Last Thursday I helped enhance Maine’s reputation for hospitality by hosting Carly Fiorina at the Sable Oaks Marriott in South Portland. There were a number of reasons I undertook this task. I had already planned to to contribute to the Maine Heritage Policy Center (HHPC) and when they invited Carly Fiorina to be their keynote speaker I leapt at the chance to welcome her.
As I told her at the reception I’ve waited fifty years for a presidential candidate with a background in Medieval History. She took the news calmly—not a sign of girlish excitement. I admired her self-control. I also admired her disciplined, eloquent, articulate, and intelligent speaking style. I began as a “sponsor,” which entitled me to ten seats at the banquet and five tickets to the VIP reception. When word got out, I found myself beset by a crowd of suppliants eager to attend an event which had sold out. So I upgraded from sponsor to host in order to accommodate the Fiorina enthusiasts. The MHPC’s choice of keynote speaker turned out to be both inspired and inspirational. They had a record five hundred guests and had to open up an extra meeting room offering televised access to her speech. Audience reaction was exuberant and undeniable.
Donald Trump, seeing Fiorina surging to fourth place, reacted with a nasty tweet (the only kind of tweet he knows): “I just realized that if you listen to Carly Fiorina for more than ten minutes straight, you develop a massive headache…” Although I could not study all five hundred faces in the banquet hall to gauge the reactions, I can say that I saw no signs of headaches anywhere. The two guys I drove home with thanked me thirteen times for inviting them and I received phone calls in the same vein.
I did not find Fiorina’s speech heavy-laden with arcane and complex words, but I imagine The Donald’s head must buzz and sputter from trying to follow her. It can’t be easy for a man with his limited semantic endowment. Nearly as I can tell from my abbreviated research he gets antagonistic and disoriented whenever a conversation embraces more than a dozen one-syllable words (e.g., “You,” “are” and “fired.”)
A successful speech must convey conviction. Nothing can work without it. Thursday’s speech was wildly successful so the candidate met that vital criterion.
Much of the substance was familiar to Republican audiences, some of it to Democrats as well.
The United States government is unaccountable, incompetent, unresponsive, too expensive and generally dysfunctional. Check.
The gargantuan and incomprehensible federal bureaucracy oppresses the citizenry and suffocates individual initiative. Check
The sprawling apparatus of government, in so far as it’s controllable at all, is run by a self-serving governing class incapable of reforming the apparatus and uninterested in reforming itself. Check.
The status quo is unacceptable and must be changed. Check.
She drove those points home with vivid examples. In the aftermath of the of the Veterans’ Administration scandals, she pointed out, Congress enacted a special dispensation of Civil Service rules allowing the executive branch to fire up to 400 incompetents and sneaks. So far, she told us, two people have gotten the boot.
On this evidence one can conclude that she makes the same substantive points as most of her Republican rivals, but does a better job of it. The enthusiastic reaction (both during the speech and in conversation outside it) to the prospect of Carly debating Hillary was especially notable. Simple-minded pundits will inevitably explain this as the expectation of our woman candidate vanquishing theirs. This would not account for the emphatic mirth stirred up at the prospect. I believe the Republicans present see a collision of the genuine and the fraudulent, of self-confidence pitted against devious calculation, of eloquence opposed to glibness and, above all, of serious purpose opposed to self-serving ambition. They expect lots of fun, with popcorn for everyone and beer for some.
Apart from delivery, a Carly Fiona speech has a couple of features not found in those of her GOP rivals. She places repeated emphasis on the egalitarian idea that everyone has serous potential and that government must seek to remove obstacles to the realization of this potential.
She also had to deal with her dismissal as CEO of Hewlitt-Packard (H-P). Her response boils down to this: if you set out to change the status quo you make enemies; and that her decisions were correct even though they resulted in a majority of the H-P Board sacking her. She will have to contend with these questions repeatedly in the weeks to come, and if she wins the nomination the Democrats will feature her alleged Hewlitt-Packard failure in their attack ads and sound bites.
Maine’s Democratic Party chairman, Phil Bartlett did not react to her speech. He pressed his Robo-Response button, read the required phrases, and repeated them faithfully, i.e., nyah nyah she drove H-P into the ground; “same failed policies that hold back Maine’s economic growth:” “she fired employees; hard-working Mainers deserved better than the same failed policies, the MHPC is an extreme right wing think tank that backs the same failed economic policies, same failed economic policies, same failed economic policies….”
Phil may not know what an actual economic policy looks like; his grasp of the ebbs and flows of high-tech companies may barely exceed that of a mature chipmunk; he may not know how to work his way up from insignificant political hack to leader of a huge corporation; but the man sure knows how “to stay on message.”