Op-Ed

Fiorina lacks qualifications to become next president

CAMPAIGNING: Former CEO of Hewlitt-Packard Carly Fiorina spoke last weekend at the Freedom Summit in Greenville, S. C.
CAMPAIGNING: Former CEO of Hewlitt-Packard Carly Fiorina spoke last weekend at the Freedom Summit in Greenville, S. C. Getty Images

How depressing is it that, out of the more than a dozen announced or prospective Republican candidates for president in 2016, only one, Carly Fiorina, is a woman? Even more depressing: that Fiorina, as long-shot as her candidacy is, would not be taken even semi-seriously were it not for her gender.

This is a tough and controversial thing to say, but it requires saying. I would love to see a female president, of either party, and expect I will — if not in 2016 then in an election to come. But the female president I would love to see is one who is fully qualified to be president — qualified by dint of experience, not of chromosomes. Carly Fiorina is not that woman.

That assessment has everything to do with biography, and nothing to do with ideology. (If South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley or New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte chose to run for president, you might find me disagreeing with their positions, but not questioning their qualifications.) In my view, Fiorina's background simply does not prepare her to be president.

For the record, I would say precisely the same about retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Politics isn’t brain surgery, but being a brain surgeon doesn't prepare you for high-level politics, and Carson isn’t prepared. I’m writing about Fiorina because, frankly, as a woman, her candidacy offends me.

I can already hear the sputtering out there: But what about Hillary Clinton, the all-but-certain Democratic nominee? After all, the sputterers will say, Clinton's road to the White House is paved on gender: She rose to prominence in her spousal capacity, and in part by playing the gender card (women’s rights are human rights, and all that).

Yes, Clinton's path to power came through her husband; if I were designing the perfect First Woman President, she would not be the daughter or the wife of a prominent politician. Yet Clinton’s history does not negate the current reality of her résumé, and her deep grounding in both foreign and domestic policy.

Contrast Fiorina, but first a pause to highlight a positive comparison with Clinton: Fiorina has been answering hundreds of questions from reporters; as of Monday Clinton has taken just eight in the last month. Not a good omen for a Clinton presidency.

But back to Fiorina: She has a checkered, to put it charitably (failed, to put it more bluntly), business career and no political career whatsoever, having lost her previous run for elective office. It is the height of chutzpah to imagine that she is remotely qualified to be president. Or, since it’s the more likely endgame, for vice president either.

I would have serious qualms about any candidate who seeks the presidency without government experience, no matter how much value he or she produced for shareholders. Business demands different skills than politics; the presidency isn't the place for on-the-job training.

But Fiorina is a particularly problematic would-be transplant from the C-suite to the White House. It’s not simply that she was fired as the CEO of technology giant Hewlett-Packard — but that she did a lousy job.

Fiorina smartly doesn’t flinch from discussing her ouster; she trumpets her firing “in a boardroom brawl.” On NBC's Meet the Press, Fiorina crowed that “we doubled the size of the company,” and lectured that, in business, “facts and numbers and results actually count. It's not just about words as it is in politics.”

OK, those numbers. Hewlett-Packard did grow under Fiorina's tenure from 1999 to 2005 — but that was due to an ill-advised merger with Compaq that cost HP shareholders $24 billion and bought them a computer business that diluted the value of HP’s high-margin printer business.

“This was a big bet that didn’t pay off, that didn't even come close to attaining what Fiorina and HP’s board said was in store,” Carol Loomis concluded in a devastating Fortune magazine piece.

As Yahoo News detailed, HP stock fell by more than half during Fiorina’s tenure, while its technology cohorts performed “not as badly or much better.”

Fiorina stumbled as a campaign surrogate for John McCain in 2008, famously saying that vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and then the GOP presidential nominee himself weren’t fit to run a company. (She was right.)

She failed in her previous bid for elective office in the 2010 California Senate race, losing to incumbent Barbara Boxer by 10 points in a Republican year. It's not sexist to criticize Fiorina for being unqualified. What would be sexist is to hold her to a lower standard than a man with similarly paltry credentials.

(c) 2015, Washington Post

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