"If you read newspapers—and I hope you don't clutter your mind with such nonsense" is how Chris Doss of the Leadership Institute opened a breakout session “Lies Told to You by Liberals.” Billed as an “activism boot camp,” the session took place on February 27, the second day of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), in National Harbor, Maryland.
I wasn’t there to see this guy—who blabbered on about how Marxists and communists had infiltrated the Democratic Party, and then the civil rights and anti-war movements. People streamed in, and quickly out, while he was speaking. No one was there to hear this guy. They were there for Carly Fiorina.
Fiorina, who made her debut at CPAC yesterday, was leading the following section, “Countering the ‘War on Women’ Lie.” By the time she walked into the room, it was packed to capacity, the seats filled with a noticeably large number of young women.
“The War on Women continues, even though it failed and fell flat for [Democrats] in 2014,” said Fiorina in her opening remarks.
This isn’t the first time Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO and potential presidential candidate, has done this talk. She spoke last year at CPAC on the same topic, and, she said, she had young women telling her afterwards that she needs to educate more women about the rhetoric surrounding the War on Women that she contends does not exist.
So Fiorina created the Unlocking Potential Project, with the goal, she said, of engaging women voters in Republican politics by using their personal connections and grassroots strategies.
“Women are most persuaded by women they know,” said Fiorina. It was this notion that led her to equip women with the skills to take apart the "War on Women" rhetoric.
During the campaign for the 2014 midterm elections, Unlocking Potential deployed women—and men who showed interest—to five states, according to Fiorina: Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Colorado.
“The media has taken over the 'War on Women' rhetoric,” said Fiorina. “Women are not single-issue voters,” but the media and Democrats, she said, would have you thinking that reproductive rights is all they care about.
“Our views are as diverse as men’s,” said Fiorina, evoking the conservative notion that Democrats hold back women by assuming they are victims, while conservatives don’t pigeonhole them. “We care about all the issues.”
Carly Fiorina then dove into how the past few years under President Barack Obama—and in California, as represented by U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, to whom she lost in 2010—have hurt women. “The real war on women is happening every day,” she said, in the guise of low participation rates in the labor force (forget the economy that is still recovering from the Bush crash), and her claim that, under the current system, women are being denied health-care access in hospitals. (Although Fiorina didn’t specify or elaborate on her claim, the implication was that Obamacare was somehow to blame.)
“Equal pay for equal work—it’s a good idea,” Fiorina continued. “That’s why there was a law passed in 1963” that she sees as having more or less taken care of the problem. Women just need to use the law when paid unfairly, she asserted.
Today, women don’t need another law, she said, but rather “pay-for-performance environments, not the seniority system.”
“You know who supports seniority?” she asked, rhetorically. “Unions.”
I cannot stress how, after spending a full day at CPAC the previous day with people shouting the same things at you over and over, how sane this talk could sound to some.
She then dove into the subject of abortion, and readily made it known that she is proudly “pro-life” (or in other words, anti-choice), but urged a change in demeanor when conservatives address the issue.
“We need to talk about it in a calm and respectful tone and lay out the facts.” It was exactly how she was speaking, calmly engaging her audience. Her tone was open, inviting, leveled.
“Women do not like the tone of politics. They frequently tell us that they do not like to be judged,” she continued, “We need to be empathetic and respectful. Any time a woman is in a difficult situation, she never deserves our condemnation, but she deserves our empathy.”
But when you get into these conversations with other women, she told her rapt audience, don’t assume people will know the facts. One great way to start these conversations, she said, was to ask: “Do you know what the Democratic Party platform is?”
She attacked Democratic opposition to laws that would effectively close a number of abortion clinics for not having “high enough standards.” These are laws, such as those passed in Texas and Mississippi that demand that abortion clinics meet the standards of hospital operating rooms, or that require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges to a local hospitals—a Catch-22 if one’s local hospital is run by administrators who oppose abortion.
“Do we want higher standards for tattoo parlors than for abortion clinics?” she asked, without elaborating on the arbitrary nature of such regulation, state to state.
Armed with new talking points, the women in the room seemed empowered by her speech.
Carly Fiorina may not make it far in a bid for president, but she’s not to be overlooked. It’s likely that the GOP will use her to woo conservative women voters in the run-up to 2016.
In closing, she mixed a metaphor or two: “Women are like a pile of dry tinder, we have to engage them and they’ll stand up.”
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(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)
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