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Inly Arianna Huffington could put you on hold six times during the course of a thirty-minute interview and still charm your socks off. "Come in!" she cries toward the door of her hotel room while I'm halfway through a question. "I'm sorry, just one second," she tells me several times as I hear her mobile phone begin to ring ("Hello daahhhling!"). "Will we be much longer, do you think?" she asks me at one point, her voice edging on impatient. But then just when I'm becoming frustrated, she purrs conspiringly to me in her Greek-inflected sotto voce, "Are we getting enough interruptions here, Will?" as if we're two friends sharing an eye-roll at all these pesky intruders, and I'm putty in her hands.
    Huffington's career arc enrages conservatives who consider "flip-flopping" a cardinal sin. In the '80s and early '90s, she was a Newt Gingrich acolyte and wife of millionaire Republican congressman Michael Huffington. When he ran for Senate in 1994, the press portrayed Arianna as a Lady Macbeth engineering the campaign in her quest for power. He lost, and in 1997, they divorced. Soon after, Michael came out as bisexual, and though they have two daughters together and remain good friends, Arianna is a different person today. In the late '90s, she began to swing from arch-conservative to feisty liberal activist, not stopping until she ended up on the far left end of the political spectrum; as explanation, she declared that the GOP had abandoned any commitment to helping the working class. Today, she can be found on shows like Real Time With Bill Maher handing Tucker Carlson his ass — with her sultry Greek accent, crimson hair and encyclopedic knowledge of politics, she excels on TV.
    Her latest book, On Becoming Fearless in Love, Work and Life, is a self-help book targeting women. Huffington is well-equipped to write such a book. She's weathered her public gaffes with aplomb, perhaps most famously during her improbable run for governor of California in 2003, when she was filmed knocking over a bank of microphones in an apparent attempt to be photographed alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger. Today, her website, HuffingtonPost.com, is phenomenally successful, with Huffington herself blogging daily. At first glance, it seems to be merely a liberal counterpoint to the alarmist, New York Postian Drudge Report. But in actuality, its whole look (teal font and big color photos) and attitude (hard news as opposed to Drudge's "News of the Weird" glut) give it a softer, more serious NPR-like feel that's come to attract around one-and-a-half-million visitors every month. — Will Doig

You strike me as particularly fearless, taking big risks in high-profile situations. Do you fear failure or public humiliation?
When you've had more than your fair share of failure, you realize that it doesn't really matter. It's part of life and you learn to embrace it. The recovery time gets faster and faster. It's not about the absence of fear, it's the mastery of fear.

You write in the book that women often stay in unsatisfying relationships for fear of being alone. How has fear factored into your breakups?
My first big love was when I was in my twenties. That was probably the hardest one, first of all because the first loss of love is always the hardest, and secondly because I basically chose to leave because he didn't want to get married and have children, and I was desperate to have children.

promotion

A lot of women settle in relationships that aren't what they want. I've found in my life that the more I develop this fearlessness muscle, the easier it is to not be in relationships that aren't what you want.

You also write that you won't be putting a ring on anytime soon. Does that have anything to do with your experience of getting divorced?
Oh no, not at all. I don't rule [marriage] out, but I have no immediate plans to get married. For me, so much of my longing to have children was tied up with being married, and once you've had your children, this is not as big a deal anymore.

That almost makes it sound like marriage is a means to an end.
Well for me it definitely was. I know that for other people it can be a means to other things, but for me it was all about children.

Were you happy with your marriage experience, even though it ended somewhat publicly?
Yes, and actually my marriage did not end all that publicly. When my husband came out as bisexual it was two years [after the divorce]. Our marriage actually ended quite quietly. We were fully divorced before there was even a mention of it in the paper. So yes, Michael and I, we had hard moments during our divorce, but we both made it a priority to deal with them, and now we're actually friends. I was at the Kennedy Center in Boston yesterday speaking and Michael was there and I invited him to be my guest at the dinner.

How do your daughters feel about your ex-husband's bisexuality?
They're very comfortable, because Michael is a great dad. It was harder at the beginning because they didn't know about it. Nobody knew about it, and it all came out in a public way and they were very young. But they have definitely dealt with it and are very much at peace with it.



You're a highly intelligent and well-educated woman, and you're also quite beautiful and sexy. What do you think about women using their sex appeal to get ahead in their careers or ambitions?
Well it depends on what you mean by that. We use everything that we have just by virtue of going through life. If you are a very beautiful woman, you can't help but know that it's going to affect how people react to you. I'm fifty-six, and I believe in maintenance [laughs]. But I think a lot of imponderables are more important: how engaged you are in life, how interested in you are in other people, how present you are with other people. These qualities, which we can learn, are more important than how physically perfect you are. But most of the important qualities don't get worse with aging, they get better. Unless you want to take her to bed — that's another story.

Speaking of sex and careers, do you think the Mark Foley scandal is going to be the straw that breaks the Republicans' backs this November?
I think it could very well be the tipping point. It's not ultimately about sex. It's about trust, and it's shown that the Republican Party cannot be trusted. It cannot be trusted with Iraq, it could not be trusted with Katrina, it can't be trusted when it tells us who benefits from the tax cuts.

Though it's a bit sad that after all of the more sweeping ways they've screwed things up, a sex scandal would be the thing people most care about when deciding to vote against Republicans.
I know! And that's where hypocrisy comes in. The Republican Party has positioned itself as the party of virtue, of the moral high ground. And so it's harder when something like that happens where it's clear that the leadership of the GOP put staying in power and political expediency above principle and above protecting young men in Congress.

It seems to me that the Republicans have a tendency to run dirtier, nastier campaigns than the Democrats. Should the Democrats get nastier, and exploit situations like this, and even gay-bait if it helps them win?
Oh my God. No. I don't think that's remotely what wins elections. Not remotely. I think that elections are won like that only in the absence of a clear, passionate alternative. I think Democrats lost in '04 not because Republicans fear-mongered the nation on gay rights and the war on terror, but because Democrats did not offer a clear alternative on the war on terror, did not offer a clear alternative on Iraq. It was unequivocal. I think especially in the post-9/11 reality, the public longs for clear, strong positions.

But you have to admit, the Republicans are nastier and more negative campaigners, and they win. Should that be a component of the Democrats' campaigns at all, or should they be above that?
But then what's the point? Why run if you're willing to betray what you stand for and what the Democratic Party stands for. But ultimately it's a very important question to ask, because if winning office is paramount, and fear of losing becomes what drives campaigns, then that's when people run these wishy-washy, stand-for-nothing campaigns — which lose.

Okay, here's an example: I'm gay, yet I personally think that gay people — and liberals in general — should shut up about gay marriage temporarily, if only for the sake of getting the Republicans out of power. It would eliminate one of their winning campaign issues. Am I wrong?
Yes, I really honestly think so. I don't believe that's the reason the Democrats lost. They allowed Republicans to define moral values as being about gay rights. That's not what the Bible says. There's nothing in the Bible about gay morality or gay marriage or any of these things. There's a lot in the bible about the morality about not caring for the least among us, for those in need. I think Democrats need to focus on those moral issues.

Should the Democrats try to appeal to people on a more religious level than they currently do?
I don't think they should try to appeal to them. I think it's about making the connection between economics and moral values.

Let's talk about Huffington Post quickly. No one expected it to be this successful. What's its appeal?
I think we were the first to come out in May '05 with a 24/7 combination of news and bloggers, over seven hundred of them, who are both great voices already established like Arthur Schlesinger and Nora Ephron, and also new voices that no one had heard of who established themselves as wonderful bloggers. It was a combination of those two things: establishing an attitude and developing a community.

With all its high-profile bloggers, does it run the risk of reinforcing the stereotype — however unfairly — that liberals are a bunch of Champagne-swilling, limousine-riding Hollywood elitists?
The site, as you know, has multiple voices. In fact, we challenge this whole view of looking at the world as right-left.  






To buy
On Becoming Fearless in Love, Work and Life,
click here.



©2006 Nerve.com and Will Doig.

Commentarium (6 Comments)

Oct 23 06 - 1:02pm

I like her a lot... but you know what- it's easy to be fearless when you're rich rich rich and you've always been.

Oct 23 06 - 4:53pm
ecw

Arianna: You mentioned that the bible does not say anything
about homo life style Wow:::: You are somewhat blind. If you
knew anything about the bible you would find it has plenty to say about it. Not only this but Jesus Himself had plenty to say about it. Remember Jesus is also God. It was Jesus who
gave Moses the law. He handed it down tnru Moses. All moral and ethnic laws came from God (Jesus) thru Moses

Oct 24 06 - 4:39pm
kr

Great interview...
Arianna continues to win my respect at every turn.

However, I find the last comment off the mark. Speaking as a Christian myself who is a member of this site and who even has work here, it's tricky business for you to come here and try and claim a biblical moral high ground. Though you may be commenting on her own biblical accuracy, you miss the bigger picture of how such comments come off to everyone else. In other words 'Here are the Christians again, going on about homosexuality or other issues, and yet never comment on anything else that was said.' It implies a simplistic, reductive view that I argue the bible doesn't portray. There are deeper values at play and one of them is revealed in Arianna.

"Why run if you're willing to betray what you stand for"
That to me reveals more character than those who purport to stand for one thing and then do another.

Oct 25 06 - 9:47pm
sara

i definitely concur on the subject of re-claiming the moral high ground. this guy David Kuo who defected from bush's christian initiative group provides a perfect opening for the democrats, and its extraordinary that we haven't responded the republicans moral bankruptcy sooner. it is truly extraordinary that christians disproportionally support the far less christian party. it seems to be about a desire for a stern father, for black and white, but looking granularly at the messages in the bible, they pretty much all align the democrat's platform. its time to go after this hypocracy aggressively ... it just nauseates me that people on the one hand claim to have a direct line to the supreme creator of the universe, and on the other say that god wants them to be selfish pricks (don't pay taxes, don't help the poor, don't support people who are different, and most recently don't bother with basic fiscal discipline -- balancing the budget for instance).

Nov 09 06 - 1:32am
TMS

This is a lovely write-up of a good interview with a wonderful woman. Good questions, all. Thank you.

HOWEVER, Mr Doig and whoever copy-edited this: There is NO excuse for sloppy, and more especially, ignorant grammatical errors. Nerve.com is a first-rate publication, and should hold itself to the highest standards, even when it comes to silly things like spelling, etc. While it's true that the English language is a wonderfully dynamic thing, "it's" will NEVER replace "its," as you've done throughout the piece.

These things DO matter.

I would think that Ms Huffington would not have made this error.

I hope you'll take my slightly testy comment/request in its true spirit -- I'm a big fan, but just hate it when good writers make careless mistakes. Your mistake is not that you were careless in writing the piece; it's that you never took the time to learn the usage rules in the first place.

Nov 12 06 - 10:39pm
dsm

Well, even as an independent, or perhaps a conservative Democrat or liberal Republican, I can appreciate Ms. Huffington's "change of venue" and her decision to follow her heart to the left. Let's face it, people change. I guess what it comes down to is being true to yourself. And with regard to politics, it's also about being true to yourself and doing what you can to help our nation. Now, the question is: now that the Democrats have "won", will they work together with the Republicans and actually try and make things better, or will they just work to get themselves re-elected? And will the HuffingtonPost be non-partisan and kick some Dem ass when they get ignorant?