Fiorina’s Mavericknomics

In the aftermath of the Senate primary last month, it has fast become a conventional media narrative to paint Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina as a conservative’s conservative, with doctrinaire responses down the line on issues – responses which are allegedly drawn straight from the Rush Limbaugh-Sarah Palin-Ann Coulter school of Republicanism, with nothing that would complicate the thinking of the average student at Beck University.

But this trope, while it is no doubt a convenient cudgel with which Barbara Boxer exults in bashing Fiorina, is less accurate than its originators would like to think. It is often forgotten that prior to her position running to the right of Tom Campbell, Fiorina had been an economic advisor to perennial moderate and self-proclaimed “Maverick” John McCain.  And when you scrutinize her economic policy platform for California, it shows. 

Consider Fiorina’s stances on two issues currently very much in the hearts and wallets of Americans – unemployment benefits and health care. In both cases, Fiorina appears to take a conventional Republican stance, but when you dig beneath the surface, her reasoning and proposed alternative is scarcely conventional, and sometimes scarcely Republican.

Take healthcare – Fiorina’s stance begins with the favorite tagline “Repeal and replace,” but when you get into the details of her proposed replacement, it doesn’t look like a replacement so much as an improved second draft, with more targeted reforms and an approach that seems to sacrifice ambition on the altar of focus. According to the San Francisco Bay Citizen:

     “Fiorina’s position on expanding access to care for low-income Americans also relies less on the insurance industry and more on direct or indirect provision of health care by the government. She says she would like to see a major expansion of community clinics. The federal health care bill does that, but Fiorina says it does not go far enough. Most low-income people who can’t get care elsewhere should be able to go to a clinic, a solution Fiorina believes is far simpler, and probably less expensive, than having a private insurance policy subsidized for them by the government.” 

Of particular interest is Fiorina’s belief that the bill “does not go far enough” in subsidizing community clinics. This is not typical Republican dogma. Indeed, it might be more accurate to characterize it as “the public option meets Federalism,” insofar as Fiorina proposes indirect subsidization through local governments and clinics with inside knowledge of what happens on the ground. 

Another area where Fiorina deviates in the realm of health care is her commitment to permitting Canadian drugs to be sold on the American market, an idea which Republicans oppose because they view it as allowing de facto price controls, as prices for Canadian drugs are kept artificially low by the Canadian government – too low to compete with. Fiorina seems to either not know or not care about this argument, suggesting that for her, cost savings and efficiency trump philosophical points about competition. 

What about unemployment?

Here, too, Fiorina’s approach is more focused than ambitious, which critics might argue shows a lack of imagination, while supporters would claim it exhibits a linear, businesslike way of thinking badly needed in Washington. In discussing her reasons for opposing a recent bill before the House extending unemployment benefits, Fiorina said, “Why can’t we put forward a bill that does nothing but extend unemployment benefits? Why do we put all these other things on top of it so we have a deficit busting, yet again, another deficit busting bill.”

Given that Fiorina is taking a fairly anti-populist position, this is a clever dodge which paints her more as a person frustrated with political dealmaking than as the sort of callous rich person her opponents want to portray. It is an image that could serve her well come November. 

Based on her track record with McCain, it’s no surprise that Fiorina is pioneering what might be called “Mavericknomics” in her run for the Senate. What she will come up with next ought rightfully to engage all of our attention.