The dumbing down of Carly Fiorina

Apparently, you have to pretend to be ignorant of science to win a Republican primary these days

Pants on Fire!UPDATE:  PolitiFact rates this ad “Pants on Fire!”

Perhaps the most embarrassingly anti-scientific ad you’ll ever see for a statewide race in a ‘blue state’ comes from a woman who once ran one of the top science-based companies in the world:

As David Corn writes, “It only took half a minute for Fiorina to demonstrate she is not a responsible adult.”  My Salon piece on this inane ad, “The dumbing down of Carly Fiorina,” is below.

Presumably, the former CEO of one of America’s leading technology companies knows the difference between long-term worldwide profitability and product sales on one day in one store.

But apparently to win the Republican nomination for Senate in California these days, even a woman whose brain-power might have been a campaign asset has to pretend she doesn’t know the difference between long-term global climate trends and the daily, local weather.

An unintentionally revealing new ad by former Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief who is favored to win next Tuesday’s GOP primary, quotes Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer saying in 2007, “One of the very important national security issues we face, frankly, is climate change.”

Carly then leaps in with this: “Terrorism kills, and Barbara Boxer is worried about the weather. I’m Carly Fiorina. I ran Hewlett-Packard. I chaired the external advisory board for the CIA. We’ve had enough of her politics. I’ll work to keep you safe.”

Fiorina’s first sentence — willfully pretending that being concerned about the threat of global warming is the same as being worried about whether it’s going to rain today — should disqualify anyone for higher office, especially in California.

Last year, Energy Secretary and Nobel laureate Steven Chu, who ran a major national laboratory in California, warned that if we keep on our current path of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions, it could be devastating to California’s climate: “You’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California.”

No worries for Carly, though. She has a bigger concern than her state’s future — her own political future. She wanted an endorsement in her GOP primary contest from the leading anti-climate dis-informer in the Senate, James Inhofe, Boxer’s bªte noire on the Environment and Public Works Committee and a man once described by the Washington Post as “the last flat-earther.” When she won Inhofe’s backing, Fiorina was asked whether she believes in global warming. Her reply: “I think we should have the courage to examine the science on an ongoing basis.”

Fiorina’s race-to-the-intellectual-bottom ad is especially embarrassing because of the credentials she touts. After all, she ran HP — and HP has been unequivocal about climate science. This is from their Global Citizenship Report 2008:

Our planet’s climate is changing, and scientific consensus is that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are the main culprit. The effects are forecasted to be far-reaching and substantial. The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, published in 2007, warned that unmitigated climate change would likely trigger a range of environmental problems threatening agriculture, natural habitats and communities in low-lying coastal areas.

With the threat of such dangerous impacts, it’s not surprising that our military and intelligence leaders worry it could lead to conflict. Last September, the CIA opened its Center on Climate Change and National Security, saying:

“Its charter is not the science of climate change, but the national security impact of phenomena such as desertification, rising sea levels, population shifts, and heightened competition for natural resources.”

As David Corn notes, “If Fiorina had paid attention to the CIA’s actual work, she would know this.” Apparently smart, science-oriented candidates can’t win Republican primaries, so they have to pretend to be dumb.

Ask John McCain, a one-time conservative leader on climate science and climate action, who, faced with a tough primary of his own in Arizona, absurdly claimed this year that he has “never favored” capping global warming pollution “at a certain level.” Fiorina, who endorsed strong climate action when she was a John McCain surrogate during the presidential campaign, has also flip-flopped and now opposes it.

I suppose the good news for Fiorina is that pretty much the whole Republican Party is dumbing itself down on this issue, so perhaps nobody will notice her IQ drop. Just consider Charles Baker, the Republican candidate for governor of Massachusetts and a man who the Boston Globe has said “has a reputation as a smart guy.” But asked in February whether he agrees with scientists that humans are changing the climate, Baker replied: “I absolutely am not smart enough to believe I know the answer to that question.”

Perhaps that should be the bumper sticker of every GOP candidate for higher office: “I absolutely am not smart enough.”

UPDATE:  PolitiFact says Fiorina is “guilty of a major distortion here” and “a trivialization of climate change but also a failure to distinguish between two well-established scientific specialties.”

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41 Responses to The dumbing down of Carly Fiorina

  1. Leif says:

    I am not from California but I am from the West Coast and I would like to say this about that:

    To any politician that may want my vote…

    If you are not voting GREEN, I am not voting for you.
    End of story.

  2. Chris Winter says:

    I am in California, and I came to dislike Fiorina when she was CEO of HP — to the extent that I’d modify Joe’s opening sentence thus:

    Perhaps the most embarrassingly anti-scientific ad you’ll ever see for a statewide race in a ‘blue state’ comes from a woman who once ran one of the top science-based companies in the world [into the ground]…

    And I had plenty of company.

    More and more, it seems this anti-intellectual trend in the GOP is in danger of sinking the party. What worries me is the damage that may occur to the country in the process.

  3. Tom Fid says:

    Fiorina’s #19 on Portfolio’s list of worst CEOs ever.

  4. And Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen joins BP in its own anti-science offensive: ‘Scientists believe they say underwater oil plumes, but we’re not sure it’s oil’:

  5. Jeff Huggins says:

    Although I did not know her, and she certainly wouldn’t know me, I had the opportunity to see Carly Fiorina in action, a number of times, during meetings between groups of folks at Disney and at HP at a time when we (I was at Disney at the time) were working on a big futuristic project, exploring the use of a bunch of futuristic technologies in new theme park experiences with HP.

    She was not impressive. I can’t begin to imagine her as Governor.

    And it is shocking to see the way she diminishes the importance of climate change in this ad and implies that we shouldn’t be worried about (as she puts it) “the weather”. Shocking.

    Although I don’t follow HP, my impression was that she had to leave HP for not doing a good job?

    Anyhow, if Californians ultimately somehow elect Fiorina, that will say a lot (not very comforting) about at least 51% of Californians, I suppose. Yikes. I hope that doesn’t come to pass.

    Be Well,


    Los Gatos, California

  6. Bill W says:

    Jeff, she’s running for the Republican nomination to run against Barbara Boxer for her Senate seat, not for governor. If she were to win the seat (which, with all the anti-incumbent fever running around, is probably possible), it would be a double blow, and arguably worse than her being governor.

  7. Will G says:

    Boxer is probably this nation’s best Senator, she must be re-elected. I am counting on you California voters.

  8. BobSmith says:

    The CIA and DoD have both said that Global Warming could have serious national security impacts.

  9. Leif says:

    They need to say it louder Bob. So one more time with gusto!

    The CIA and DoD have both said that Global Warming could have serious national security impacts.

  10. dhogaza says:

    I am in California, and I came to dislike Fiorina when she was CEO of HP

    When she said “I ran HP” in the ad, you’d think she’d be truthful and say “into the ground”.

    She won’t be winning the ex-HP employee vote, I think that’s fairly certain.

  11. Jeff Huggins says:

    To Bill W (Comment 6) …

    Thanks for the gentle correction and reminder!

    Just goes to show how disconnected I am from the upcoming political stuff here. Yikes.

    Thanks again,


  12. Wit's End says:

    Look at this graph! This is climate, not weather, and it is terrifying. Can anyone tell me what would constitute the upper boundary of that temperature climb? When and where will it stop – why would it?

  13. mike roddy says:

    Wow, what an ad.

    HP is a shell of its former self, thanks to Carly, who stayed atop HP for reasons nobody can fathom. The company’s trajectory during her tenure was straight down, and it never recovered.

    This ad confirms something we learned from the recent behavior of Tony Hayward: You can be the CEO of a huge corporation and be essentially as dumb as a two by four. I don’t even think Fioriana believes in climate change. She believes in whatever suits her ambitions.

    Don’t worry, if she wins the nomination Boxer will destroy her.

  14. Leif says:

    I do not think we should be using the term “believe” as in “believe in climate change.”

    Instead perhaps “accept climate change” would have better connotations.

  15. BobbyBob says:

    This has almost nothing to do with this story, except that it contains political and philosophical ideas; bit there are some facinating ideas that I thought should be shared: if Edmonton, a city that is nearly totally dependant on the Tar Sands, can share ideas like these, then maybe there really is hope for this world.

    Some of the audio quality is pretty poor, but it’s tolerable.

  16. mike roddy says:

    I saw the Edmonton green program, thanks.

    Edmonton is like Dallas, which also has its green contingent. They’re like the early Christians in Rome- tolerated unless they get to proselytizing too much. Then, they get eaten by beasts in the Colosseum.

    You’re right about the terminology, Leif. If someone doesn’t even accept climate change, they’ve identified themselves as untrustworthy on any subject whatsoever. Unfortunately, some of those guys are still in charge of this country.

  17. anon says:

    I couldn’t watch beyond ‘I ran Hewlett Packard. . .’ because all I could think was “into the ground” and turned it off in disgust.

    The utterly and completely cynical dumbing-down of our gov’t, perhaps a reflection of our society’s trajectory, makes me incredibly angry. Why the hell WOULDN’T you want the smartest man or woman in the room running our government?!?!?!

  18. catman306 says:

    Perhaps you wouldn’t want the smartest people running the government because you and your company could make MORE short term MONEY in such a system. Uncritical governance is perfect to strengthen corporatism and corporate rule: more military, more police, fewer social programs and LESS public EDUCATION to insure corporate rule for decades. Texas (and California tea baggers) want to strengthen corporatism in our America.

    BP = Big Phools

    How much oil money is in Carly’s coffers?

    Reelect Barbara Boxer for US Senate.

  19. evnow says:

    Like most IT related companies, execs rarely know the sceince. They are mostly marketing types.

    BTW, most American companies heavily depend on science and technology – that hasn’t stopped any of the CEOs from being anti-science in public.

  20. Theis says:

    Fiorina’s ad has been rated “pants on fire”-wrong by Politifact:

    [JR: Thanks. Updated!]

  21. Dana says:

    The most puzzling thing to me is that this is California. We’re in probably the most environmentally conscious state in the country, and even here Republicans think global warming denial is the way to win elections.

    In the polls Boxer has actually matched up better against Fiorina than the more moderate Thompson, who Fiorina is poised to defeat in Tuesdsay’s primary. Perhaps Republicans do have to appeal to the Tea Party vote to win primary nominations, but it will cost them in the November general election.

    Boxer will beat Fiorina, and the Republicans will pay for nominating a right-wing global warming-denying failure of a CEO to face her.

  22. Leif says:

    Mike @16:The more I think about it, I feel “believe” should be banished. You “believe” that there is a God. Barring evidence to the contrary you are allowed that belief. As a thinking person expecting to lead the Nation, you either accept the ~100 year old science of greenhouse gases and the evidence to support that science OR you present facts to the contrary with evidence to support your claims. Senators do not have the right to “believe” in Global Warming. They do not have the right to lead the nation with personal belief. I would of thought that was thought about with the “Separation of Church and State” clause. They can “believe” in different degrees of severity and present evidence, but there again, “Science” is closing doors. By allowing the “right” of the term “believe” we give them equal ground which they have not earned.

  23. Jackie says:

    Most American companies heavily depend on science and technology – that hasn’t stopped any of the CEOs from being anti-science in public.

  24. prokaryote says:

    Fiorina signed on with the Fox Business Network to become a business commentator on the network

    In response to questions during a radio interview on September 15, 2008, she stated that Palin lacks the experience to run a major company like Hewlett-Packard, “[b]ut that’s not what she’s running for. Running a corporation is a different set of things.” Fiorina later amended her comment, stating that none of the candidates on either ticket had the experience to run a major corporation.[79][80][81] After media coverage of her comments, one of her scheduled appearances on behalf of the campaign was canceled, although Fiorina continued to chair the party’s fundraising committee.

    When Fiorina became CEO in July, 1999, HP’s stock price was $52 per share, and when she left 5 1/2 years later in February, 2005, it was $21 per share—a loss of over 60% of the stock’s value.[40] During this same time period, HP competitor Dell’s stock price increased from $37 to $40 per share.

    Outside judgments on Fiorina’s tenure at HP are mixed. In 2008, Infoworld grouped her with a list of products and ideas as flops, declaring her to be the “anti-Steve Jobs” for reversing the goodwill of American engineers and for alienating existing customers.

  25. BobSmith says:

    Lief, I disagree that it’s either this or that. President Obama, Charles Darwin, and many others were Christian.

  26. Leif says:

    I believe I said that it was cool to believe in “God.” What you do not have the option is to disbelieve in science unless you have evidence to the contrary and present it to the scientific body. You can “believe” the earth is flat but you cannot build a public works project with that assumption. BobSmith @25.

  27. hapa says:

    “hi, i’m carly fiorina. barbara boxer works on a lot of issues. isn’t it time politics got simple again? i think so, and that’s why you should vote for me: i can only do one thing at a time.”

  28. glen says:

    Being anti-science is bad

    But, “Terrorism kills” ???

    Granted, fear is irrational, but Fiorina seems to have inverted all its logic. Driving is by far the most dangerous thing we do daily yet few people maintain a suitable sense of the threat. Driving is the leading cause of death among U.S. teenagers. On the flip side, many people are afraid of flying, yet the odds of dying are 1 in 19,000, so you would have to fly every week of your life before it approached the risk of your dying of cancer. Fear of a terrorist attack is just silly. For every American killed by a terrorist, 10,000 are shot to death by nonterrorists, and most of those nonterrorists are people they know, usually relatives.
    Some cold, hard facts: Cold is more dangerous than heat. Toothpicks are more dangerous than lightning. Pedestrians are more dangerous than fire. Beds are more dangerous than ladders. Snakes are more dangerous than terrorists. Flammable nightwear is more dangerous than a bee sting. Coconuts are more dangerous than sharks.
    Here’s some practical advice based on this welter of statistics. The American Medical Association has shown that most deaths in the U.S. result from modifiable behaviors. If everyone ate well, exercised, and avoided smoking, the mortality rate would drop by a third.

  29. asterisk says:

    She (and people like her…and people that VOTE for people like her) is the reason that we are going to hell in a handbag, frankly.

    I hope she lives to see the day that methane over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf begins venting at a rate that rivals all the CO2 currently emitted by man. At that point, I would love to be a fly on the wall when she explains this ad to her grandchildren.

    If there is a hell, then God help this woman.

  30. Fiorina out, HP stock soars
    February 10, 2005: 9:15 AM EST
    By Paul R. La Monica, CNN/Money senior writer

    NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – Hewlett-Packard Co. Chairman and CEO Carly Fiorina, one of the most powerful women in corporate America, is leaving the troubled computer maker after being forced out by the company’s board.

    Shares of HP (Research) jumped 6.9 percent in heavy trading on the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday on the news. But at one point, the stock was up as much as 10.5 percent.

    “The stock is up a bit on the fact that nobody liked Carly’s leadership all that much,” said Robert Cihra, an analyst with Fulcrum Global Partners. “The Street had lost all faith in her and the market’s hope is that anyone will be better.”

  31. Also, I notice on YouTube that this ad is getting far more viewers than any of her other ads. 21,430 views for this ad, compared with 2,890 views for here ad on jobs, 3,294 views for her ad on work, etc.

    I suspect that people are viewing this global warming ad because they have heard about how dumb it is.

  32. dhogaza says:

    Outside judgments on Fiorina’s tenure at HP are mixed. In 2008, Infoworld grouped her with a list of products and ideas as flops, declaring her to be the “anti-Steve Jobs” for reversing the goodwill of American engineers and for alienating existing customers.

    For decades, HP had the reputation of being one of the best technology companies for an engineer to work for.

    That’s what the “reversing the goodwill of American engineers” comment refers to. A large number of people hated working for Fiorna’s version of HP.

    I assume that Boxer’s campaign will be plastering the media with ads pointing out that she was fired by the board of HP, etc similarly to the news piece posted by Charles Siegel above.

    Should be like shooting fish in a barrel. Running on your business chops and leadership skills when you’ve been run out of HP with your tail between your legs doesn’t seem likely to be a winning strategy.

  33. Leland Palmer says:

    As a Californian, I watched part of the Republican party primary debate on TV with a feeling of horror. They were competing with each other to see who could be the most deceptive on climate change.

    Apparently outright denial can be a campaign strategy. It’s worked for the so called war on drugs for sixty years, why not for climate change?

    Needless to say, it would be a tragedy to see this really, really bad ex-CEO become governor of California. Arnold has been bad enough, she would be like Arnold on steroids, I think.

    Some people are very skilled politically, but just have a talent for getting the real world stuff wrong. I think that her tenure as CEO of Hewlett Packard demonstrates that. She took a thriving, expanding corporation with some of the best engineering talent in the world, and a happy highly motivated workforce, and came close to destroying it. The major stockholders had to stage a revolt to get rid of her, and pay her off with a huge golden parachute.

    Beyond that, the Republicans a “doubling down on the crazy” regarding global warming and the American public might reward them for it in the upcoming elections.

    What a tragedy. Maybe we, as a species, really are too stupid to live.

  34. fj2 says:

    The posted PolitiFact analysis is really quite good affirming the importance of reality-based governance.

  35. PurpleOzone says:

    Hey, Carly, did anybody ever get killed in California by mudslides or fires following extreme weather?

    Did “weather” cause more disruption in California last year than terrorists?

  36. Wit's End says:

    O/T but too good not to mention:

    “According to Joseph Romm’s 1999 seminal work, The Internet Economy and Global Warming, direct sales to consumers and decentralized digital inventories of goods could lead to dramatic reductions in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 2010.”

    [JR: Wow. That isn’t what I said, of course.]

  37. DreamQuestor says:

    I have often wondered whether the anti-intellectual attitude so prevalent among Republicans and conservatives is actually a backlash against the ever-increasing complexity of life. I am only 40 and yet even within that time, I have seen the complexity of life double. We used to be able to fix our own cars, for example, but now you need a computer and lots of expensive specialized equipment. Thirty years ago you could dump your household chemicals down the drain and no one cared. Now you have to wait for a household hazardous waste collection. Thirty years ago you could build a shed on your lawn if you had the tools and lumber. Now you need an environmental impact assessment. We have more choices than we did even just two decades ago, but we also have a greater responsibility. I think a lot of people resent that and that is why they vote for people like Sarah Palin and Carly Fiorina. They do not necessarily agree with them, but their simplistic populist attitude appeals to the frustration and fear that so many people feel now.

  38. Rick Covert says:

    I was in my native New Jersey and I went to Holmdel where I grew up and the home to Bell Labs which was renamed Lucent Labs. Before she was at HP Fiorina ran Lucent Labs into the ground. The labs were an icon and a source of pride in the community and I grew up around many engineers there and it inspired me to go into the IT industry. She shrunk the Labs to a shell and killed it. Those jobs are gone or are off-shored to China.

  39. andrew says:

    Did anyone else actually listen to this commercial? Boxer said that a very important “National Security” issue is climate change. Climate change is a National Security issue…what? Whether you believe climate change is man-made or not I think it’s pretty clear that it isn’t a national security issue…Mother nature isn’t a terrorist.
    Carly was simply pointing out Boxer’s lack of concern on national security issues and focus on things that many people believe are less urgent, or things we can’t change at all.

    By the way, the argument against climate change is that the change in temperature isn’t man-made. You all seem to conveniently forget that part. The earth has had climate changes in it’s past and scientist do not all agree on it’s cause. This idea that it is man-made is one of many theories, but politicians have latched on to it because it sounds good.

  40. Leif says:

    The CIA has publicly stated that quantifiable Climatic Disruption, as exhibited in current trends, constitute a National Security Issue. Numerous Military Brass concur. Scientists from around the world agree that Man’s dependence on fossil fuels are the primary culprit. Solutions are good. … “Politicians have not latched on to it because it sounds good.” Quite the contrary. They have not latched on to it because many are spineless toads. If they were not progress would have started long ago. Andrew @ 40.