“She loves me so much,” Tilton says with a sigh a few days later, sitting in the kitchen of her large, Italianate mansion in Rumson, New Jersey. She closes her eyes as a makeup artist rubs highlighter over her cheekbones in preparation for a photo shoot for Spiegel, the catalogue mainstay, which Patriarch bought in 2009 and is revamping as a “magalogue” along the lines of Tilton’s vision for Newsweek. “And I love her,” she continues, rolling her eyes back to allow the makeup artist to line her eyelids. “But she needs to understand that when I choose to do something, she needs to be supportive. Because what I do is so much bigger than what I am.”
She pops her eyes open. “The truth is, I believe that there will very well be violence in the streets in America,” she says. “It’s my great fear. And I think the only thing we can do to stop it is by creating employment. Social unrest comes from people who can’t take care of themselves. If we become a populace of the permanently unemployed, and Wall Street keeps going up, and multinational corporations keep making money, but Americans are unable to work and take care of their families, there is going to be social unrest.” She closes her eyes as the makeup artist fixes a line of false eyelashes. “I believe I have been chosen for this moment,” she says, “where I can make a difference.”
Tilton’s goal is “to be part of the intelligentsia. An enlightened thinker. One of the people who are called together to think through economic issues for America. You know, like how George Soros is called on issues.”
She blinks open her newly fringed eyes. “Just so you know, the No. 1 thing that transforms you is false eyelashes. And by the way, they’re impossible to do yourself.”
Tilton’s assistant tells her it’s time to change. Still talking, she walks to a rack of dresses next to the stove that have been pulled for the shoot. Much to her disappointment, her policy ideas have not been embraced by Washington.
“Look, I am the largest female business owner in this country,” she says, coming out from behind the rack in a Herve Leger gown. “I own 74 midsize businesses, and Obama has not once called me into the White House on these issues.”
More offensive, Tilton claims, as a female stylist reaches into the bodice of the dress to plump up her cleavage, the president has borrowed language from her articles. “I mean actually lifting pieces,” she says. Literally, I can give you paragraphs. I got like twenty e-mails after his speech, when he was like, ‘We need to be innovators and the makers of things.’ ”
Tilton turns to the stylist. “Do you want me to wear an amazing necklace?”
“Oooh, yes,” the stylist nods, and apologizes for manhandling her breasts.
“This is the best sex I’m having,” Tilton says. “So go ahead.”
Tilton’s issues with Obama are not much different from those of other business owners of a stripe: She was one of the attendees at the Koch brothers’ infamous anti-administration gathering in Palm Springs last year. But her irritation with the president at times seems more personal, and not just because she voted for him. In addition to the plagiarism allegation (which she admits “is probably his speechwriter, not him personally”), she claims the administration’s plan for a $30 billion Small Business Lending Fund, which proposed to redirect leftover TARP money to small businesses, borrowed heavily from an idea she outlined on Patriarch’s website in March 2009. (Though Tilton’s plan was for the money to be filtered through unregulated “qualified private investors” such as herself, not regulated community banks.)
“That was my $30 billion plan that I had in front of Treasury for months,” she says, as her assistant appears with a box containing a multistrand diamond necklace that, when draped around Tilton’s neck, covers practically her entire breastplate. “I bought it when Dubai’s real-estate market crashed,” she tells the cooing stylists. “So I got a deal.”
By all accounts, Tilton is a savvy businesswoman. “She’s definitely very bright, has great command of the issues that she’s been working on, and her motivations are extraordinarily public-spirited,” says Richard Levin, the president of Yale, whose name was floated last year to lead the National Economic Council. So it’s puzzling that while Tilton claims to want to be a member of the political intelligentsia, she often behaves in a way that all but ensures her exclusion.
During the 2008 primaries, Tilton, who had donated to Hillary Clinton, was invited to see the candidate speak before a Women in Business event at a private residence in New York. “Lynn strutted in, and she was wearing a nice pantsuit and a nice shirt, but it was, you know, buttoned really low, and she had like a 50-carat something around her neck,” says one woman who attended the talk. Then Tilton raised her hand. “She did one of those things where it really wasn’t a question. This woman, who no one really knew, just went on and on about how much she knew and how prominent she was for like 45 minutes. She came across as a total nutjob. I mean, I understand wanting to be a woman and yadda yadda yadda. But the people who don’t try and conform somewhat don’t get all of the opportunities. And, you know, nobody likes seeing too much boob.”