Carly Fiorina doesn't want anyone to care, and we're not supposed to notice, but it's a pleasure to see a woman with style running for president. She dresses with understated panache. She talks about moral values with the no-nonsense confidence of an old-fashioned schoolmarm and she sounds like someone who believes what she says about the value of a human life.
If Donald Trump wants to call her "persona" ugly, which he imagines improves on insults about her face, he's still a creep from an earlier era, when a certain kind of man, recognizing that he can't play well in a higher league because he lacks "class," just gets mean.
My mother would say that Donald Trump is the man a woman like Carly Fiorina was put on earth to civilize. But my mother belonged to a generation long gone and people don't talk about the differences between the sexes that way anymore.
When the Donald barked his first attack on her looks, Carly wouldn't condescend with an answering shot at that last debate. She fixed him with an icy stare and spoke to him with cold precision: "I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said." (Maggie Smith couldn't have done it better.)
Carly Fiorina's feminine dignity comes from many places, smarts, money, the tragedy of losing a stepdaughter she loved to drugs and suicide and her refusal to pity herself for having had cancer. She's faced the fear of death up close, which gives her a serious perspective on life.
She refuses to play a phony gender card with a nominee for putting a woman on the $10 bill, dismissing those squirming men on the stage offering their mothers, wives, Rosa Parks, Clara Barton and Margaret Thatcher. She called it an unnecessary gesture that wouldn't change anything.
"We ought to recognize that women are not a special interest group," she said. "Women are the majority of this nation. We are half the potential of this nation. And this nation will be better off when every woman has the opportunity to live the life she chooses."
Hillary Clinton, as the "other woman" running for president, plays a different card. Seeing that the electorate seems to crave an outsider this season, and she doesn't quite fit into that category, she twists the notion like a pretzel. On "Face the Nation," when asked if voters' seeming preference for outsiders in this election puts Clinton in a fix, Clinton tried her hand at wit. "I can't imagine anyone more of an outsider than the first woman president," she said. Wit is difficult if you're not witty.
Both Carly and Hillary are formidable women, and there's no reason to assign them to a single category. We should examine the evidence of what kind of leader each would make. We're looking for honesty, intelligence, competency, strength, transparency and above all the ability to put good ideas to work and to reject bad ones when they don't work.
We haven't had a woman president yet, but women have been racking up first, second and thirds all over the place, with substantive qualifications more important than merely being a "first." Women are in the majority at the top graduate schools of law and medicine, and earn more doctoral degrees in the humanities, health and biological sciences as well as public administration. The Pew Research Center finds that more than half of the managerial and professional positions in the United States were held by women in 2013. How women present themselves as they're moving up is crucial.
Both Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina must lug heavy baggage up the steps to the Oval Office. Hillary didn't accomplish much as secretary of state beyond collecting a lot of frequent-flyer miles, and Carly was fired as chief at Hewlett-Packard at a time when the company stock took a dive.
Both women tried comedy with Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show and demonstrated mostly that neither has the gifts of Amy Schumer, but a serious debate between them would be fascinating, entertaining and maybe even illuminating.
Carly has already imagined that. "Hillary Clinton has demonstrated over and over again that she is not transparent," she told Fox News. "Her leadership as secretary of state has placed us in grave danger around the world. These are entirely legitimate questions and they are questions that I would ask of her on the general debate stage."
Before the first Republican debate, half the voters didn't know Carly Fiorina's name. After the second, she got everyone's attention. This could get really interesting.