There's an old cliché: Character is how you behave when no one is looking. And there's another way of testing character for a politician: what he or she is willing to say to get elected. Carly Fiorina failed that test this week -- when she released perhaps the most idiotic and juvenile campaign ad of the election year.
Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, is the leading candidate in the California Republican Senate primary and is expected to beat former Rep. Tom Campbell and state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore in next week's election. (This week, Campbell pulled
his television ads.) So Fiorina has begun blasting away at Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, who she'll face in the November election. And she did so with a 30-second ad
that shows Fiorina is not a serious person.
The spot features video of Boxer saying, "One of the very important national security issues we face, frankly, is climate change." Then Fiorina appears on the screen and somberly intones, "Terrorism kills, and Barbara Boxer is worried about the weather. I'm Carly Fiorina. I ran Hewlett-Packard. I chaired the external advisory board for the CIA. . . . I'll work to keep you safe."
It only took half a minute for Fiorina to demonstrate she is not a responsible adult. First, she brazenly misrepresented Boxer's remark. The senator noted that climate change is one
national security challenge; Boxer did not indicate it was more worrisome than terrorism. Second, to dismiss concern about climate change as nothing but fretting about the weather is, to put it mildly, dumb.
If Fiorina had paid attention to the CIA's actual work, she would know this. Last September, the CIA launched
its Center on Climate Change and National Security. In announcing the creation of this center, the CIA said:
Its charter is not the science of climate change, but the national security impact of phenomena such as desertification, rising sea levels, population shifts, and heightened competition for natural resources. The Center will provide support to American policymakers as they negotiate, implement, and verify international agreements on environmental issues. That is something the CIA has done for years.
The CIA called climate change "an important national security topic -- the effect environmental factors can have on political, economic, and social stability overseas." Moreover, as my Mother Jones colleague Andy Kroll points out
, earlier this year, the Pentagon released a report noting, "While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden on civilian institutions and militaries around the world." In Africa, for instance, national leaders fear that the projected rise of several degrees this century will lead to dislocation and disease for millions. That certainly would pose security challenges.
With the CIA and the Pentagon both declaring climate change a national security matter, Fiorina is campaigning as a demagogic know-nothing. Far from enhancing her national security credentials, this ad shows she doesn't have a clue. Or if she does, she's willing to trade it in for a cheap political shot.
This is not the first time Fiorina has played politics with climate change. In 2008, when she was advising Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, she enthusiastically supported
McCain's climate change plans, noting, "I think there is growing consensus that the issues of climate change and energy independence are inextricably linked." She gave a thumbs-up to a proposed cap-and-trade system that would reduce global warming emissions. Yet last November -- when she was already running as a conservative in the California primary -- she suggested
that the science on global warming was iffy, though she still called it a "serious issue."
This is confusing. If it's a serious issue, then what's wrong with Boxer saying that?
Fiorina, who has loaned her campaign about $3 million of her own money, is a perfect example of the whatever-it-takes pol. Then again, her campaign -- which previously brought us the infamous demon sheep ad
-- is doing something right. Fiorina is a failed corporate exec, yet she is poised to win a statewide GOP contest. At HP
, she engineered the not-so-successful acquisition of Compaq, oversaw massive layoffs, defended outsourcing, and was eventually nudged aside, though she departed with a rather generous $21 million severance package. After six years of running the company, she ended up a symbol of multiple corporate excesses: golden parachutes, outsourcing, and M&A mania. Still, she has a fighting chance of becoming a U.S. senator.
Her HP past may not come back to haunt her. But perhaps this anti-Boxer ad will. I can envision a counter-spot from Boxer: "The CIA and the Pentagon both say climate change is an important national security issue. Yet Carly Fiorina compares it to worrying about the weather. Californians need a senator who's serious . . ." We may not see the return of demon sheep in the coming Boxer-Fiorina face-off. But expect the Boxer campaign to do something about this weather ad, not just talk about it.
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