There were a number of clarifying revelations in the latest New York Times report on aspiring 2016 Republican presidential candidate and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.
The article focused on Fiorina’s potential appeal to a GOP base that has largely overlooked her nascent candidacy in favor of Republican governors or senators. The piece further noted that the accomplished businesswoman and former California senatorial candidate might be able to defuse Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s strongest asset: Her gender. In the process of making this observation, however, the Times has conceded that Clinton’s most potent political weapon is her sex.
What is slightly more confounding is a quote provided to The Times from former Clinton campaign advisor Ann Lewis. In the process of ostensibly attempting to advance Clinton’s political prospects and diminish Fiorina’s, the former Clinton campaign guru’s comments probably had the opposite of their intended effect.
Allies of Mrs. Clinton, who plans to make gender a central part of her appeal, call this a cynical ploy. Ms. Fiorina, they say, is being put to use by a Republican Party that is desperate to damage Mrs. Clinton without antagonizing female voters.
“These guys really believe it’s unfair that women are now running,” said Ann Lewis, a senior adviser to Mrs. Clinton in her 2008 campaign.
Speaking after Ms. Fiorina had just ridiculed Mrs. Clinton’s travel pace as secretary of state at the Iowa event, Ms. Lewis said: “Carly Fiorina went only to show she could be mean to Hillary.”
There’s quite a bit to unpack here.
Let’s revel in the fact that even The Times has conceded what everyone knows to be true about Clinton’s 2016 bid and its nearly exclusive focus on the historic nature of the prospect of a woman in the Oval Office. What else is she going to run on? Her accomplishments? Jazz has already revealed that they are few, far between, and not especially impressive when scratching their surfaces. She certainly cannot run on her record at State, which was thin to begin with but is now tainted by scandal. So, it looks like genitalia and “her turn” are going to be the two arguments Clinton supporters will make in her favor in 2016.
Furthermore, what on Earth is this woman’s point regarding Republican sexism? The GOP is so hostile toward women running for higher office that they have enlisted Fiorina as some sort of front?
It’s also possible that this post has stepped on a progressive feminist landmine. Even making note of Lewis’s self-evident inability to make herself clear is probably a sexist impulse. Questioning Lewis’s lucidity is just a more polite form of forcing her back into the kitchen. There are, however, other voices on the left who would insist that Lewis’s invocation of the gender binary in this instance is offensively cisgendered and insulting towards transpeople. If Clinton is going to run a campaign based on breaking the glass ceiling for women, she is going to run afoul of all those who refuse to identify as either male or female. She’ll have to clean up her rhetoric if she is to appeal to all progressives ahead of 2016. This isn’t 2008 anymore.