A Conversation with Arianna Huffington, Author of Right is Wrong
Q: This isn't the first book that discusses how things have gone off-track during the Bush Administration. What different viewpoints and perspectives do you bring to the discussion?
A: The focus of the book is not what went wrong but why. Why have we been so vulnerable to such a brazen takeover of our foreign policy–allowing the launch of an immoral, unnecessary, and ultimately catastrophic war? Why have we tolerated staying on this disastrous course despite all evidence that it is leading us over a cliff? Why have we allowed the shredding of our Constitution–warrantless mass eavesdropping on American citizens, firing of U.S. Attorneys, quashing of dissent? Why have we enabled the corruption of American values–allowing torture to become policy, and permitting such obscenities as Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo to replace the glory of Omaha Beach and the bold vision of the Marshall Plan? Why have we capitulated to the undermining of science–the suicidal denial of scientific reports on global warming and stem cell research? And nearly a century after the Scopes trial, why are we once again allowing the armies of ignorance to assail Darwin and evolution?
With the consequences of the media's failure to do their job over the last seven years raining down on us every day, it's easy to point the finger of blame at our toothless journalistic watchdogs. It is indeed beyond time for reporters to become intrepid again and for pundits to free themselves from the conventional wisdom. And it is just as easy to put the blame on those Democratic Party leaders who again and again became enablers, behaving more like loyal lackeys than the loyal opposition. It is beyond time for them to stop being so easily cowed by attacks on their patriotism and by the cynical exploitation of fear and the now ritual waving of the banner of national security.
But to put an end to the madness and get America back on track, we need to dig deeper and address the root causes of the rot afflicting our politics — and that is what I set out to do with Right is Wrong.
Q: What do you see as the single worst thing that has happened over the past seven years?
A: Unquestionably the single worst thing that has happened over the past seven years has been the war in Iraq. It has had a catastrophic impact on our long term safety, on America's position in the world, and on our domestic economy. It has cost us the moral high ground, and tragically undermined our national security.
Q: What about the effects of deregulation (which brought Vioxx, lead-laden toys, and the subprime meltdown) and the concentration of executive power in the White House?
A: The Right's unbridled commitment to privatization and deregulation have cost us dearly. By putting industry foxes in charge of the regulatory henhouses, and replacing government oversight with a blind eye, the Bush years have produced a cornucopia of deregulation disasters. The FDA has failed to protect the public from numerous deadly drugs. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has failed to protect the public from toxic toys, lethal cribs, and many lead-tainted products. And a defanged Occupational Safety and Health Administration has failed to protect workers, period — with millions injured or made ill from on-the-job causes. We now have a regulatory system in which corporate greed, political timidity, and the culture of cronyism are the order of the day — and the public good has become little more than an afterthought.
Q: How did the radical fringe gain control of the Republican Party? Given that the majority of Americans don't agree with many of their policies (staying in Iraq and ignoring/denying global warming, to name a few) are we as citizens to blame for letting it happen?
A: A key to understanding the fanatical Right's takeover of the Republican Party and how these ideas spread to the rest of the country is looking at the role of the media -- not the Fox News pseudo-newsmen or the talk radio blowhards, but the respectable, supposedly liberal media. Without the enabling of the traditional media–with their obsession with “balance” and their pathological devotion to the idea that truth is always found in the middle–the radical Right would never have been able to have its ideas taken seriously. Indeed they would have been laughed out of the court of public opinion long ago. And because of its insistence on seeing most political battles through the foggy lens of right vs. left — the media missed the big political story of the last 20 years: the hijacking of America by the lunatic Right.
Q: How has the media failed us over the past seven years?
A: The “mainstream” media have, in many cases, become the best friend of the Right–simply by stubbornly clinging to the misguided notion that every major issue has two sides, two valid perspectives, and both deserve to be given equal weight. There are many issues that quite simply do not have two sides. Iraq wasn't a material threat to the security of the United States. Global warming is real, and will have deadly consequences for people and species all over the planet. Consequences that are already being felt. The health care system is broken, and insurance companies and big pharmaceutical- makers have gorged themselves at the public trough. We can argue about what to do about these problems, but unless you're crazy or a liar, you can't honestly claim that the drug and insurance companies aren't an obstacle to a saner health care system, that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was a serious threat to U.S. security, or that global warming is a fraud — and then demand equal time to spout some nonsense that gains an aura of legitimacy from the “let's hear from both sides” approach of the news media.
Q: One of your main issues with the media is their insistence on showing "both" sides of a story by hosting a debate between someone on the "left" and someone on the "right". Why do you think this is the wrong approach?
A: Like Pontius Pilate washing his hands of responsibility, the Washington media want to pretend they are leaving the question of “what is truth” to the public– sometimes refusing to admit that there is even such a thing as truth. The “left-right corollary” to the “two sides rule” is positively Pavlovian. Ring the breaking news bell, and TV pundits start to babble about right vs. left. Even when the facts show that the story — about Iraq, about health care, about global warming — was not an issue split along right/left lines. The traditional media's relentless depiction of the Iraq war as a left/right issue, even as the facts give the lie to this hoary framing, has became a hallmark of war coverage. Poll after poll has shown a majority of the American people wanting to bring the troops home. But you'd never know it from watching the pundits on television, who insist on presenting opposition to the war as a left-wing position.
Q: What does the Right's "war on science", as you term it, mean for the future of America? Does it put us at a disadvantage?
A: The Right's war on science, on global warming, on stem cell research, on evolution is definitely putting our country at a disadvantage. And this is just the beginning. These are today’s targets. In the future, as we enter an Age of Dis-Enlightenment, who knows what the Right might try to call into question? Once you've gotten rid of facts and the experimental method, the sky’s the limit. If astrophysics leads some to question the biblical account of creation, well, let's start teaching kids that the earth is the center of the universe and undo the work of those notorious secular humanists Galileo, Kepler, and Copernicus. If the shifting of plate tectonics wind up costing us too much in tsunami relief, let's go back to the theory that earthquakes are God's wrath and there's just no point in trying to figure them out (other than by denying rights to homosexuals, who undoubtedly are the source of all that righteous wrath). DNA research letting too many death row inmates off the hook and making the citizens of death-penalty-loving states think twice? Well, maybe it's time to rethink this whole double helix business. We may yet reach a point where the only sector of scientific inquiry that is safe from the anti-science mobs on the Right is weapons research.
Q: With the rise of sites like The Huffington Post (of which you are editor in chief), Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, and other such news and opinion sites, some say the end of the extreme Right's control is at hand. Do you agree?
A: The Right's orgy of greed and hubris will go down as an era marked by the celebration of selfishness and naked brute force. Over this past year it seemed that America was poised to turn a new page and close the book on this tragic chapter of our history. The nomination of John McCain, however, changes this. McCain is the Trojan Horse the Right desperately needed to put a faux maverick, faux independent, faux straight-talker imprint on the same ruinous policies that have taken us down this dark road. Though the era of the Right has exhausted its historic course, collapsing in moral, political and economic bankruptcy, the transformation and co-opting of McCain shows the durability of the Right and the lingering danger it poses. There is nothing automatic about its disappearance from the stage. Not unless we, together, give it — and John McCain — a mighty push into the wings and out the stage door.
Q: Chapter 15, "John McCain: Hijacked by the Right", makes your feelings about the Republican candidate quite clear, concluding he represents no real change from the Bush Administrations failed policies. Why do you think a McCain presidency would be a disaster — isn't he a maverick who stands up for what he believes in?
A: I hate to be the one to break up a love affair, but the John McCain the media and independent voters fell in love with in 2000 — the straight-shooting, let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may maverick — is no more. He's been replaced by a man willing to say or do anything to win the affection of his newfound object of desire, the radical right.
Has there ever been a more repugnant example of political pandering than McCain's decision in February 2008 to vote against a bill banning waterboarding, putting hoods on prisoners, forcing them to perform sex acts, subjecting them to mock executions, or depriving them of food, water, and medical treatment?
That's right, John McCain, the former POW who has long been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's disturbing embrace of extreme interrogation techniques. But that was before his desperate attempt to win over the Right, lowlighted by his unconscionable surrender on torture. It revealed how outdated the media's favored image of McCain as an independent-thinking maverick has become.
The old John McCain once tried to take the mantle of true conservatism away from George W. Bush. The new John McCain is now essentially running to give America a third Bush term–and, indeed, will out-Bush Bush when it comes to staying the disastrous course we're on in Iraq.
If you think the problem with the United States right now is that we haven't given Bush enough time to finish his agenda, then John McCain is your man. If not, it's time to stop running on the fumes of romantic notions past and find a good divorce lawyer. The Thousand Year War Express is careering along the road to the White House, and the new John McCain is gunning the engine. And he has to be stopped.
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please contact Erinn Hartman