Now she’s having a snack, and she even manages to make eating lox look elegant, perhaps because instead of eating a bagel she’s delicately forking folds of salmon out of a white porcelain bowl. She had two inspirations for Fearless, she tells me. The first was watching her daughters turn from “fearless, bold” little girls into self-conscious adolescents. “One of your first instincts as a mother is to shield your children from pain, and make easy their path, and you know that you cannot really do it. How can I help them get that wisdom that was hard-earned for me?”
The second inspiration was her frustration at the Bush administration’s use of fear as a weapon and her own party’s corresponding cowardice. “As I was marveling at this spinelessness, timidity, and general lack of backbone in Democratic leaders”—and there’s a smile in her voice when she says this, she loves speaking about this—“I kept asking myself, Why are they so avoiding leading? And really, the conclusion to me was fear. Fear of losing, fear of saying something that would be taken and turned against them. Ultimately, though, there was fear of challenging not just the status quo but their own staffers and their pollsters and maybe not winning the next election. In private, a lot of them admitted they only voted for the war-authorization act—whatever they may say now, they knew what they were doing—because their pollsters told them if they didn’t do that, they would have to kiss the 2002 election good-bye. And ironically, they did kiss the election good-bye. I think of that and am newly, freshly angry, which you can hear.”
It’s true; although her delivery is practiced, the anger in Huffington’s voice starts to crackle when she gets to Iraq. Luckily, she has a daily outlet for these reactions: the Huffington Post, her progressive group blog featuring hundreds of her friends and acquaintances, ranging from Larry David to David Frum. When Huffington launched the “Huffpo” in May 2005, it was perceived as a vanity project. Wasn’t the blogosphere a place for the powerless to rant? Why would the powerful do it for free? A year and a half later, the Huffington Post is the fifth-most-popular site online.
But then, Huffington appears to be the rare person in her fifties who understands these technologies beyond their financial potential. “First thought, best thought” is what she tells her bloggers. She posted much of her book on her blog as a work-in-progress, soliciting user feedback. (She also keeps track of the book tour there, posting links to interviews and “extras” like a video of Jill Sobule singing a Fearless theme song.)
As the Huffington Post staffers tap their keys around us, Huffington delivers further fiery condemnations—of Hillary Clinton, among others. “In Dante’s Inferno, there’s a special place reserved for those who know best and are not doing it. I always get more upset with Democrats who are not doing the right thing than with Republicans doing what I expect them to. It’s like, if the good guys are not going to stand up for what is good, what hope is there?”
It is surreal, still, to hear her talk about Republicans, her former compatriots, as the enemy. Was she one of the fearmongers when she was on the right? She shrugs off the question, pointing out that she wasn’t running for office. “When we talk about the leaders, what they’re demonstrating is fanaticism. And the hallmark of fanaticism is to not be willing to look at fresh evidence. Because then you have to be willing to change course.”
As for Huffington’s own course change, it was, in her account, not nearly as radical as it looks: a simple matter of accepting that 1,000 points of light was a scam. She was always socially liberal, she claims, just against big government. Then she realized that small government wasn’t working. “There was only one primary interest for me, which is, how can we deal with the huge inequalities through the private sector? My awakening was really very personal. I actually believed, you may call me naïve, that we could create a country where people would tithe 10 percent of their income, where we could have the private sector step up to the plate and huge fortunes would be given to inner cities and homeless shelters. And I found out firsthand how difficult that was, a lot of the same friends that I had gone to to raise money for the opera were now turning me down.”
For many, this is a little hard to take. Certainly her credibility has been called into question on a regular basis: During her husband Michael Huffington’s Senate race, it was revealed that she had an illegal nanny. She rails against SUVs but takes a private jet. And during her run against California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, it came out that she had paid only $771 in taxes in the previous two years.