Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, a liberal website, is out with a new book, Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution and Made Us All Less Safe. Huffington, who once was married to Michael Huffington, a one-term GOP congressman from California, famously left the Republican Party almost a dozen years ago. More recently, she broke with Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, whom she long admired for being a political reformer and maverick. In her view, McCain has been "hijacked by the right" and "sold his soul" in his bid for the White House. A frequent guest on radio and television programs, Huffington spoke with U.S. News about her book and the presidential election. Excerpts:
You assert that the GOP has left us with an endless war in Iraq, a sputtering economy, and a health care system on life support. Will voters agree and elect a Democratic president?
That depends very much on whether Democrats and disaffected Republicans and the media succeed at unmasking John McCain. He was somebody with whom the media, including myself, fell in love in 2000. I traveled around with him. I really believed in him as a reformer. I hosted a book party at my home for his book Faith of My Fathers around 2000. I invited him to the shadow [national political] convention I organized in Philadelphia in 2000, and he keynoted.
Now you say that he must be stopped. What are you doing to stop him?
The first thing you do is to expose who he has become, the pandering pawn of the right. Through this book, I catalog all the ways John McCain has basically hung a "For Sale" sign on his principles. The ultimate example was his surrender on torture.
When was your break with McCain?
The last time I met him was in Davos at the World Economic Forum in January 2007. A small group of journalists was meeting with him, and I asked him something about Iraq, and he lost his temper and said, "That's the position of the left."
How concerned are you that McCain will win the White House?
I think it's a real threat, even though the electoral dynamics are favoring Democrats.
Do you give Republicans credit for anything? President Bush has often said he's prevented a new attack on U.S. soil.
This is a very irresponsible thing to say, because he knows perfectly well that the lack of an attack on U.S. soil has nothing to do with his politics. Invading Iraq has made us less safe. Al Qaeda is reconstituting itself. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our National Guard is crumbling. Our military is not as strong as it used to be.
Do you favor one of the Democratic presidential candidates?
I am not going to be endorsing anybody, but I have written much more favorably about Barack Obama than Hillary Clinton. With Hillary Clinton, [the problem] is the 3 a.m. phone call [ad—which is] some of the same fearmongering the far right has used to maintain and extend its reach.
In 2003, you ran unsuccessfully for California governor. Would you run for office again? What was the overarching lesson in your defeat?
I would never run again. The one thing I learned was the power of the Internet. It led to the Huffington Post. People called the election, "The Hybrid versus the Hummer" [which was a phrase used in a Web animation put out to contrast Huffington (the hybrid) with Arnold Schwarzenegger (the hummer)]. I was stunned at how viral it was. [A story about] it took up three quarters of a page in the L.A. Times. This was amazing, how something with a very limited cost can go viral, hit a lot of people, and the mainstream media pick up on it, which is what we're doing with the Huffington Post.
When your agent first proposed the book, your 12th, you thought he had lost his mind. You were busy with the 24-7 news cycle and the web site amid a presidential contest. What changed your mind?
What changed my mind was that it would seem to be important to put between hard covers why the right had been so successful at setting the agenda and dominating the debate, even though the center has shifted and the right has been discredited.
The center of American politics has shifted, so what used to be considered left-wing positions, like bringing the troops home, universal healthcare, [and] doing something about global warming and corporate responsibility, are now very much mainstream positions.