Saturday, September 26, 2015

Carly Fiorina and Pro-Life Feminism: New Ideas in the Quad Cities

When presidential candidate Carly Fiorina spoke to a crowd at St. Ambrose University September 25 as part of a Quad Cities New Ideas Forum, there were indeed new ideas presented. I will mention three that didn't get picked up by the larger media:

1) Singing "Happy Birthday" to a unstable audience member. Carly deserves credit, both personally and professionally, for handing a difficult situation creatively and compassionately. As soon as she took the podium, a vociferous veteran loudly introduced himself to her for some reason. She gave the obligatory thank-you-for-your service line and asked him to wait for the questions, at which time he walked to within 10 feet of Fiorina (making security jump) and spoke, somewhat incoherently, about low wages and destroying ISIS. When he mentioned something about the Chinese people and said "cutting his head off on national TV" Fiorina wisely interrupted him and asked him politely to sit down. As he left, with a cordial "yes, ma'am," he noted that it was his birthday, and she encouraged the crowd in the most awkward rendition of "Happy Birthday" that ever was sung.

I tried to look up his reference, having recorded a portion of his question, and found a site called "Now the End Begins: The Magazine of Record for the Last Days." This site has a story about the Chinese government warning its people about ISIS with a big screen TV showing the beheading of journalist James Foley. I of course do not know if this is precisely the site that informed him, but many, including Fiorina, were surely concerned that this would be another unbridled Trump-supporter moment, with dangerously ambiguous references to getting rid of "them." What makes this different is that the man was more obviously mentally unstable. I talked with the Super PAC staff and they said he claimed to be homeless, smelled of alcohol, and asked for money. The Trump supporter was personally stable, but just an apparent listener to mentally unstable right-wind radio. Either way, as the conservative rhetoric intensifies, so intensifies the likelihood that some Smerdyakov will actually do the dirty work that they imply. The hawkish conservatives managed to sing their way out of this one.

2) Medical marijuana and Military Service. An advocate for medical marijuana challenged Fiorina about her position. A few alternative news sources, like American Green Zine, picked up on this. The headline is telling: "Veteran Confronts Carly Fiorina Over Medical Marijuana." When the woman stated she was a nurse and veteran with high security clearance, Fiorina forgot to also give the thank-you-for-your-service line to her. This woman was not unstable, but not on Carly's side. Fiorina's honest response, "you're not going to like my answer ..." began her criticism of medical marijuana.

What is interesting to me is the headline. What does the fact that the woman is a veteran have to do with the topic? When SAU Librarian Stella Herzig asked Fiorina about long work hours and lack of maternity leave, the QCTimes did not mention she was a librarian. And yet American Green Zine obviously regards being a veteran as helping make its criticism of Fiorina stronger. As admirable as the questioner's background is, it still remains irrelevant. In philosophy, we call this an illegitimate Appeal to Authority. Among Republicans especially, the military is an authoritative figure for American values.

3) Pro-life feminism. Politicians develop a friend-or-foe sensor as powerful as our earliest ancestors who were hunted by saber-toothed tigers. When the vociferous military veteran first stood up, Fiorina at least perceived a friend. When two women lined up later, she likely saw foes. Hippie, progressive, and hipster in appearance, they probably looked like a challenge, and her heart rate went up again.

Fiorina is a pro-life conservative. Two of the questions from the audience were from women who were part of pro-life feminist groups. One of these groups, Feminists for Non-Violent Choices
challenged Fiorina about economic matters that affect women and child-bearing. I talked with the questioner afterward, and we discussed how she was anti-death penalty, anti-war, and, even personally, a vegetarian. FFNVC is no disingenuous group of conservatives wearing "feminism" like knock-off fashion. These are serious and respectful progressives who see anti-abortion as a natural part of their beliefs. This is a welcomed departure from the entrenched pro-choice people who obnoxiously confronted Fiorina Sept. 26, saying "How can you, as a woman, not support our health care?," failing to understand that what constitutes appropriate health care is a matter of dispute. This is as unhelpful as if someone were to confront Bernie Sanders by saying "How can you, as a man, not support patriarchy?"

Unfortunately, at least one local newscast merely stated how Fiorina defended her pro-life position at the event. If that were true, then indeed there would have been no new ideas presented at the Quad Cities New Ideas Forum. For example, Fiorina just towed the Republican foreign policy line that the USA should support its allies and intimidate its enemies. (This is, incidentally, a departure from Jesus' belief that we should love our enemies, and a flouting of Jesus' saying about how even the Pharisees love those who love them.)

By being presented with pro-life feminists from the Quad Cities, Fiorina now has the opportunity to be truly new and antiestablishment in her views. When I talked with her afterward, I mentioned I was a philosophy professor, and she noted her interdisciplinary undergraduate degree, at least in part, was focused on philosophy. I admire that. I hope she uses that training to step outside of ordinary political categories. If so, even I, who have only voted for one Republican in my life, would consider her candidacy.

--Tadd Ruetenik

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