Transcript: BlogHer Spoke with Carly Fiorina

Lisa: Hi, everyone, and welcome to BlogHer.com, the Web's number one guide to women who blog. I'm Lisa Stone, one of BlogHer's co-founders. BlogHer is a non-partisan organization that reaches nine million women each month in our news hub, and 1,800 blog affiliates.

I mention that today, because we have the pleasure of interviewing Carly Fiorina. Carly was CEO and chairman of Hewlett-Packard for six years and the first woman to run a Fortune 20 company in the United States. Recently, Ms. Fiorina made news with her new job: she's taken on a major role in the presidential campaign of John McCain, the Arizona senator who is the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States in the 2008 election.

Welcome, Carly.

Carly: Thank you, Lisa. It's great to be with you.

Lisa: You know, in March the GOP announced that you are "Victory Chairman" for the Republican National Committee in 2008. What does that job description mean?

Carly: What it really means is I do a lot of communicating with a lot of Americans about: why John McCain? I've had the great privilege of campaigning with and for him for over a year now. I advise him on particular matters as well. This role really gives me a great opportunity to talk to Americans of all kinds about why I think John McCain will be the right president for the United States in November.

Lisa: Carly, could you talk more about your own politics and your belief in the Republican Party?

Carly: Yes. Well, first I should say that I will be very candid and tell you that I think the Republican Party really needs to become more inclusive and reach out to people who may not have thought about voting Republican for a long time.

We need to reach out to Democrats and Independents as well. I think we particularly need to reach out to women. I think the party has become perhaps a bit narrow. I have been a Republican all my voting life, because I believe the most important role of government is to unlock and unleash potential. To unlock and unleash the potential of the American people, the American family, the American worker.

I don't think it's governments role to do things for people that people should be doing for themselves. And I think that is fundamentally the difference between the Republican Party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and the Democratic Party. And I think John McCain is a unique and authentic leader who has an opportunity to transform the party in some important ways.

Lisa: I'd like to dig more into your philosophies, particularly on the economy; we have some great questions from the community. But I just have to ask right off the bat the question that occurred to me when I found out you were the Victory Chair. Have you been asked to be Senator McCain's running mate?

Carly: [laughs] Well, you know, believe it or not I get that question a lot. I always laugh because, honestly, I think in some ways it's a little bit inside baseball. I think the American people are going to vote for who's on the top of the ticket. I think right now they're focused on more immediate issues like health care and education and the price of food and the price of gas.

And when Senator McCain gets around to making his choice for VP, I'm sure he's going to have a long list of highly qualified people.

Lisa: Well, we won't focus on the horse race more than we focus on policy today, you're right about that. But I will ask, would you accept if Senator McCain did invite you?

Carly: You know, I don't cross bridges until I have to, and I don't deal with theoreticals. Look, it's an honor to even be talked about in such a way, but that's not why I'm doing this. I really am doing this because I think this election matters, because I think the differences between the Republican candidate for president and the Democratic candidate for president -- whoever that turns out to be -- are important and quite stark in many ways.

And if I can contribute to people's understanding of who John McCain is, where he would take this country, then I'm privileged to do so, honestly.

Lisa: Thank you. I read in the "San Jose Mercury-News" that Senator McCain has ceded some economic questions to you at town hall meetings. Is that accurate?

Carly: It happened one time, so of course it made news. [laughs] And he was being generous. Senator McCain can answer economic questions on his own, believe me.

Lisa: Well, let's start there, because I know that you have a strong background, and we've got a great question from Virginia DeBolt, who writes the blogs Web Teacher and First 50. She wrote: "We have such economic issues this year: a war being run on deficit spending, the mortgage crisis, a looming recession, millions of uninsured Americans, rising prices. What specific policies do you see John McCain supporting that you, Carly, as a businesswoman, think are the solution to these economic problems?"

Carly: Well, first of all, I think she's right as she lays out there all of the economic difficulties that are buffeting us right now. I think that's a good assessment. There's no question that the economy is really in tough shape right now.

So, let's start with the fundamentals, that growing the economy is a top priority. And job creation is a top priority. I start there because I think John McCain thinks about economics in those terms. What does it take to grow an economy? What does it take to create jobs?

For example, he believes that you cannot grow an economy by taxing business more. You grow an economy by making it easier for businesses to add jobs. So, as an example, we have the second highest business tax rate in the world. Second only to Japan. That does not create a climate where it's easy for businesses to add jobs.

Secondly, we have 23 million small businesses who today file income tax on the personal income tax schedule. In other words, they file as individuals even though they are small business owners. And small business creates 75% of the jobs this country. So, what you don't want to do when the economy is in trouble is raise taxes on small businesses.

Third, you have to make it easy for business to invest in the things that help them grow. So, John McCain would say, let's allow businesses of all sizes -- but particularly, let's focus on small business. And as we know, women make up a lot of the small business owners. Let's make it easier fore them to invest in capital equipment, if necessary, or in technology, by giving them the opportunity to expense those investments in one year.

Those are just some simple examples of policies that are focused on job creation and growth, that are very different from what the Democrats are proposing. He's a free-trade proponent, because free trade -- we know -- builds jobs in this country. But he also has said that we have to retrain workers who lose their jobs. If a worker has lost their job, we need to retrain them so that they are competitive for another job.

Lisa: Let me mention to you, in fact, we heard from a blogger, a popular mommy blogger, Shannon from Rocks in My Dryer, who writes that she and her husband, who also both of them are small business owners, fell absolutely crushed by their tax burden. She feels penalized for productivity, and she wonders whether or not Senator McCain would support a flat tax, and/or whether Senator McCain has a plan to lower the tax burden.

You've already addressed encouraging productivity, I think.

Carly: First of all, he does support a flat tax. In fact, he made a major speech on April 15th, which people can certainly go to the website and see if they're interested. But on that April 15th speech, he said that he would propose -- he would in essence give Americans a choice.

If they wanted to file taxes on the current schedule they could do so, but he wanted to give them the choice and have two tax rates -- 25% and 15% -- and allow Americans to participate in a simpler, flatter, fairer tax code.

Second, I think the reason I made the comment about 23 million small business owners file as individuals, is people talk a lot about, "Well, if you make the Bush tax cuts permanent, isn't that just rewarding the top 1-2% of the wealthiest people in the country?"

And that's just not factually accurate. If the Bush tax cuts, for example, is repealed, 23 million small businesses are going to have a higher tax burden.

Lisa: But let me ask you, does Senator McCain plan to lower taxes.

Carly: Yes, I think he will, given time. And I think certainly a flat tax will do that. But I think Senator McCain understand that there are many things we need to do to reward job creation and innovation.

Let me give another example of a way that would lower tax burdens over time, and that's health care. You know, the cost of health care to employers is a huge burden. It's particularly a huge burden to small businesses who are trying to struggle with either providing health care for their employees or attracting employees when they cannot afford to provide health care.

So, Senator McCain rolled out a series of proposals last week on health care that would start by giving every individual and every family a tax credit. It would make health care portable. In other words, every employee would own their own health care plan and could carry it from job to job. That's really important to women in particular, because women change jobs a lot more actually it turns out than men do. And women as well, as you mentioned, are small business owners.

And he would lower the cost of health care in part by permitting people to purchase health insurance from anywhere in the country so that there would be a national market and competition for health insurance, which is different than it is today, where we in essence have 50 state markets for health insurance.

Lisa: OK. So, you're confirming that the McCain platform would give a tax credit to people who are self-employed and need to buy that health insurance?

Carly: That is correct.

Lisa: OK. A separate question about that, that I received via email from a woman named Sarah Somers. "How would a private market for health care be able to take care of people who are currently relying on programs like Medicaid and MediCal?"

Carly: John McCain is not proposing that we throw out all government programs, not at all. In fact, he has said very explicitly that we're going to have to reform Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and that he would tackle those problems in a bi-partisan way from day one of his administration.

What he is proposing, however, is that we cannot fix the health care problems we have today in this country by replacing one inefficient, ineffective system with another huge inefficient and ineffective government bureaucracy. In essence what he's saying is the way to fix our health care problems is to add an element of personal control.

In other words, put as many decisions as possible into the hands of patients and families. Women make a lot of those health care choices for themselves and their families. Put the decisions and the choices in the hands of families, mothers, patients, give them the money to make those choices, give them the access to a whole set of choices they don't have today.

For example, allow them to buy prescription drugs from Canada if that's a better, less costly choice for them. Don't decide that the way to solve all health care problems is to turn it into one big government mandate and a big government bureaucracy, so that a government bureaucrat makes health care choices for you.

Lisa: To that point, in fact, PunditMom wrote in to ask why Senator McCain opposed increased funding for SCHIP, the state children's health insurance program. It's a federal program that gives money to states in order to help provide health insurance to families with children. It's designed to cover uninsured children or families who have modest incomes that are too high to qualify for Medicaid.

If I understand the program that you're recommending, then you're perhaps saying that people would use the allocation of money they had to buy a private program to buy private insurance?

Carly: Certainly that's one option that someone can take that tax credit that they will be provided and they can shop for health insurance anywhere in the country. Today you're not able to do that. Health insurance is regulated within a state. So, you would have a much greater series of options to select from.

But I think the principle reason that he voted against that program was because it was a big step towards government mandating health insurance and government being in charge of health care and health insurance. He doesn't believe that's the right solution to this issue, and I agree with him as a businesswoman.

One thing I want to make really clear, if I can, Lisa, the goal is for everyone to have access to the health care and the health insurance that they need. Everybody agrees on the goal. And in fact, Senator McCain would say that we should, for example, leverage what are called guaranteed access programs that many of the states have.

There are states that have taken a particular leadership role in providing guaranteed access programs, and he would leverage the best of those programs and make sure that they existed in all 50 states.

So, the issue is not that we differ on the goal, the issue is what's the best way to achieve that goal. He believes -- and I must say that I do as well, as a businesswoman -- he believes the best way to achieve that goal is to rely not exclusively, but in great measure on the common sense of patients and families to make common sense choices, and on choice and competition to give them better choices and less costly choices.

Lisa: But then in response to Pundit Mom's question, are you saying that a combination of guaranteed access and individual decision making with a tax credit would account for children whose parents decided to spend the money on something else other than their children's health care?

Carly: I'm saying that the combination of guaranteed access, tax credits, and a set of health care and health insurance options that are more affordable and more accessible will ensure that children have access to both health insurance and health care.

One other thing I really need to say on this, Lisa, because of what you do and what all of those who participate in BlogHer do, you know that the use of technology makes a huge difference. And one of the things that Senator McCain's plan specifically addresses is using technology to make sure that health care providers are both transparent and accountable. That means putting prices up on the Internet for everyone to see. That means putting doctors' and hospitals' ratings up on the Internet for everyone to see.

There is an amazing lack of transparency and accountability in our health care system today and technology can help with that. And Senator McCain would mandate the use of technology for transparency and accountability, just like he would mandate that every government agency and every government program in Washington has to post their results up on the Internet for all Americans to see as well.

Lisa: Well, a clean, well-lighted place for the pricing of medical procedures and pharmaceuticals is definitely something that I think many people who appreciate news and information in the Blogosphere or elsewhere would love. I can tell you that one of the topics that has regularly received commentary in our community, which, again, is omni-partisan in coverage, Carly, is the fact that Viagra is covered by many private insurance programs, but birth control regularly isn't.

Does the McCain campaign have a position on requiring private Medicaid or federal insurance plans to cover birth control?

Carly: Well, let me say it this way, the way to deal with that specifically, let's go back to the point I was making about competition for health insurance. If a woman has the opportunity to shop for any health insurance coverage she can get, that will create a situation where lots of women are going to say, "This is baloney! I'm not buying health insurance that covers Viagra but doesn't cover my birth control pills!"

And so, they're going to flock to the program that covers the things that matter to women. And guess what that sets up. It sets up competition. The businesswomen in your Blogosphere appreciate this. When you have competition and transparency, stuff starts to happen.

Lisa: I think that you've hit on a topic that will get a lot of interest from our listeners. Another one that has been a big topic is, of course, the gas tax holiday. Morra Aarons-Mele of women in work road and to ask, as a businesswoman again, do you feel this is good medicine for the American people? Is it a marketing ploy? And I just want to add, how do we make up for the lost revenue?

Carly: Well, first of all, I do think it's good medicine. Let me tell you why. Again, I think all of us appreciate, at a human level, the importance of confidence in an economy and the importance of, at certain points in time, just giving people a little break.

Today, oil hit $125 a barrel. The price of oil has doubled in the last year. And all of a sudden, the price of the tank of gas has gone to the top of people's agenda as the issue that is troubling them most, if you look at polling data. So, this is really bothering people and it's bothering people because now, it's taking a cut out of their wallets every single week. And now, people are starting to have to make choices that they didn't have to make before. Like, how am I going to fill up my tank and do some other things I want to do?

The reality is that the price of gasoline hits small businesses hard if they have vehicles driving around. It hits lower income families harder because they generally have to drive further to get to where they want to go or their jobs, for example, their homes, or because they don't have those fuel-efficient vehicles. So, yes, I do think it matters that we give people a break during these summer months.

Now, by the way, the estimate of how much this will cost is about eight billion dollars. Is it real money? Yes, it's real money. But just to put it in context, the amount of earmarks that got passed through Congress over the last two years is about 42 billion dollars. And the way that this would be made up in the short term is to transfer moneys from general reserves into the highway transportation fund, which is where these taxes go.

But frankly, I think when gas is hitting a record every single day, giving people 18.5 cents back for every gallon of gas they buy, 24.5 cents for every gallon of diesel they buy, that's actually real money. It adds up.

Lisa: Thank you for directly addressing where the money would come from. I think that question has been asked and rarely answered. I want to switch now to a topic that includes, certainly, financial cost, but also enormous human cost. I want to talk with you a little bit about Iraq. Koan, a UK-based blogger, wanted me to ask, will Senator McCain's leadership in Afghanistan and Iraq differ from the current administration's? And because we're low on time, I'm going to tack on another question which is, economically speaking, how are we going to A, continue to pay for this war and B, recover, from what another blogger, Snigdha Sen, is calling a "disaster, " economically?

Carly: Well, I think the short answer to will his leadership differ from Bush's is "yes." And as evidence for that answer, I would remind people that for four long years, Senator McCain stood up and publicly said that President Bush and Don Rumsfeld were wrong about the prosecution of the war. He did not differ with them on the decision to go to war, I want to be accurate. But what he said was they were prosecuting that war in a way that was guaranteed to fail.

And for four years, John McCain took a lot of heat about that position from the Republican Party. However, John McCain was right. The strategy that was getting executed was failing. He said Don Rumsfeld ought to go. He took a lot of heat for that as well, but he was right. And about a year ago, with a new Secretary of Defense and a new General on the battlefield, a new strategy was employed, one that Senator McCain had been pushing for, for a very long time, which was we have to have more troops on the ground for a period of time and they have to engage with neighborhoods differently than they have in the past.

We now see evidence of that strategy working. Look, the cost of war is huge and John McCain, not only has he been a soldier in harm's way himself, but he has a son who has just returned from Iraq. This is deeply personal for John McCain. He understands the cost of war. But he also understands the cost to the region and to this country of a failed adventure in Iraq.

And so, his focus is on how can we be successful in Iraq so that we have a nation there that is stable in a region that is so important? The cost of this war is huge both in human treasure, but also in the amount of money that we're spending. And so, John McCain believes that the way to make sure that we are responsible in Washington is to not only exercise physical restraint, also to make sure that our economy is growing, to reduce discretionary spending everywhere we can where it doesn't make sense... And that includes, by the way, the Department of Defense.

John McCain has taken on military contractors. He has taken on the Department of Defense. He has saved the taxpayers billions of dollars in contracts that were not necessary. So, I think I cite all of that as evidence of the fact that he will be a different President in many, many respects to George Bush, not least the war, but everything from, frankly, the environment, the energy independence to health care and education.

Lisa: I want to ask you quickly two more questions before we run out of time. And I'm sorry to have to leave Iraq there. Kerry, who writes the Ten O'Clock Scholar blog, has a question about a March 7th ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in which California required parents to either send their children to full time public school or private school or have the children taught by credential tutors at home. She is asking, will Senator McCain support a parent's right to determine the child's education? And specifically, does he support home schooling as a valid educational choice?

Carly: Yes, yes. And in regard to education, John McCain believes that choice and competition are very powerful tools. Just as with health care, he would leave the decision of a child's education to the parent and he would make sure that those parents have maximum choices and that there is maximum competition between those choices.

Lisa: You know, I'm torn because in the last minute we have left, there are so many questions about gender that the women in our community would like for me to ask you, given your leadership as the first CEO to run a Fortune 20 company, but I think we have to leave that there and I have to ask you instead your thoughts on the world's food crisis. At a time when we, economically, are facing a very tough challenge at home, as these questions have indicated, and the war continues to cost an enormous amount, what policies, quickly, should the US adopt to A, help it and B. prevent future crises?

Carly: Well, I'll tell you a little story. I was asked to go in to Iowa in December. It was really cold in Iowa in December, very soon after John McCain had declared his opposition to ethanol subsidies. Every other candidate from both parties has said, "No, no, no. We think they're a really good idea." John McCain was right. Ethanol subsidies are a bad idea. And one of the reasons they're a bad idea is because they are helping to contribute to food prices that we see today. There is so much, there are so many crops now that are being diverted from the production of food to the production of fuel.

And, by the way, there is a lot of belief now that many of these alternative fuels do not help with global warming, they actually make it worse. Senator McCain, by the way, believes global warming is real and believes that we must take a leadership position on climate change.

Lisa: Would he agree with Kyoto?

Carly: Yes. But more specifically, he has said he would only agree to a treaty in which China, India, Brazil and Russia also agree to play because they are key contributors to this problem. But he would exercise his presidential leadership to bring them to the table and to conclude a treaty.

But having said that to your specific question, John McCain doesn't believe in subsidies. He doesn't believe in agricultural subsidies which distort markets. He believes the American farmer, for example, ought to have access to every market in the world. We have the most productive farmers. But we should not be paying our farmers, particularly right now when food prices are so high. We shouldn't be paying them to produce food and we certainly shouldn't be paying them to divert their crops to the production of fuel.

This is a very important food crisis. It's real. So, I think he's been proven right on a couple of these positions that were very unpopular at the time.

Lisa: Carly, we're at the end of our time. I want to ask, is there anything else you want to share with the BlogHer community today?

Carly: Well, I guess I'd like to close by saying that I, personally, am very proud that a woman can run for the President of the United States. And as a woman, I will also say I have great empathy and respect for what she's going through. I believe that women are an incredibly important and powerful part, not only of our country, but of our world and I spend a lot of time today working on initiatives that are focused on empowering women in all kinds of ways in different kinds of places around the world.

I think women are going to be a hugely important voice in this election. I think John McCain's policies are, whether it's on education or in health care or on small business, are women-friendly, if I could say it that way. I would encourage women to take a look at him. And the last thing that I will say is having known John McCain for quite a while, I can tell you that he is a man who is focused on quality and character and merit and surrounds himself with people of all genders, all races and all kinds of points of view and I think it is one of the great reflections on his strength as a leader.

Lisa: I'm reminded of your book, "Tough Choices, " in which you share a number of stories about how gender affected your experience as CEO of Hewlett Packard, which I watched here up close and personal in Silicon Valley on the front page of the newspapers. And one page that really stood out for me, you wrote about how at the same time you were working to be judged by results, accomplishments, metrics, you felt it was media coverage of gender, appearance, your personality, that was going to be left as the permanent record.

At the same time, I might add that you were upfront about being called a bitch or a bimbo in chat rooms. When you say that you have sympathy for what Hillary Clinton is going through, is that the kind of thing you mean?

Carly: Well, I guess what I would say is I think all women recognize that women in positions of power and authority are still treated differently than men are. The commentary is different, the words that are chosen are different, the scrutiny is different. I just think it's very obvious to women. I have this conversation with women all the time. And so, I think women look at what's happening to Hillary Clinton and know it's different than what's happening to male candidates.

Lisa: What advice would you give us, or her, or any woman who's being treated that way even in comments on her blog?

Carly: I think you have to understand reality. I think the most important thing for all of us is to work hard to keep changing that reality, but not to let that reality define us, not to take that inside us. It's difficult, it's hard, it's tough, it's unfair, but slowly but surely, we make progress. A woman can run for President of the United States. What a wonderful thing we should celebrate. I'm proud of that. And don't believe what you read, you know?

As I said to somebody the other day, "If you can live with yourself, you can live with the headlines."

Lisa: Well, I just want to thank you so much, Carly Fiorina, for taking the time to sit down with BlogHer as we continue our coverage of election 2008 and what it's like to be a woman in the world today. It means so much to us, BlogHer is a non-partisan organization because we represent this monthly reach of nine million users who cover the full spectrum of American political beliefs, with a few international sprinkled in, as you've seen.

Thank you again for all of your time.

Carly: It's my great pleasure, Lisa. It's wonderful to talk with you and wonderful, by extension, to talk with the nine million others. Thanks for giving me the chance.

Transcription provided by CastingWords.