06.10.10

Carly's Sorority Girl Curse

California’s GOP Senate nominee blundered badly with her catty remark about her fall rival’s hair. Bush strategist Nicolle Wallace on why Fiorina should apologize—and how mean girls hold women back. Plus, watch the full video of Fiorina’s remarks.

Carly Fiorina, the California Republican nominee for the Senate, has refused to apologize to Senator Barbara Boxer after she was caught on camera mocking her hair. Asked about the incident by Greta Van Susteren, Fiorina said, “I was quoting a friend of mine. My goodness, my hair's been talked about by a million people, you know? It sort of goes with the territory.” She then brought up her battle with cancer, saying, “Especially when you don't have any. As you remember, I started out with none.” Bush strategist Nicolle Wallace on why Fiorina should apologize—and how mean girls hold women back. Plus, watch the full video of Fiorina’s remarks.

Carly Fiorina’s uncensored comments don’t disqualify her for the U.S. Senate, but they do illuminate a sad truth. Women will continue to take two steps forward and three steps back until they drop the sorority girl act and become the stateswomen and leaders that we need. Fiorina, an attractive, intelligent former head of Hewlett-Packard, who bested her primary opponent and is set to face Boxer in the general election in November, was the poster woman for the “Year of the Woman 2.0.” Until her tacky taunts about Barbara Boxer’s hairdo emerged.

Click Image to View Carly Fiorina’s Insult and More Open Mic Gaffes

“God, what is that hair?” Fiorina said, apparently unaware that her mic was on. “So yesterday.” Now, she’s just another ‘mean girl,’ as described by MSNBC on Thursday. What is it about women that makes us more inclined to attack each other than any poorly dressed or badly coiffed man in the room?

Linda Hirshman: Fiorina Is Bad for WomenAnne Kornblut, author of “Notes from the Cracked Ceiling,” concluded that the 2008 election cycle dimmed women’s prospects of reaching the highest office in the land. Many political observers thought that Tuesday’s primary election results had the potential to poke a hole in that theory. But Fiorina’s sarcastic “diss” of her opponent’s appearance may show why the presidency remains out of reach for the current crop of women candidates, at least for now.

Until women candidates develop the discipline and focus that Candidate Obama turned into an art form, they will get tripped up by the sideshows. In the unfortunate video, Fiorina goes on to question the decision by GOP gubernatorial candidate, Meg Whitman, to appear on Sean Hannity’s highly rated television program. Countless Republican candidates for national and statewide office have appeared on Hannity’s radio and television programs, and most find it an ideal platform for discussing the issues of greatest importance to the GOP faithful. There’s certainly nothing puzzling or extraordinary about Whitman’s planned appearance. This makes Fiorina’s comments even more curious--and guarantees that she will be dealing with the blunder for a few more news cycles, at least in the conservative press.

Fiorina and Whitman will get lumped into many of the same news stories about women candidates this year. They are both former tech executives. They are both political newcomers. And they both served as top surrogates and advisors to John McCain’s failed presidential bid. Fiorina and Whitman had front- row seats on the campaign roller coaster ride that vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin experienced, and it seemed, at least from their primary successes, that they’d learned valuable lessons from what she went through.

So far, Whitman has shown an ability to resist the sideshows that derailed Palin and now threatens to derail Fiorina. Fiorina can go a long way toward putting the genie back in the bottle by calling Boxer to apologize for her pettiness. She can blame exhaustion, a grueling interview schedule and the competitive environment in which today’s campaigns are fought. All those explanations would be legitimate and understandable. She should also clear the air with Hannity. His show speaks to the passions on the right, and the far right, which Fiorina seemed to embrace in her Palin-backed primary campaign.

People make mistakes. Anyone who has ever worn a microphone knows that the willpower required to refrain from speaking openly with staff or the crew or the interviewer is immense--and often unachievable in the aftermath of a primary night. But Fiorina should muster the strength to apologize for her comments. She’s better than the woman seen in the video; and she’s smart enough about issues like the power of a political brand to know how far a little grace under fire will go in this situation.

Nicolle Wallace, author of the upcoming novel Eighteen Acres, served as a senior adviser to the McCain-Palin campaign from May to November 2008. She served President George W. Bush as an assistant to the president and director of communications for the White House, as well as communications director for President Bush's 2004 campaign.