if by waving these one liners, they could convince these committed Carly supporters suddenly to yell out “I surrender,” and then run screaming from the room.
The charming, ebullient Melanie Morgan invited all of us to give the protesters a big wave, and we cheerfully did so. I think it took them aback, because they disappeared soon after that. I think they found it disconcerting that we were unfazed by their presence. There’s nothing like staring bullies down, especially if you can do so with a smile on your face. (Islamist apologists and grovelers, please take note.)
Fiorina, who showed up right on time, which is always a nice sign of respect to ones audience, is shorter than I had thought she would be. She’s such a trim, upright, tidy figure that I somehow had the impression that she’s a very tall woman. She’s not; she just has a tall presence.
Carly is a wonderful speaker: she has clear, warm voice, and speaks without any annoying verbal ticks. No “ums” and “uhs” from this lady. I guess you could call her the un-Obama. (She didn’t need a teleprompter either.) She also has a nice energy. Even though it was obvious that this was her usual speech, it didn’t have a canned feel. Instead, it had a fresh vitality that made those of us sitting there feel as if she was conversing with us, rather than going through the usual political “blah blah.”
Unsurprisingly, Carly attacked Boxer vigorously, castigating Boxer for being totally invested in big government and big spending (except, of course, when it comes to our military). She also pointed out, as she has before, that Boxer, while a reliable vote for any liberal cause, has been an ineffectual Senator. In Boxer’s twenty-eight years in Congress, she has succeeded in getting her name on only four bills, three of which were non-substantive bills (naming rivers and buildings). Indeed, said Fiorina, Boxer is so ineffectual Democrats had to take Cap-and-Trade away from her, even though it was supposed to be her baby — apparently, no one likes to work with her.
Fiorina steered away from giving specifics of what she’ll do when (if) she gets to D.C. This was a wise move because, as a junior Senator, she will have somewhat limited power, given the Senate’s byzantine hierarchy — although Fiorina did joke that, as a medieval history major, she may be just the person to deal with that labyrinth. In any event, it remains to be seen what the Senate’s composition will be, something that will affect Fiorina’s ability to put her beliefs and ideas into effect, at least in the short term.
Instead of nailing herself to impossible specifics, Carly focused on her philosophy of government and governing: small government; states’ rights; accountability and daylight for all government agency spending; support for the military; support for small businesses and all businesses; world economic leadership, in all new fields (biotech, infotech, energy tech, etc.); the overturn of the congressionally-created Dust Bowl in California’s Central Valley, once the farming capital of America; and wise environmental stewardship that recognizes the need to develop clean new energies, including nuclear, even while taking advantage, in a environmentally-friendly way, of traditional energy (i.e., oil).
During question time, the two questions I found most interesting were these: How will Carly counter the strongest attacks made against her, namely her support for Prop. 23 and her decision to fire HP workers; and how will she shrink government, since government has a natural tendency to make itself grow. Carly answered the question about Prop. 23 by saying that the United States needs a reasonable, coherent, straightforward national energy policy, that nevertheless respects states’ rights. The U.S. must also be an energy leader, if it is to maintain its position in the world, one that allows it to export its unique respect for freedom and social mobility. Being an energy leader involves, as I mentioned above, environmentally sound development and use of all available energy sources.
As for having fired the HP workers, Carly said that sometimes, as a leader, you have to make tough choices. There was a high tech recession then, and she had the choice of cutting some positions, or letting HP go entirely. When she got HP back on track, she doubled its size and hired large numbers of workers. Those are the choices government management has to make too. (And let me add here my own opinion that one of the most outrageous things about the Democrats’ insistence that they must raise taxes on the employers and wealth-creators of America is so that Democrats can continue to fund our currently bloated government. It doesn’t seem to occur to the yahoos in D.C. that they should trim government radically.) Carly lucidly ran through the numbers about the way in which government has grown even as the private sector has deflated during the recession, not to mention the fact that struggling Americans are providing the government workers with a much higher standard of living than average Americans enjoy.
Speaking of trimming government radically, Fiorina says the solution is simple: Search for and destroy waste, fraud and corruption. She pointed out that most government agencies increase their spending dramatically right before the fiscal year ends, so that they can justify a demand for yet more money the next time they testify before the Appropriations Committee. She explained that the Committee always opens with a single basic question: “How much do you need?”
Carly wants to see a change in culture that has the Committee say “Tell us if you actually served your purpose and how you can fulfill that role using significantly less money.” She would make each agency justify itself as is, rather than justify its demand for more. Also, she would like to see a rule that has all Senate bills priced out to the last dollar, and then posted for two weeks before a vote. (And wasn’t that one of Obama’s broken promises?)
If you’re interested in Carly Fiorina, here is her campaign website; here are the positions she’s taken on California propositions (although she is careful to point out that she is running for federal, not state, office); and here is the site where you can sign up to volunteer for her campaign.
UPDATE: The local reporter managed to take all of the above, and make it about Tea Partiers (whom Fiorina, a Republican, never mentioned) and the environment. Apparently he missed the rest. He also refused to take Sally Zelikovsky’s challenge to report on the fact that the protesters damaged her car — a bit of news that is relevant when one considers that Tea Partiers are constantly charged with violence.