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Published in the May 1, 2000 issue of In These Times
Arianna’s Change of Heart
by Laura Flanders
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 public schools.

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.


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