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Look at That Face

Donald Trump has never been a tactful person, but one quote from a recent Rolling Stone profile is outlandish even by Trump standards. Trump was watching the news during a meal with his staff, and saw a reporter ask a question of fellow Republican candidate Carly Fiorina. Trump, who had been offering snarky critiques of each candidate as they appeared on the screen, said:

"Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!"

Trump apparently noticed the uncomfortable reactions of his staffers, because he quickly made something of a clarification.

"I mean, she's a woman, and I'm not s'posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?"

Fiorina was given a chance at last week's Republican debate to respond, and did so with grace and tact.

I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.

This line got one of the biggest rounds of applause of the evening. Trump then replied with a non-apology.

I think she's got a beautiful face and I think she's a beautiful woman.

What Trump apparently failed to understand is that his original mistake was not in criticizing Fiorina's looks; it was in judging her by her appearance at all. A presidential election is not a beauty contest.

Of the more than 20 candidates between the two major parties, two are women, and both have a long list of accomplishments.

Fiorina was, from 1999 to 2005, the CEO of Hewlett Packard, which was at the time one of the 20 largest companies in the world. She took over at the height of the tech bubble, and managed the company through a very difficult time. Hired as an outsider to shake up what the board saw as an inward-looking company culture, Fiorina was never popular with long-time HP execs, but she made bold decisions and took responsibility for them. In 2000 she worked on a deal to buy the tech consulting services of PricewaterhouseCoopers for $18 billion, but backed out of the deal citing poor market conditions. When the consulting services were sold to IBM two years later, they were worth a fraction of that price. In 2002 she oversaw a merger with computer manufacturer Compaq, creating what was at the time the world's largest tech firm. It was a rocky merger, and the board quickly turned against her.

After being ousted from HP, Fiorina has been active with nonprofit organizations. In 2008 Fiorina cofounded (with Condolezza Rice) the One Woman Initiative, which helps fund grassroots womens' organizations around the world, providing skills, training, and funding to help lift women out of poverty. Since 2012 she has also served as the chair of Good360, a nonprofit that facilitates corporate donations of excess merchandise to charities.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has long been considered the frontrunner for the nomination. And though her name is instantly recognizable, many of her accomplishments may not be. As First Lady from 1993 to 2001, she worked behind the scenes getting Congress to build bipartisan support for legislation benefitting children. After the failure of her national health insurance plan, she advocated publicly for the bipartisan State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which supplied federal matching funds to states that provided health insurance for low-income families that didn't qualify for Medicaid. When the law was defeated in Congress, she redoubled her efforts, getting nonpolitical organizations like the Girl Scouts of America to lobby for the bill. The bill was introduced a second time, and passed.

Also during her time as First Lady, Clinton held public meetings to raise awareness about the nation's foster care system. She worked with Congressional leaders from both parties to put together a bill that would place a greater emphasis on the children's needs and reduce the rights of abusive birth parents. The bill, which became the Adoption and Safe Families Act, would also provide benefits for adopting children with special needs, require annual Permanency Hearings while the child is in foster care, require states to continue moving forward with the process even when birth parents aren't cooperative, and provide health insurance for adopted children. Clinton then lobbied for the Foster Care Independence Act, which doubled the funds available for services to children aging out of the system.

Clinton subsequently spent eight years in the Senate, where she pushed for increased health care benefits for 9/11 first responders and for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She took a stand against the majority of her own party in 2005, saying an immediate withdrawal from Iraq would be a mistake. After the Senate, she spent four years as Secretary of State, advocating a style of diplomacy based on a recognition that nations with high levels of gender inequality and violence against women are the same nations that tend to be the most unstable and the greatest threat to their neighbors.

By no means is either Fiorina or Clinton perfect. They have both made bad decisions in their tenure as leaders. They have both done things deserving of criticism. But when evaluating them as potential Presidents, the criticism ought to be constrained to their leadership abilities. We would never dismiss a male candidate simply because of his appearance. We should not treat female candidates any differently.

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