Establishment lefties are saying that Arianna Huffington has changed her
tune. In her seventh book, How to Overthrow the Government‚ she endorses
direct action, third parties, media boycotts and campaign finance reform. Has
this former Gingrich girl turned into a progressive populist?
The Nation trio of Micah Sifry, Marc Cooper and David Corn thinks so. She
has had a change of heart, they say, and she’s putting her money where her
mouth is. Indeed, she’s wild for Public Campaign, the campaign finance reform
group where Sifry is a senior analyst. She gave Cooper free copies of her
book, which he promoted to entice contributions to his radio show on Pacifica
in Los Angeles. She even invited her well-connected crowd to a Washington
party promoting Corn’s political thriller, Deep Background. “She got a
physical distance from the Republican crowd‚” Corn told the New York
Observer’s Joe Conason.
Responding to complaints from his colleague Katha Pollitt, Corn moaned, “Some
lefties, alas would rather have targets than allies, maintain enemies rather
than welcome converts.”
I guess I’m one of those lefties, too. Try as I might to catch Huffington’s
new tune, all I hear is a familiar drone.
To recap: Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington—born in Athens, transplanted to
London—first made waves attacking feminism. The Female Woman was commissioned
by the publisher of Germaine Greer’s Female Eunuch as a conservative
counteroffensive (which it was).
She stayed in the spotlight through the men in her life: Her dates have
included est founder Werner Erhard, media magnate Mort Zuckerman, former
California Gov. Jerry Brown and, of course, her ex-husband Michael
Huffington, heir to the Huffco oil fortune. It is kind to attribute such
liaisons to strategic rather than erotic choice. (She was divorced in 1997,
and her ex-husband later came out in the pages of Esquire.)
In 1994, after Michael’s failed Senate race, Arianna relaunched herself.
Huffington won conservative influence in the capital and helped advance the
Beltway career of Marvin Olasky, whose Tragedy of American Compassion
inspired Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America.
Huffington’s 1994 book‚ The Fourth Instinct is full of what Gingrich and
Olasky were full of: pushing charities, not government, as the poor’s
salvation. With Olasky, Huffington founded the Center for Effective
Compassion, an innocuous-sounding conduit for right-wing dollars to reach
strategic conservative causes like the Center for New Black Leadership
(CNBL), a kind of media platform for conservative Blacks like Alan Keyes and
Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.)
Huffington now seems to have jumped ship. But her “transformation” is
questionable. She’s still a conservative activist. She’s a pal of David
Horowitz, whose magazine Heterodoxy has been a longtime outlet for her
writing. Again this fall, she will address Horowitz’s “The Weekend” retreat.
She’s still on the boards of CNBL and Hollywood Concerned—a group, founded by
Watts among others, that supports “tax incentives for inner-city renewal”
(that’s corporate tax breaks) and vouchers to help a handful opt out of bad
Huffington’s also a borrower. In Overthrow it’s as if she trawled
left-of-center Web sites and reprinted long tracts of research by the Center
for Public Integrity, Public Campaign and the Sentencing Project to make her
case that change is due. The “action directory‚” of groups in her book lists
some progressive think tanks, but the “activist” groups she endorses are
conservative, engaging in spiritual renewal, mentoring and charitable giving.
Huffington’s plan? Bring “government dollars” together with “individual
engagement.” She’s pretty specific about the individual—give to good causes,
volunteer—but she barely touches government. There’s no talk here about
workers rights, affirmative action, health care, income supports or, heaven
forbid, income taxes. It’s like her “answer” to corruption in media: not
restrictions on corporate dominance, but “civic journalism” (i.e. listing
worthy organizations in newspapers).
Huffington rails against “false speech,” but it was she who floated the
allegation that former U.S. Ambassador Larry Lawrence was buried in Arlington
because President Clinton slept with his wife (who sued her). She accused the
author of a critical book about the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness
cult she had belonged to of being a pedophile (he sued, too). Campaign
manager Ed Rollins reports that during her husband’s 1994 Senate race,
Arianna deployed private investigators to dig up dirt on opponent Dianne
Feinstein, as well as a journalist writing for Vanity Fair.
With her access to the media, Huffington is putting arguments for change out
there. That’s good. But there’s a danger, too. Pro-status quo media are
always looking to pad their center-right debates with acceptable alternatives
to real progressives. Who is more acceptable than a conservative with lefty
support like Huffington? Salon recently launched its campaign 2000 Web site
with a banner ad that promised such a debate: Horowitz vs. Huffington.
Like that other Greek high-flier Icarus, Arianna too will fall from grace.