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The Most Important Race of 2010

If Fiorina beats Boxer, liberalism will suffer a grievous defeat

Oct 18, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 05 • By FRED BARNES
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The Most Important Race of 2010

In Carly Fiorina, Boxer finally faces a dangerous, well-financed challenger.

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Barbara Boxer under pressure is like a reckless driver in traffic. She’s out of control and extremely careless. “You know, like, I don’t want to go back to the days when thousands of people died every day because they had no insurance,” she declared in a debate in late September. Boxer, as best one could tell, was referring to the era before President Obama’s health care plan was enacted.

If true, at least 730,000 people were dying annually in America for lack of health insurance. (To do the math, it’s a minimum of 2,000 deaths every 24 hours multiplied by 365 days.) That’s a staggering number of people who presumably couldn’t get life-saving medical care because they were without an insurance policy to foot the bill. 

Boxer’s claim didn’t get a rise out of the questioners in the debate, a radio match between Boxer, the Democratic senator from California, in an NPR studio in Washington, and her Republican opponent, Carly Fiorina, at a public station in Pasadena. No one asked a follow-up.

After the debate, Boxer took questions from the media. (Fiorina did the same in Pasadena.) I asked Boxer for the basis of her claim. Without hesitation, she said it was reports, studies, things she’d read. She offered no specific citation.

That wasn’t the end of the matter. Boxer approached me in a friendly manner after the Q-and-A session, said she hadn’t seen me in a while, and said she remembered me from Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper. She’d mistaken me for Morton Kondracke, my colleague as a Fox News commentator who indeed does write a column for Roll Call.

The senator briefly continued the discussion of deaths due to lack of insurance. I mentioned a study that concluded 40,000 people die annually because they aren’t insured. (At least one other study has put the death toll at zero.) But Boxer didn’t flinch. She didn’t back off from her claim. She left the press room, only to return about 10 seconds later. “Fred, did I say thousands a day?” she said. “I meant thousands a year.” It was a wise tactical retreat.

What should we draw from this episode? Three things. One, in the heat of a reelection campaign, Boxer will say just about anything so long as she can get away with it. And she usually can. Two, she is under extraordinary pressure from Fiorina, by far the strongest Republican candidate she’s ever faced. Three, Boxer is a tough, resourceful, and shrewd campaigner and not too haughty to correct a false statement when necessary to avert trouble.

Often that’s not necessary. Boxer, 69, makes so many dubious, untrue, hypocritical, or outlandish remarks in a single debate that most of them fly by without registering. Thank heaven for transcripts. 

Roe v. Wade, I believe, is a decision that brings us all together,” she said in the radio debate. That takes one’s breath away. Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision legalizing abortion, is the most divisive Supreme Court ruling since the Dred Scott case in 1857. It brings us together the way the Civil War did—in an angry fight with political ramifications that endure for decades. 

“Sixty-two percent of our people were going broke due to a health care crisis,” Boxer said in the same debate. Again, she tossed out a large, highly unlikely number. “California is not a state that sits around and lets anybody else lead,” she insisted. This may have been true decades ago, but now California leads the nation only in fiscal irresponsibility, dysfunctional governance, and the mass exodus of the business class.

On immigration, “we have to stop this arguing,” she said. “We have to come together.” This is odd coming from a notoriously argumentative senator, one for whom the label “bitterly partisan” could have been invented. Boxer was removed last summer as lead senator on the cap and trade bill to clamp down on carbon emissions because she was too fractious to line up sufficient votes.

The stimulus? “It is creating jobs,” she said in the radio debate. “I have gone all over the state. Our Republican governor says it is creating tens of thousands of jobs and saving others.” Maybe, but the real numbers don’t lie. When the stimulus was passed in February 2009, the unemployment rate in California was 10.2 percent. Now it’s 12.4 percent. Only Nevada and Michigan have higher jobless rates. Boxer’s fallback position: Unemployment would have been even higher without the stimulus. 

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