Jonathan Chait

Arianna Huffington's Latest Self

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Dana Milbank has a column about Arianna Huffington's deal with AOL, which requires her to ideologically reinvent herself -- again! -- as a centrist who finds ideology tiresome:

AOL Chairman Tim Armstrong said he thinks "Arianna has the same interest we do, which is serving consumers' needs and going beyond the just straight political needs of people." Huffington agreed, boasting that only 15 percent of her eponymous site's traffic is for politics (that's down from 50 percent a couple of years ago), and she emphasized that politics is just one of two dozen "sections," including a new one devoted to covering divorces.

"It's time for all of us in journalism to move beyond left and right," Huffington said Monday on PBS's "NewsHour." "Truly, it is an obsolete way of looking at the problems America is facing."

How many times can she pull this and have people believe her? She began as a neoconservative and advisor to Newt Gingrich during the Republican revolution. She eventually tired of it and moved to a post partisan-phase, a stance that evolved into a Nader-esque critique of both parties from the left, culminating in her high-profile 2000 role holding "shadow conventions" in which various liberal and left-wing figures highlighted issues ignored during the campaign. It was the perfect vehicle to harness liberal disillusionment with Clinton.

Of course, liberal disillusionment with Clinton led directly to George W. Bush, which by 2004 led to a massive upsurge in liberal partisan activism, which Huffington managed to harness as well. I'll let Isaac Chotiner pick up the story:

By 2004, the Iraq invasion was starting to look like something less than a brilliant success, and liberal disgust with the Bush administration was reaching its zenith. Meanwhile the rise of the so-called "netroots," coupled with grave concern about the possibility of a second Bush term, had destroyed almost all momentum for insurgent political movements. The only threat to the status quo could come from John Kerry and a Democratic Party whose principal argument was that they were better at Washington than Bush was. This was the year that saw the publication of Fanatics and Fools, Huffington's "game plan for winning back America," which signaled that she had made her peace with the Democratic Party. Many of the book's problems--particularly its over-the-top criticisms of Schwarzenegger--were owed to her old habit of pushing any argument a demagogic step too far, of wanting too much to be noticed. There was something almost comical about the insistence of this sudden liberal that she be regarded as some kind of leader of American liberalism--that her latest incarnation be treated as her whole story.

Right Is Wrong, Huffington's newest book, is a useful document of her current version, in which progressive politics seem to come so naturally to her that one almost forgets that she has been traveling the whole time. The result is a book that is less genuine and more tiresome. "Yes, the Republican Party has always had its far-right cowboys, its Jesse Helmses and Spiro Agnews," Huffington says near the beginning of the book, explaining her transformation. "Yet they were removed from the party's more sober core. But these days ... it has become impossible to tell where this core stops and the fanatical fringe begins." You have to re-write a not insignificant amount of history to describe the Republican Party's second postwar vice president and one of its most powerful senators--the latter a man who did the country an untold amount of damage in the realm of foreign affairs, at a time when Huffington was an active member of the GOP--as "removed" from anything other than, respectively, respect for the rule of law and common sense. There is some truth to her account of the party's evolution, even if, in a bid to make the book appear timely, locating it in the willingness of Republican primary voters to vote for their longtime bete noire John McCain is odd. She also addresses her erstwhile affection for Gingrich by saying that although he "talked a good game," his heart was "never in it." This is odd, because if there is anything that can be said for Gingrich's intellectual and political wildness, it is that his heart is in it.

Right Is Wrong is one of those books that is completely irritating even when it is correct. Like all people who have discovered their own importance, Huffington has become dull. Consider this bit: "In this time of Lilliputian figures it's clear that to end the hijacking of America by the Right each one of us needs to take up the gauntlet and stand up for truth, no matter how many in the corridors of power or at the top of the media food chain would prefer to maintain the status quo. Leadership is a risky business requiring wisdom, courage, and fortitude--and as my compatriot Socrates put it, courage is the knowledge of what is not to be feared." Her compatriot Socrates! Maybe she should have him over for dinner with some other really interesting people.

And now she is discarding liberal ideology again for a business deal. But I bet she'll be back by, oh, 2020.

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