According to the Nielsen ratings, 22.9 million people tuned in to watch Wednesday night’s debate. For a substantial number of them, maybe even most of them, what Carly Fiorina said about the evolving Planned Parenthood scandal was the first they had heard of it.
Since July 14, the Center for Medical Progress has released ten undercover videos featuring Planned Parenthood executives exposing the scale of the market for fetal tissue and body parts. They have revealed the callous nature in which human fetuses were “crushed” in a way that best preserved their most marketable organs and limbs. The videos are evidence of a conspiracy to subvert the spirit if not the letter of the law prohibiting a generation of profit off of the sale of human tissue. As of August 31, the major three broadcast networks had played a grand total of 1 minute and 13 seconds of the hours of footage exposing this scandal. For the entire month of August, the revelations contained in these videos were entirely absent from network airwaves.
“As regards Planned Parenthood, anyone who has watched this videotape, I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes,” Carly Fiorina asserted on the debate stage, her voice swelling with indignation. “Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.”
“This is about the character of our nation,” she exclaimed, “and if we will not stand up in and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us.”
It was a galvanizing call to action, and the powerful nature of this statement was betrayed by how franticly the universe of fact-checkers sprung to action in order to discredit her characterization of one portion of the mostly unseen undercover videos.
Fiorina’s characterization of the “fully formed fetus” is accurate, but those images were not taken from Planned Parenthood’s offices. “The video’s creators added footage of an aborted fetus on what appears to be an examination table, and its legs are moving,” the fact-checking website Politifact averred before rating Fiorina’s comments “mostly false.”
“No video has surfaced showing the scene Fiorina describes taking place inside a Planned Parenthood facility,” the Washington Post averred.
The emphasis on stock footage is a convenient focus for the fact-checking industry. The images to which Fiorina is referring were imposed over a former Planned Parenthood technician as she described her experience when she was handed a pair of scissors and told to “cut down the middle of the face” of an aborted infant to expose and harvest its brain.
Fiorina chose that appalling spectacle for its inherent drama, but she could have chosen any number of soul-crushing moments from the videos to make her point. Fiorina might have noted the way in which technicians stopped and restarted an amputated human heart simply because they found it “cool.” She might have observed technicians bragging about marketing “fresh” human eyes and “gonads,” and the way in which they joked that the sale of this inventory would be monetarily rewarding. She might have made reference to the images of a human stew of aborted and crushed fetal organs from which a clearly defined and lifeless human hand protruded.
Indeed, this is about “the character of our nation.” While the rest of the Republican field bickered over who had devoted more of their energies and had more success in stripping Planned Parenthood of taxpayer funds on the state level, Fiorina took the opportunity to speak over the networks’ heads, do the work that the mainstream press has declined to do, and educate the public about this scandal.
When Fiorina wasn’t galvanizing the nation to stand up to a repulsive offense against human dignity financed by the public, she was reminding Americans that they were up to the task. In a deft closing statement, Fiorina reminded Americans that they were inheritors to a legacy of republican civic virtues dating back millennia. Moreover, woman have always symbolized these virtues.
“I think what this nation can be and must be is symbolized by Lady Liberty and Lady Justice,” Fiorina closed. “ Lady Liberty stands tall and strong. She is clear-eyed and resolute. She doesn’t shield her eyes from the realities of the world, but she faces outward into the world nevertheless, as we always must. And she holds her torch high, because she knows she is a beacon of hope in a very troubled world.”
“And Lady Justice, Lady Justice holds a sword by her side, because she is a fighter, a warrior for the values and the principles that have made this nation great,” the candidate continued. “She holds a scale in her other hand. And with that scale she says all of us are equal in the eyes of God.”
“You campaign in poetry,” the late New York Governor Mario Cuomo famously quipped. “You govern in prose.” We don’t know how Fiorina would govern, but we do know how she has and will continue to campaign. Acutely aware of the obstacles before a presidential candidate who has never held elected office, Fiorina has spent most of her time on the trail demonstrating her command of the issues and her capabilities as an executive. On Wednesday night, she showed that she could also weave a compelling narrative and paint a portrait of the nation she hopes to lead through lyrical and evocative prose. Fiorina is not the only candidate in the race for the 2016 Republican nomination blessed with this talent (and a staff of superb speechwriters), but she is a natural at utilizing this gift.
A class of professional cynics, for whom displays of devotion to the country of one’s birth are seen as unbecoming provincialism, will scoff at Fiorina’s romantic appeals to action and unity. For the other America, the America that does not see shame or gratuitous self-criticism as a virtue in itself, they will find Fiorina’s words uplifting. This talent will serve her well over the course of a long campaign in which she has earned her place.