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McCain economic advisor Carly Fiorina on the market woes, and the backlash at media over their attacks on Sarah Palin

Monday, September 15, 2008
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HH: Joined now by senior economic advisor to John McCain, Carly Fiorina. You’ll recall for a half dozen years, she was president, CEO and chairman of the board of Hewlett-Packard, the computer giant. She’s been with John McCain from early last year, and I’m pleased to welcome her now. Ms. Fiorina, welcome to the program, good to have you on.

CF: Thanks, Hugh, it’s great to be with you, and please, call me Carly.

HH: All right, Carly. Before we go to Sarah Palin and the reaction, obviously news from Wall Street today roils everyone. You’re sitting back there and watching the markets. What…do you think the worst is over, or is there more to come?

CF: Well, unfortunately, I don’t think the worst is over. I don’t think the worst is over because the markets closed on their low today. There still remains a lot of unresolved news, particularly what will happen with AIG. And the economic news, per se, is not good. Industrial production is down, consumer spending is slowing, we got another big layoff announcement, in this particular case, from Hewlett-Packard late today. And of course, Americans have been hurting for some time. They’ve known things are not going well. They’re nervous about staying in their homes, and keeping their jobs, and the rising price of food and fuel. So no, I think we’ve got a ways to go here in a very difficult time.

HH: Now obviously, you captained one of America’s largest and most successful companies during one such downturn, the ’99-2001 dot come bubble and pop. What’s the best advice for investors and for businesspeople during such times of speculative overreach and shakeout?

CF: Well, I think the best advice is not to let greed overcome common sense. And of course, part of what we’re seeing on Wall Street is that a lot of organizations, institutions on Wall Street, and frankly, many CEOs, let greed overcome common sense. And so they made a bunch of bets assuming that the price of homes could only rise and never fall. They made a bunch of bets and borrowed too much money to pay for those bets. And now, unfortunately, all of those bets are coming unwound, and the American taxpayer is in some cases left holding the bag, as with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I think that’s why it’s important to remember that John McCain has been calling for fundamental reform for several years now, not just today, that he’s been calling on reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac specifically, that he’s been saying that we need more effective oversight of Wall Street for several years. All of those things are undeniably true. But the fundamental is greed overcame common sense.

HH: Now when a CEO looks out there, or COO or board member, and they see Barack Obama and John McCain with such different economic platforms in front of them, John McCain continued tax cuts, continue the ability for people to buy and expand their businesses versus the Obama radical social security plan to raise everyone’s taxes except a few. What’s the reaction in management suites about expansion versus pulling in their horns right now, Carly?

CF: Well, I think even the promise of a tax cut causes CEOs to think long and hard about investments. I think Wall Street is nervous, frankly, about a Democrat in the White House and a Democratically-controlled Congress because in general, what happens in that situation is not only do taxes go up, but the size of government expands dramatically. And one of the things that I think we also need to know is that we have become a debtor nation. Wall Street got into trouble because they had too much debt and not enough assets. Well, the federal government is carrying too much debt as well. One of the things that really has to happen is that federal government needs to get its financial house in order as well, which means we have to reduce the size of government, not expand it. A President Obama would expand the size of government by literally trillions of dollars. And that is not good for the strength of the dollar or the health of our economy.

HH: Now last question on the economy, can you imagine asking a Barack Obama to take over a company even the size and complexity, and it’s a large one, of Hewlett-Packard, much less the federal government, given his experience or actually, lack of it managing anything?

CF: I can’t, and one of the things I have said for some time is Barack Obama is an obviously gifted and intelligent man, but he has never made an executive decision of any kind. And when he has been faced with tough decisions, tough issues, he has more likely voted present than saying yeah or nay. So I cannot imagine that, and I find it so ironic that the Obama campaign is attacking Sarah Palin for her perceived lack of experience when she has made more executive decisions than Barack Obama has ever made. And he is, after all, running for president.

HH: I’m talking with Carly Fiorina, long time chairman, CEO and president of Hewlett-Packard, author as well of the book, Tough Choices, a wonderful memoir of her time in business, available at Amazon.com. You ought to read that. Carly Fiorina, now let’s turn to Sarah Palin. Last night, or Saturday night, Saturday Night Live rather predictably lampooned her, but unpredictably tried to make her out to be stupid, saying you know, I can see Russia from my window, and that sort of thing. Is that a sexist aspect to their charge there?

CF: Oh, I think it’s so disrespectful and so…you know, the interesting thing to me is to watch liberal women decide that because Sarah Palin has different political philosophies than they do, that she’s not a feminist. You know, I’m sorry, I started my career out as a secretary, and I believe feminism is about a woman’s right to define herself however she chooses, and to fulfill her potential. Sarah Palin is every bit as much a feminist as Gloria Steinem is. And so to see Saturday Night Live say well, she must be stupid is, you know, something we see over and over again, where liberals say conservatives just must be stupid. They cast Hillary Clinton as substantive, which was to their credit. At least they weren’t sexist towards her. But yes, of course it’s sexist to dismiss a woman’s accomplishments and to say she’s just a pretty face when she’s clearly so much more.

HH: Now I have only spoken with women callers since Senator McCain announced Governor Palin as his running mate. Now that’s ten broadcast days. The lines have never not been filled. Most of them in the last week have been first time callers. All sorts of women – executives, homemakers, young moms, young single women, through grandmas and great-grandmas, and they all say the same thing, that they are thrilled that a woman of accomplishment and extraordinary charisma is in this position. Do you think the attacks on actually boomeranging, Carly Fiorina, and helping Sarah Palin at this point?

CF: I do, actually. I think it’s a critical, strategic error by the Obama campaign to have attacked her so vociferously. For those in the liberal media who think they are helping by attacking her, I think they’re just making her bigger. I think people are rallying around her. I think the American people really do understand what’s going on here, so yes, I think it’s backfiring, and I think it’s a result of the fact that they’re a little desperate. They didn’t expect this, they don’t know how to fight against it. The polls indicate that they are falling behind, not surging ahead, and they didn’t expect to be here.

HH: Carly Fiorina, a great pleasure making your acquaintance, I look forward to talking to you again as we get closer to the election, and thanks for the time this afternoon.

End of interview.

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