(This review appears in the July-August 2008 issue of The American Spectator.)
Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe (and what you need to know to end the madness)
By Arianna Huffington
(Alfred A. Knopf, 388 pages, $24.95)
"Grahver, we've got to fuckus," she exclaimed at one of our Saturday Evening Club dinners more than a decade ago. Arianna had arrived late that night, and she was understandably agitated, having been forced to take a seat at the far end of the table, a good ways from the center of the action where Grover Norquist, in his customary spot directly across from host Bob Tyrrell, enjoyed a clear advantage controlling that evening's discussion. I was seated right across from her, reveling in her undecipherable Greek accent and the unintentional humor it never fails to provide.
Indeed, it revealed compelling facets of her elegant, if girlish, high-pitched charm. Thanks to her latest book, Right Is Wrong (her eleventh, unless I've lost count), I can measure how far her Americanization has come. If her salty language was once accidental, she's now one of the guys in tossing out words like "blowjob" (in defending Bill Clinton), "wack-job" (in attacking the "twisted" GOP) and "erectile dysfunction pills" (she's for them). She loves baseball talk, at least in the opening chapter, before pinch-hitting for her initial ghostwriter. "Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rummy, Rove...this Murderers' Row of lethal bat-swingers has already guaranteed a place for itself in the Fear-Mongering Hall of Shame with Ruthian blasts..." I prefer when she underwrites, as in "Cheney cleared the bases on Meet the Press."
On the other hand, I am concerned that Arianna has been all too willing to deracinate herself, shunning her one unmistakable asset, her Greekness, as if it were her (for lack of a better word) Achilles' heel. True, in her new book, she does on occasion allude to her ethnicity, but strictly for tactical reasons. So "George Tenet and I are both Greek," she notes, but only to throw out a Greek term at him, filotimo, in order to suggest that this former CIA director, like all the non-Greeks in the Bush inner circle, lacked "honor, conscience, and integrity," which she, as someone who knows a Greek word or two, exemplifies. She also identifies with Socrates, "my compatriot," she calls him, despite their age difference, and even invokes Thucydides to condemn the Iraq war, an effort that she quickly sabotages by basing her understanding of his History of the Peloponnesian War on the account in Wikipedia.
See what happens when a writer allows her name to evolve from Arianna Stassinopoulos to Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington to Arianna Huffington? Somewhere along the way it loses its connection to intelligent design (another object of her scorn). No doubt, she'd be the first to argue that the great success she's had at her Hollywood website would never have come about if it were called "The Stassinopoulos Post." I suspect George Stephanopoulos would disagree.
Not that I want to get George in trouble. Luckily, Tim Russert is the one Sunday host Arianna truly seems to loathe. Because he never has her on, he gets variously abused as "priapic" (Arianna is nothing if not single-minded), a "conventional wisdom zombie," "credulous," and (back to the erectile mode) "Russert Interruptus."
ARIANNA'S FRUSTRATIONS SHOW no signs of abating. Another way they reveal themselves is in the many juicy little hypocrisies that sprinkle her book. "Bush speaks English -- after a fashion, it's true..." she writes, not hearing herself. She condemns the administration's supposed "warrantless mass eavesdropping on American citizens," yet gleefully recounts the time she listened in on a cellphone conversation Bill Kristol was having aboard an Amtrak train to Washington. She calls Newt Gingrich "the original barbarian at the GOP gate," without explaining why back in 1995 she wrote an article called "Why Newt Must Run" for president (for Bill Kristol's magazine--and sent out advance copies of the piece without informing her editors). She dismisses Bush's sex-education efforts to "preach abstinence," but praises Colin and Alma Powell's establishment-approved "highly successful youth abstinence program." Forgetting how she turned herself into a gold digger, she says it's Bush voters who were "all right with firing gay Americans from their jobs."
In a more serious vein, such is her resolute hatred of all things Bush, neoconservative, conservative, "nea-conservative," right-wing, Iraq war-related, and now even all things McCain, whom she sees as someone out of <I>Dr. Strangelove</I>, she actually defends Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, implying he became a Holocaust denier and America hater only in response to administration policies. As for the torture state institutionalized by the Bush presidency, she reminds readers that the Gestapo itself wasn't big on torture. I think she gives credit to Andrew Sullivan for that insight. Ultimately, she concludes, torture became a staple of Bush rule because of some Salem witch hunt-like compulsion on the part of the "radical Right" or maybe simply as a "by-product of the well-known Bush laziness: the 9-5 workday, the long summer vacations, the impatience with detail."
Something tells me she's still f--king with us.