Arianna Huffs and Puffs

By Arianna Huffington
Alfred A. Knopf, 388 pages, $24.95

Full disclosure: Arianna Huffington and I once had a somewhat half-hearted discussion about my possibly contributing to her eponymous über-blog, The Huffington Post. Nothing ever came of it, but in my time in Washington—even though Arianna lives mostly in L.A.—she’s been a regular guest at the same parties and meetings and panels as I have. She’s even invited me to some.

She’s a unique presence in D.C.: exuberant, friendly, eager to help people network among her vast collection of acquaintances, and, perhaps most unusually for around here, always beautifully dressed. Whenever I see her, it’s our custom to compare shoes. Hers are invariably better.

When I told my husband that I would be reviewing her new book, he asked if I thought that might have an impact on our friendship. I was mildly surprised: “Friends? We’re not not friends. We’re ‘Washington friends.’” Our relationship is based largely on proximity.

Now that Arianna has written Right Is Wrong, I think this former wife of a California Republican Senate candidate, confidante of Newt Gingrich, and onetime “conservative pundit,” might also confess that her relationship to conservatism was equally convenient. It was certainly transitory. If only all “Washington conservatives” were the same way.

She has now embraced the causes of modern progressive liberalism with the fervor of a convert. She suggests that when George W. Bush landed on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln to give his “Mission Accomplished” speech, he should have been “immediately clapped in irons, thrown in the brig, and charged with gross dereliction of duty.” Instead, she sniffs, he “strutted around” in a “crotch-hugging flight suit.” She quite literally accuses the Republican party of messing with people’s minds. (Specifically, she says they overstimulate the amygdala, which sounds like it might have something to do with W’s flight suit but is really the region of the brain that “generates fear.”) Her apologia for once having owned an SUV is fully half as long as her explanation for having been a Republican.

She sneers a bit when she catches author Michael Crichton using a revelation about his past errors to underscore the sincerity of his current beliefs—in his case, a newfound skepticism about global warming: “He makes a good salesman for this anti-intellectual nonsense,” she writes, “because he attacks global warming from the persuasive position of the proselyte.” Of course, she continues, “there is … nothing wrong with changing your mind. God knows I did.” The difference between her intellectual journey and his? Arianna arrived in Damascus; Mr. Crichton in Perdition.

Ms. Huffington has come to believe that the political world is made up of right opinions and wrong ones. As she puts it: “There are … issues that quite simply do not have two sides.” Such certainty means that no matter how engagingly she has put forth her compendium of conservative policy errors—and she does write engagingly—it’s still a songbook for the liberal choir.

Washington observers of a progressive bent will find much to smirk over, such as the entertaining denunciation of Bob Woodward’s latest Bush tome, the one that finally suggests the fundamental corruption of the argument for war: “Welcome to 2002, Bob.”

But in dismissing conservative policy as “wrong,” Ms. Huffington is making a category error that actually disguises a much more serious problem. In the case of policy areas like global warming, abstinence education, torture, wiretapping and, basically, our entire foreign policy, the Bush administration has not just presented ideas that are somehow incorrect; they have factually misrepresented the situation that the policy is supposed to address. Put it even more simply: The problem with the Bush administration isn’t that they’re “wrong”—it’s that they’re lying.

There are, for instance, conservative, market-based proposals to address global warming. There are Republican principles that would lead to the outlawing of torture. There are—I know I’m going to get mail for this—legitimate reasons to remain in Iraq. (It’s harder to make the argument that there were legitimate reasons for going in.) But these are not the arguments that the Bush administration has made. Instead, they’ve denied the existence of the problem in two cases and wildly exaggerated it in the third.

Arianna Huffs and Puffs