Former Hewlett-Packard CEO and possible 2016 Republican primary candidate Carly Fiorina closed out the Civitas Institute’s annual Conservative Leadership Conference with a rousing talk about the need for a return to individual value in America, along with acknowledgement she is indeed pondering a presidential run.
The biggest CLC in our history featured two days of leadership training, inspirational addresses and appearances by other possible 2016 Republican candidates, former Sen. Rick Santorum and retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson
Fiorina spoke about her own story, starting as a secretary in a small real estate office, typing and filing, and ending up as the head of the largest technology company in the world.
Fiorina left undergraduate education with a degree in Medieval history and philosophy.
“Why does everyone always laugh when I say that?” she said. “You laugh because, while in many ways it was a great education, it left me as they say, ‘all dressed up with nowhere to go.’”
Fiorina had attempted law school, at the behest of her father, but “hated it” and left after one semester.
“So I go to the want ads and accept the first job I was offered, to type and file for a little nine-person real estate company,” she said. “I didn’t think the job was beneath me, I was happy to have a job.”
While at her job she was given a chance by two men to learn the business of what they do, instead of remaining as a secretary.
“They took a chance on me,” she said.
That was her first introduction to the business world, which would eventually lead to her becoming the first female CEO of a fortune 50 company.
Fiorina said that only in America would she have that chance.
“I’ve traveled all over the world and I’ve lived in many places in the world and done business all over the world,” she said. “And I know that it is only in this country that a young woman can start out as a law school dropout and a secretary and go on to become the chief executive of the largest technology company in the world.”
She said that what makes it possible is a fundamental idea woven into the fabric of America.
“And it’s possible here because our founders knew what my mother taught me: our founders knew that everybody has God-given gifts and they founded the nation on a visionary idea that not only does everyone have God-given gifts, not only does everyone have potential, but that everyone has the right to fulfill their potential,” she said. “And that the right to find and use your God-given gifts comes from God and should not be taken away by man or government. That visionary idea, radical at the time, founded a nation where more things have been more possible for more people from more places than anywhere else on earth.”
Fiorina said that other people in the world today aren’t getting that same chance, but , unfortunately, there are fewer opportunities also in America.
She said that part of it comes down to a fundamental difference between the right and left.
“There are so many people in this country that we are not taking a chance on anymore,” she said “And I think the most profound difference between conservatives and liberals is how we think about our fellow citizens. You see, as a conservative I know that no one of us is any better than any other one of us.
Fiorina said that, for everyone to get to where they are today, someone needs to take a chance on them.
“Every one of us needs, at some point in our life, someone to take a chance on us,” she said. “Every one of us can live a life of dignity and purpose and meaning and each one of us has God-given gifts, that is what we believe as conservatives and so we know the highest calling of leadership is to unlock potential in others.
“I don’t think liberals believe this. I remember when the teachers unions in Chicago went on strike. The issue was performance in the classroom. And the head of the teachers union took to the microphones and she said this, ‘We cannot be held accountable for the performance of students in our classroom because to many of them are poor and come from broken families’.
“So what was she saying? She was saying if you are poor and you come from a broken family you don’t have potential, you don’t have God-given gifts, you can’t live a life of dignity and purpose and meaning. And that is what I think liberals actually believe: that some are better than others, that some are smarter than others, ‘don’t worry, some of us are going to take care of others.’”
Fiorina said that America does not needs managers who work within the system but leaders who fix the system.
“Management is doing the best you can within the existing system,” she said. “Managers do the best they can within the existing system, but leaders say ‘just because it has been broken for a long time doesn’t mean it should be broken forever.’ I think people think we need leadership now.”
Fiorina said that too often the incentives are to stay on government assistance, because policy makes it hard to lean forward and work your way out of that position.
“Government has woven a web of dependence around people’s lives and it is virtually impossible for people to disentangle themselves,” she said. “All the incentives are for people to lay back. We all know that work brings dignity to life, just as we know that family brings purpose and faith bring meaning.”
As for what that means going forward, Fiorina also said that she was seriously considering a run for the White House.
Woodson: How conservatives can come back
Bob Woodson, head of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, brought an uplifting message of hope and grassroots activism. His work has engaged thousands across the nation in an effort to lift people up out of crime, poverty and despair. He not only inspired the audience, which gave him a resounding standing ovation at the conclusion of his talk, he also introduced them to a new mini-series about American Redemption – COMEBACK. The message is “we have the capacity within our nation to heal ourselves.”
However, he said at CLC, too often well-intentioned government programs only reinforce the problems. “America has been very generous” in intervening to address problems like the Great Depression, he said. “But intervention was supposed to be an ambulance service, not a transportation system.”
That created incentives that undermined communities. “We created a commodity out of poor people,” he said. Out-of-wedlock births vastly increased, as did the welfare rolls.
The answer is to affirm the conservative principles we know work in economics to social problems. “We need to demonstrate that what we stand for will improve [people’s] lives,” Woodson said.
For, he went on, the welfare bureaucracy wants people to be listed as disabled and unable to work; employers, on the other hand, want people who will work.
And people still hold those values. For example, Detroit factory worker James Robinson walked 20 miles a day to work for more than a decade. “Americans are desperate to embrace the values of the Founders,” Woodson said.
FreedomWorks chief hails power shift
The Internet and the growth of grassroots groups is shifting power from back rooms in Washington to the American people, FreedomWorks President and CEO Matt Kibbe said Saturday morning at Civitas’ Conservative Leadership Conference CLC.
Consider ride-sharing services such as Uber, through which he got a ride from the airport to CLC at the Embassy Suites in Cary.
“This is the democratization of capitalism,” he said.
But the same model provides for the democratization of political power, he said. Such disruptive change is shaking up the “duopoly” of Republican/Democratic power, especially in Washington.
The Internet gives conservatives a greater social intelligence, he said. Whether it’s getting a ride from the airport or winning votes, “the customer has better information and is better able to organize.”
A prime example is the 2010 popular uproar over the Affordable Care Act. Members of Congress came home to town halls only to find that their constituents had read more of the bill than they had, and the voters were furious. The same holds true for political debate on all topics now.
As Barack Obama disrupted the Democratic Party, conservatives may transform the GOP. “The Republican Party has nominated Bob Dole again and again and again. It’s like ‘Groundhog Day,’” he said, adding that because of the way citizens are getting involved. “It’s not going to happen again.”
“We don’t have to accept what the Republican establishment thinks is an appropriate candidate for office,” he said.
National Review writer John Fund reassured conservatives: “You are clearly winning,” he said. Speaking of liberals, he said. “They have problems, too.”
For instance, he believes the conservative side will win the voter ID issue and is winning the climate change debate. And, as other CLC speakers noted, the internet and the growth of grassroots organizations means people can outflank the elites in the media and government: “This is the Golden Age of citizen engagement and involvement.”
“People are not empowered by free phones or free education,” Deneen Borelli said. “The message of liberty is about empowering individuals.”
She concluded, “Our country does not guarantee your success but liberty gives you the opportunity to succeed.”