Feature: Oh, Arianna!

Feature: Oh, Arianna!
Posted by FoM on April 08, 2000 at 07:28:27 PT
By Ramesh Ponnuru, NR Senior Editor 
Source: National Review
One might expect that Arianna Huffington would be happy. As a columnist and media personality, she has spent five years telling politicians, especially Republicans, to make compassion their guiding ethic. Now the Republican presidential nominee is someone who believes as she does about the importance of government assistance to the volunteer groups, often religious, that tend to the poor. 
More recently, Huffington has been an enthusiast for campaign-finance reform; and that issue has dominated the presidential race as much as any issue has. Yet Huffington is far from happy. Her new book, How to Overthrow the Government, is a catalogue of complaints, a prolonged howl of indignation. It is also a chronicle of how that indignation led her from being a conservative hanger-on to Newt Gingrich to being a publicist for Warren Beatty’s political career. It is, more prosaically, a bunch of her columns stitched together, which often makes the book sound like a rambling monologue by Ross Perot’s crazy aunt. Huffington’s verbal missiles are not precision targeted. She is hostile to the pharmaceutical industry. The media. Rich people who donate to museums and universities instead of to the poor. Politicians who follow the polls. And politicians who ignore “the will of the people” and instead pander to special interests. She rails against negative campaigns and political consultants. She takes offense at the phoniness of fundraising letters. She calls political endorsements a “time-honored campaign con game” that “only adds to our sense that politics in America has degenerated into a world where there’s no integrity, no principles, and no truth.” She scorns politicians who talk about prosperity—“The P-word,” she calls it. It’s materialistic, you see. Such politicians see their task as nothing more exalted than “keeping inflation low for Wall Street titans.” Inflation, apparently, is good for poor people. Not that anybody cares about them under our present campaign-finance arrangements: “Money speaks louder than the muffled cries of the poor.” But Huffington, for one, hears their cries—perhaps when they’re serving her guests dinner. She has been many things in her 49 years, but one thing she has always been is upwardly mobile. (She’s been dubbed the Edmund Hillary of social climbers.) Born in Athens, Arianna Stassinopoulos was educated in England, where her debating skills earned her the presidency of the Cambridge Union. She first attracted the attention of a wider public at age 23, when she wrote one of the earliest antifeminist books. For several years thereafter, she made the rounds in London, attached to the prominent journalist Bernard Levin. During this period, she became a minister in the Church of the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA—pronounced “messiah”). Spirituality has been a recurring subject of her writing. Her 1994 book The Fourth Instinct: The Call of the Soul includes a description of an out-of-body experience she had. In the Eighties, Stassinopoulos left London for New York and then Los Angeles. She seems to have spent much of the decade at dinner parties, where her flowing red hair, exotic accent, quick wit, ingratiating charm, and famous paramours made her a star. She also found the time to write three books. They made a splash, partly because she was accused of plagiarizing large chunks of them. When she married oil scion Michael Huffington in 1986, her wedding dress cost more than most college grads’ starting salaries; the reception was a P-word affair that cost upwards of a hundred grand. It’s traditional in Huffington profiles to quote Henry Kissinger: The reception, he said, had everything but “an Aztec sacrificial fire dance.” Barbara Walters was a bridesmaid. In 1992, Michael Huffington ran for Congress as a moderate Republican, knocking off the conservative incumbent through sheer force of money. He was no sooner elected than he started running for the Senate against Dianne Feinstein. Huffington spent $30 million, still the record, but lost. (In her new book, dedicated to campaign-finance reform, the first reference to this race occurs on page 101; also the last.) It was a bruising race. The Huffingtons had terrible press: She was depicted as a power-hungry cultist, he as her puppet. They seemed unusually blessed with the sort of anonymous “friends” who would describe them as such to reporters. She sprang back quickly, setting up a conservative salon in Washington. While Michael stayed in California, she lent glamour to the short-lived Republican revolution of 1995. She blanketed Washington with Christmas cards featuring her little girls dolled up in creepy come-hither poses. She was a confidante of Newt Gingrich, joining others to form the Center for Effective Compassion. She even urged Gingrich to run for president as a compassionate conservative (which was an only slightly less ludicrous idea than it sounds now). But it wasn’t long before Huffington, now armed with a syndicated column, turned on Gingrich. She felt deceived, she claims, when she found out that a passion for charitable tax credits was not, in fact, at the center of his being. “It was like a divorce,” recalls a Gingrich ally. “Everybody had to choose up sides, and she was hostile to everyone who stayed with him.” Gingrich loyalists would more than once be targets of Huffington’s column. She is not your average columnist, being smarter and more entertaining than most. She also gets more personal. House majority leader Dick Armey has an “ersatz, insipid, and duplicitous style.” Bill Bennett is “intellectually dishonest.” Henry Kissinger, she argues, favors a soft line on China (a position consistent with his entire career) because of his investments there. Could be she’s just getting even for that crack about her wedding. Huffington’s zeal in the service of compassion is often indistinguishable from malice. A column in 1997 attacking one of Gingrich’s aides slyly outed the aide as a homosexual. A year later, she wrote a column alluding to a nasty, baseless rumor about a congressman that was circulating in Washington. No other journalist would touch it. Still another column identified a woman—not one of the well-known ones—who had had an affair with President Clinton. (In her new book, by the way, Huffington decries the media’s “slow-drip character assassination” and “rumor mongering.”) Her barbs at conservatives—and the controlled outrageousness of her style—won her some new fans. She started appearing on the Comedy Central network with Al Franken, the occasionally funny liberal comedian. She wrote a political satire. The Christmas cards stopped coming. The Center for Effective Compassion fell by the wayside. As did her marriage. (Michael Huffington would later make a public announcement of his bisexuality.) Once she was divorced, she decided that her daughters should be close to their father and took her multimillion-dollar settlement back to L.A. The salon revived, this time with actors rather than congressmen in attendance. In her most recent incarnation, Huffington is more convinced than ever that America is becoming two nations, “a moneyed elite growing rich from globalization” and a growing underclass. (Skeptics may note that most Americans live in neither nation.) Politicians, in thrall to their “Big Business corporate masters,” ignore poverty. Drug policy also reflects corporate power: We continue a futile war on drugs while allowing pharmaceutical giants to dope up our children. Which, she explains in her new book, causes them to shoot their classmates. Huffington’s political utterances have never been temperate or subtle. In 1995 she was hellbent on revolution. A few years later, she was comparing Rush Limbaugh to David Duke, calling on Republicans to repudiate the former as they had the latter. Limbaugh’s offense was criticizing a summit on volunteerism in which she was involved. As the title of her new book—“How to Overthrow the Government”—suggests, she has now gone a few steps further. Now she wants tumult for its own sake. She cheers the Seattle protesters against the World Trade Organization, for example, even though she opposes protectionism. Nor does she care who wins the presidential election. To her, both parties are the same. But beneath the surface complacency of the public, she explains, is a deep anger at this state of affairs. At a dinner party in her Brentwood home, the idea was hatched that Warren Beatty could rouse the public by running for president. He is, after all, both angry and complacent himself. Huffington promoted this potential candidacy in her column and on TV. Dozens of people e-mailed her asking where they could send checks to Beatty. Yes, checks to a Hollywood zillionaire. In her book, Huffington blasts the media for taking Donald Trump seriously. What’s the difference between Trump and Beatty? I ask her. “Oh, it’s a big distinction. Warren Beatty has an important message about America becoming one nation. He and I would disagree about how do we go about becoming one nation again. But there’s no question that this notion of America being two nations with millions of Americans being left out—not just out of the prosperity but out of the political conversation—is I think a very important message.” Huffington is certainly correct in suggesting that something is deeply wrong with our political culture. It showers its attentions on people who are clever, glib, and adept at self-promotion but have little in the way of principles or capacity for reflection. Reading her book, one can only join her in pining for what she calls “less self-involved times.” Do Huffington’s recent peregrinations add up to a move to the left? She says she’s moved beyond the tired categories of Left and Right, something pretty much said only by liberals and leftists. Certainly, she has no shortage of ideas for how other people should spend their time and money. She implicitly defines poverty in material terms, as liberals do. She favors gun control and finds calls for assimilation “troubling.” The Nation’s columnists are bickering over whether her dalliance with the Left is a good omen or bad. On the other hand, she continues to represent the Right on a radio show called Left, Right, and Center and to be paired with Franken in debates. For her part, Huffington doesn’t take such things too seriously. John Fund, a Wall Street Journal editorialist and sometime critic of Huffington, recalls seeing her at a dinner in Washington in February: “She walked up to me and said, ‘Darling, are you upset with me?’ or something like that. And I said, ‘Arianna, I could only be upset with you if you ever surprised me.’ She laughed and said, ‘What a wonderful line.’ She was quite pleased with that.” National Review 215 Lexington Avenue New York, New York 10016 212-679-7330 National Review April 17, 2000 IssueRelated Articles:Arianna Online Money - Salon Magazine - Arianna Huffington Articles On Arianna Huffington
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Comment #2 posted by kaptinemo on April 08, 2000 at 14:30:46 PT:
Banning, american Style
In South Africa in the bad old days of apartheid, if the government didn't like your stance, you were 'banned'. That meant, just like the 'silence' of some of our service academies, no one was allowed to talk with you, face-to-face, talk on the phone, etc. Total isolation in the midst of your own community. You became a non-person, which then makes it that much easier to 'disappear' you. You become a warning to others contemplating similar acts of protest that the status quo really *hates* people with consciences.When you are a notable celebrity who no longer toes the DrugWar line and sings in the DrugWar choir, a process begins. First, they try to make fun of you. If you get the hint, and have no scruples other than 'going along to get along', and behave as if you've been properly chastened, then you are alowed back into the fold. Arianna is at that stage, right now. But if you have more guts than that, and keep talking about reform, then they begin to treat you like the 'enemy'. They begin character assasinations. If you still won't shut up, then they begin subtle harrassment. And if you *still* won't shut up, the gloves come off, and you are treated to what the hoi polloi, (aka 'those people') get every day.
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Comment #1 posted by dddd on April 08, 2000 at 13:16:35 PT
I've always kinda liked Arianna.I think she's better than the guy who wrote this article......dddd
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