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Carly Fiorina vs. Barbara Boxer: The Sisterhood and Abortion Politics

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It's nice that being called a feminist is no longer the slur it once was now that a hardy band of pro-life Republican women candidates has adopted the label. Former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina, the GOP choice facing three-term Senate Democrat Barbara Boxer, will -- as the song goes -- accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative when it comes to her feminist, anti-choice credentials.

It has long been a truism that you can't win election statewide in California without being pro-choice. The last two Republican governors, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Pete Wilson, were pro-choice. Even conservative icon Ronald Reagan early in his first term as governor signed a therapeutic abortion law that liberalized access to the procedure years before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal.

Boxer's strong support for a woman's reproductive rights has animated her career since she was first elected to the Senate in 1992. The memory of Boxer, along with six other women lawmakers, storming the Capitol steps to demand an open Senate hearing on charges of sexual harassment brought by law professor Anita Hill against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas is an archetypal image that Fiorina might dismiss, along with Boxer's hair, as "so yesterday."

Fiorina is counting on a radically different zeitgeist this election. With unemployment at 12 percent in California, she believes that her business background and her promise to bring Silicon Valley know-how to government will trump social issues in November. (One caveat for Boxer to exploit: as head of H-P, Fiorina fired people, and was then fired herself.) H-P stock nosedived during Fiorina's five and a half years at the helm of the company, and it's questionable whether her top-down, autocratic style fits the legislative process, which is about building consensus. Still, if the contest is fought on economic issues and job creation, the voters may be willing to take a flier on someone new versus Boxer, a 30-year veteran of the political process.

The core women's issues that have been central to Boxer's career may not have the resonance this year that they once had. A friend of mine who is the mother of three young adult daughters told me that abortion for them is a non-issue. They think anybody that gets pregnant must want to, and they point to Rielle Hunter, John Edwards' mistress, as exhibit A. Their thinking is that there are so many options to prevent pregnancy, and if you mess up, there's the morning-after pill, which could soon be available from a French manufacturer in a formula that can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex. These young women are not classically pro-life; they don't want to ban abortion. But they don't see it as a right that's essential, or one that is particularly threatened. They take for granted that it will always be there; they just don't think about it as a motivating issue to vote one way or the other.

What we're seeing in this election cycle, propelled in part by Sarah Palin, is the rise of pro-life feminists in a party where previously the women who rose to elective office were pro-choice moderates. Moderate GOP women have been mostly purged from the party, taken down in primaries by right-wing candidates. I remember the criticism that former New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman took for her staunch pro-choice views. Often mentioned as a possible vice-presidential candidate, she never made the cut, once joking at a Gridiron dinner that she never made it past the first trimester.

Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at National Review, applauds the new prominence of pro-life women in politics. He notes there are currently none in the Senate and only 13 in the House, and at least one of those, Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, is a Democrat. Even among first ladies whose husbands opposed abortion rights, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and Laura Bush all supported Roe v. Wade, quietly passing the word they were pro-choice. Ponnuru credits Sarah Palin with emboldening and empowering a new breed of women, pro-life feminists, to enter politics. Palin no doubt deserves some credit as a role model, but in politics, like much of life, timing is everything. It's easier to be pro-life today now that botched abortions with coat hangers are a fading memory (so yesterday), and worries about finding work and keeping up with mortgage payments top voter concerns.

Ponnuru points out that Fiorina can present her anti-choice position in a less judgmental way than a male candidate, saying, "I myself was not able to have children of my own, and so I know what a precious gift life is." That probably won't persuade the generation of women who were with Boxer from the start of her long career, but it will get Fiorina a hearing with the generations that followed. They want to know what she would do that Boxer hasn't to revive California's faltering economy and make life better for them. The outcome of this marquee race is as much about the sisterhood as it is the two contenders.

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dmgg711

It sound like Barbara Boxer was the only one to make choices concerning California. Has anyone check on the Senate voting polls on certain issues of interest on how your senators votes? Republicans are noted for voting no or if it concerns big business or oil then that's another story and they will go way out to accommodate the big donaters that helped them win.

June 19 2010 at 10:08 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
apc888

I was asked to work on Baraba Boxer re-elections campaign I said I would if they could tell me what she did for the State of Ca for last 6 years. I never heard back. The HP under Carly and before/after her had to do what a lot of US companies need to do stay in business. Hopefully we can get someone in office who has run a company. Understands the effects of over-regulations. Understand that every production posisiton supports nine non production positions. Understand the only way to get our economy rolling and to reduce our debt is to make it desirable to bring back the manufacturing jobs to the US.

June 18 2010 at 5:05 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
trueford

pro or against, no one is ever gonna agree on the abortion issue, so for me I'll look for other more important issues affecting CA when I vote.

June 17 2010 at 6:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
flyingfortresb17

IT's not so much that Barabra Boxer is liberal. Or that she is for abortion. It is that she has been in the congress and politcal picture for 30 years saying the same thing for 30 years. You do not keep a teacher who teaches the same lecture for 30 years. If it isn't up-dated every three to four years then what is taught is ancient history. That is Boexer's problem.

June 17 2010 at 11:49 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
ernestvalerius

It's refreashing to have a pro-life, pro-death penality, pro-feminist conservative in the running.

June 15 2010 at 8:43 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ernestvalerius's comment
ernestvalerius

...NOT1

June 15 2010 at 8:52 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
Rob & Kathy

I think it's strange that someone who as done so little for the state of California as Boxer has would even be considered for another term...

June 15 2010 at 8:23 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Rob & Kathy's comment
apc888

I agree. What has Boxer done for the State of Ca over the last 6 years. If person answer that question truthfully then they will not be voting for Boxer.

June 18 2010 at 5:07 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
nrthstr11

HP suffered under Fiorina, not to mention that she sent thousands of johs overseas during her tenure. In fact her management of HP was so bad that they made a retirement offer to get rid of her as theri CEO. Whitman has her own shady issues with her own finances considering she is tied to Goldman Sachs. Neither one of them is fit to talk about managing money or good business practices. Plus Fiorino seems to me awfully petty as observed by her comments regarding Barbara Boxer. Talk about re-inforcing the stereotype that women cannot help but be Catty to one another. This actual physical abuse by Whitman as a boss is to me a big deal. We can't have someone that represents California who cannot control her own temper enough to not Hit people. SHe needs to be held to the same standard as anyone else, striking someone man or woman is totally unacceptable.

June 15 2010 at 3:50 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to nrthstr11's comment
starrant7497

Take a look at the facts posted about what happened to HP after Fiorina left. Under the management of Hurd, HP lost more jobs (roughly 40,000) and the stock has dipped to new lows. Not exactly a model company to work for and Fiorina can't be blamed for the continued problems HP faces.
And Boxer has been slapping the CA public in face for almost thirty years! Nice choices here.

June 15 2010 at 5:00 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
glers

The GOP had the perfect opportunity to overturn Roe v Wade, they had the White house, Senate , House of Reps and the supreme court from 2000 to 2006, why didn't they do it??? Because they don't want to, it's the one issue that keeps their base loyal to their party....how does it feel to be used republicans??

June 15 2010 at 3:08 PM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to glers's comment
starrant7497

Well I guess that makes Boxer bad for America as well. Boxer has been a part of the problem for over 25 years in CA and the U.S.
Her failure to help the citizens of CA has helped lead them to record breaking unemployment. Is that what CA and America wants more of?

June 15 2010 at 5:18 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
nbk4real

exactly...

June 18 2010 at 1:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
pcprivatmail

Carly Fiorina and Sarah Palin are NOT Femninists.
Sorry- you'll have to come up with another word for these two who seem hellbent on setting back the women's movement to join the conservtive Old Boys network!

Rights are never a hot button issue, until somebody tied to take them away-like so many things we saw under George Bush which have yet tobe resolved.

Carleton's Dad was a Constitutional Law Professor. I would love to know what he has to say about his little girl, now.

June 15 2010 at 2:07 PM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply
realrambo

Ifind it interesting that someone that took over one of the worlrd largest corporation manged to get their stock price fromm $56 to $ 22 , eliminating 10%of the work force worldwide , created a spying corporate system that make Watergate look like disneyland , someone publicly named as the worste CEO in the USA would run for senator , Are the USA heading back to the MacArthur era ?

June 15 2010 at 12:49 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to realrambo's comment

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