Tonight, Carly Fiorina appeared onstage with the other big Republican candidates, having gotten a huge boost in the polls after the August 6 debate. Tonight, though, while she sounded strong, she made it clear that her platform doesn’t make much sense. She showed off a severe lack of understanding about how things work. It seems that her entire platform comes down to this: “Shrink the government, and run it like a business. Then everything will be fine.”
What is Fiorina’s biggest weakness? After the joke, she dodged the question entirely.
First of all, she said that her biggest weakness was that she didn’t smile enough during the last debate. Then, as her supposedly serious answer, she said the following:
I also think that these are very serious times; 75 percent of the American people think the federal government is corrupt. I agree with them. And this big powerful, corrupt bureaucracy works now only for the big, the powerful, the wealthy and the well-connected. Meantime, wages have stagnated for 40 years. We have more Americans out of work or just Americans who quit looking for work for 40 years.
Ours was intended to be a citizen government. This is about more than replacing a D with an R. We need a leader who will help us take our government back.
So that’s one question badly answered, and then dodged with a spiel about the horrors of big government. All we can say is, “Say what?”
Fiorina’s position on taxes and the tax code
Other candidates talked about the tax cuts they want, which are primarily ridiculous. Carson wants a flat tax of around 15 percent, and so does Trump, and Trump thinks tax cuts will make the economy take off (then again, name a Republican candidate that doesn’t). Rubio wants to expand the child tax credit, but wants to give more tax cuts to the wealthy. Kasich says he can both cut taxes and balance the budget, and calls everything everyone else is saying a fantasy.
Fiorina, however, seems to think that simplifying the tax code to three pages will work, but she didn’t really explain how she’d do that:
You know why three? Because only if it’s about three pages are you leveling the playing field between the big, the powerful, the wealthy and the well-connected who can hire the armies of lawyers and accountants and, yes, lobbyists to help them navigate their way through 73,000 pages.
Three pages is about the maximum that a single business owner or a farmer or just a couple can understand without hiring somebody. Almost 60 percent of American people now need to hire an expert to understand their taxes.
So yes, you’re going to hear a lot of talk about tax reform, the issue is, who is going to get it done.
Who, indeed, because it’s the House Ways and Means Committee that does this, not the president. A three-page tax code would likely look something like this: “The taxes you must pay are laid out in the following tables. There are no deductions. There are a few credits. Good luck.” That sounds great in theory, because, let’s face it, our tax code is way too complicated. It needs to be simplified, and it can be simplified. However, it can’t be simplified to just three pages without either creating 900,000,000 loopholes due to vagueness (and make no mistake, big business would have their lawyers work out every single loophole imaginable), and/or badly hurting the most vulnerable among us.
On the problem of crony capitalism
She attacked big government, claiming that big government is what leads to collusion between companies and crony capitalism. The telecom companies, the pharmaceutical industry, and Wall Street, are all prime examples of how the rich and powerful feel they must get even more rich and powerful just so they can deal with a too-big and overly powerful government, in her eyes. Then she said:
You see, folks, this is how socialism starts. Government causes a problem, and then government steps in to solve the problem. This is why, fundamentally, we have to take our government back.
The student loan problem has been created by government. Government trying to level the playing field between Internet and brick-and-mortar creates a problem. The FCC jumping in now and saying, “we’re going to put 400 pages of regulation over the Internet,” is going to create massive problems.
But guess who pushed for that regulation? The big Internet companies. This is what’s going on. Big and powerful use big and powerful government to their advantage.
That is not how socialism starts; she doesn’t even know what socialism is. She’s playing the linguistics game, making socialism out to be the same thing as communism. They aren’t, but Republicans know socialism is just as dirty a word as communism, so it’s no biggie for them to say they’re the same thing, and will lead us into a brutal dictatorship.
Generally, she’s stating the symptoms correctly, but completely missing the underlying problem. These companies take advantage of the government because court decisions, like Citizens United, allow them to. They take advantage because our lax laws regarding lobbying allow them to. We don’t have much in place that stops them from using the government to their advantage.
We do have a problem with crony capitalism, but shrinking the government and reducing regulation isn’t going to help. Light touch regulation doesn’t work, and the telecom industry is a perfect example of that. Wall Street is another. The market that these people tout doesn’t work the way they think it will.
She also believes that the government should not play a larger role in helping set up retirement benefits for employees of small businesses, and those who work in the growing “gig economy.” She believes that it should be up to individual businesses to set them up, because of course.
Nobody in the GOP seems to understand that business can’t be trusted to do what’s in the best interests of their employees, or their customers. If business could be trusted, we’d have very few laws regulating them and they’d all treat their employees and customers like VIPs. We’d be a paragon of the virtues free-market capitalism because we could be.
Instead, we have all kinds of problems because we let the so-called “free market” run amok.
On the federal budget, which is still “big government not run enough like a business” to her
Despite wanting small government, she wants to go to a concept known as zero-based budgeting, which would require government agencies to start from zero, and account for every single dime they need to spend. They would itemize everything they spend. Done right, it could vastly improve transparency in government spending, which is what she wants:
I would like to start with a basic. Let us actually go to zero- based budgeting so we know where the money is being spent. It’s kind of basic. There is a bill sitting in the House that would actually pass and have us go to zero-based budgeting so we know where every dime of your money is being spent instead of only talking about how much more we’re going to spend year after year after year.
Oddly enough, the last president to propose zero-based budgeting was Democratic President Jimmy Carter. The problem with Fiorina wanting to go to zero-based budgeting is this: She wants to use it as a government-shrinking tool. One of the myths of zero-based budgeting is that it necessarily requires cutting to the bone to get rid of unnecessary expenses. She may very well try to force agencies to do that, which could hurt many necessary government operations (like background checks for gun purchases, or federal law enforcement).
While zero-based budgeting can also better allow Congress to reallocate money from one area that’s spending too much to another that doesn’t have enough, it’s really difficult to see how this would work with a government versus a business. In short, she wants to run the federal budget like a business budget.
The major problem with that is, even fiscal conservatives loathe to truly cut spending. The thing that makes zero-based budgeting work so well in business is the profit motive. Cutting spending means boosting profit. The government doesn’t have the profit motive, and we can actually justify pretty much everything we spend.
This is another issue where, if they were really, truly serious about doing it, they’d have done it by now and made it work. Cutting government spending requires making painful choices that often aren’t politically popular. We saw that with the 2013 sequester, and ever since the sequester went into effect, we’ve heard cries from both sides of the aisle calling for easing those cuts.
It doesn’t seem that Fiorina remembers this.
So what about social issues, like women’s issues?
We should be able to expect that she understands women’s issues, but alas, she failed there, too. In going after Hillary Clinton’s policies, she said:
Becky, it is the height of hypocrisy for Mrs. Clinton to talk about being the first woman President, when every single policy she espouses, and every single policy of President Obama has been demonstrably bad for women.
92 percent — 92 percent of the jobs lost during Barack Obama’s first term belonged to women. Senator Cruz is precisely right. Three million women have fallen into poverty under this administration.
The New York Times fact-checked that, and found that her assertions were incorrect. The unemployment rate among women did increase slightly during Obama’s first term, but it was similar to the overall unemployment rate. That means the pattern of unemployment among women was similar to that of men. In other words, she’s wrong about this statistic.
Does she think that Republican policies, like cutting women’s healthcare, and gutting the social safety net, will help? What do Republicans plan to do to help women? For all their alleged concern, they don’t have solid policies in place—like supporting the Equal Rights Amendment—to help women.
They don’t have ideas for single mothers, except “make them less dependent on government,” which is the GOP’s answer to poverty in general.
They’re attacking Planned Parenthood relentlessly, heedless of the fact that not only are those videos absolutely lies, but Planned Parenthood is one thing that greatly helps low-income women. In other words, the GOP plan is to demonize anything the Democrats can do, while chipping away at the progress that women have made over the last many decades.
Fiorina ended the debate by saying she is Hillary Clinton’s worst nightmare. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are actually her worst nightmare.