LOS ANGELES - Most everyone in Hollywood who gives a damn about politics eventually makes it to the home of Arianna Huffington, the pundit, celebrity and onetime conservative.
Since moving from Washington to California in 1997, Huffington has turned her Brentwood house into something of a political salon.
It's the Rick's place of L.A. politicos. And, increasingly, it's been a hangout for progressives. Huffington has thrown book parties for Jesse Jackson and Jesse Jackson Jr. ("It's About the Money"), Randall Robinson ("The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks") and yours truly ("Deep Background," a political suspense novel).
She hosted a dinner for Ellen Miller of Public Campaign, which advocates full public financing of elections. During another dinner at her house, the semi-serious idea was hatched of Warren Beatty staging a progressive-minded presidential campaign. She also feted John McCain at her home. During one soirée, staff of the local Pacifica radio station mingled with studio development executives.
Huffington's left-leaning socializing is not surprising if one reads her latest book, "How To Overthrow the Government." She says American politics is broken under the thumb of a small corporate elite using its financial clout to control both parties' political agendas.
Those who might be taken aback by this volume will remember her as the then-wife of Michael Huffington, an oil-heir Republican who in 1992 bought a California seat in Congress by spending a record $5.4 million of his own money and who then, two years later, dropped $30 million in a loss to Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Or they may recall Arianna as a prominent Newt-backer in the heady days of the so-called Republican Revolution.
In a recent column, Katha Pollitt sneered at Huffington for repackaging herself and criticized me for writing favorably about her. But Huffington has been edging toward a neoprogressive populist politics for several years.
In the book's preface, Huffington explains that during her husband's 1994 Senate effort she was shocked shocked! to find that modern campaigns are so thoroughly dominated by pollsters and consultants that there's no oxygen left for ideas that might challenge the status quo.
As for Gingrich, she claims she took him at his word when he maintained he was looking for daring proposals to help the poor and fancied her ideas on this front.
"I was completely fooled," she writes.
Her break with Newt is one key to her change, says leftist-turned-rightist author David Horowitz, who has been her friend for several years.
He adds, "I'm disappointed in her new book, for it deploys a lot of conventional liberal wisdom. Ralph Nader could have written it. But she is a maverick."
Andrew Breitbart, a former Huffington researcher, has a slightly different take.
"People who say something bizarre is going on with Arianna have not been paying attention to her writings of the past few years, which contain serious looks at social problems. Her focus and diagnosis are left-of-center, but she is interested in trying to find solutions that rise above the right-left system."
Huffington's chief complaint is that in this era of plenty, 35 million Americans live in poverty, while the Democratic/Republican duopoly, thoroughly corrupted by special-interest contributions, does little to address this tragedy.
Recently, Huffington notes, she was asked what could be done to raise the profile of poverty in this country. She writes: " 'Put a Republican back in the White House,' I replied not because he would do more for the poor, but because it might inspire the champions of the Left meaning the Democrats to reunite with estranged consciences and regain their voices."
In her book she proposes an ambitious program that includes public financing of elections, civil disobedience and protests like the anti-WTO actions in Seattle, same-day voter registration and boycotts of corporations that do not donate to people in need.
In grandiose fashion, she's been trying to spark what she calls a movement to overthrow the government.
In Boston, she and Mass Voters for Clean Elections dumped ballot boxes with dirty money into the harbor.
In Washington, she lobbied Capitol Hill with Sojourner's Jim Wallis, who oversees the Call to Renewal, an interfaith campaign to end poverty.
In Santa Monica, she held a rally with the Oaks Project, a Nader-founded citizenship group that runs local campaigns to promote political reform and improve healthcare. (A busload of at-risk children from South Central attended this event. "We wanted to show that campaign finance reform is not just a process issue," Huffington remarks, "but that the way we finance campaigns affects millions of lives.")
In Northern California, she joined a protest with people opposed (unsuccessfully) to Proposition 21 on the primary ballot earlier this month. It mandates tougher punishments for youthful offenders.
Profits from the book, she says, will be donated to progressive groups.
Through a Web site (www. overthrowgov.com) she is promoting "The Manifesto," a slightly simplistic list of 11 things you can do right now to start overthrowing the government. Among them: volunteer, push for clean-money elections, hang up on pollsters and demand that candidates donate 10 percent of their contributions to poverty-fighting groups.
When Huffington first descended on Washington in the early '90s, the consensus was that she was one hell of an ambitious woman. After all, she had been the president of the debating society at Cambridge University, written five books and married a millionaire. (She and Huffington were divorced in 1997; today he is a gay Democrat.)
Subsequently she almost became the first lady of Newt's Revolution. She dabbled in New Age-ish philosophy. She did time as a political satirist on Comedy Central. Then she built herself into a seriously regarded syndicated columnist.
Now Huffington is hoping to kick-start a citizens' crusade from her Brentwood estate. It's a noble endeavor, Comrade Huffington. Pass the hors d'oeuvres and ride on.
Copyright 2000 San Francisco Examiner