The NS Interview: Arianna Huffington

“There’s a lot of very legitimate anger in America”.

You grew up in Greece and then went to England to study. Why?
I didn't move away from Greece so much as move to England. I felt propelled to do so because of a magazine article on Cambridge I saw as a teenager. I looked at the pictures and was overcome by a desire to study there. Everyone thought I was crazy.

What was your impression of Britain?
Going to England was an incredibly transformative experience for me. I was a classic fish out of water, but I quickly adapted.

What drew you to the US after that?
My relationship with the journalist Bernard Levin had ended and I was looking to make a fresh start. When I was 16 I had spent the summer in Pennsylvania. I went back to Athens, but a part of me remained in America. I knew it was where I some day wanted to live.

You used to campaign for the Republicans and are now a Democrat. Why the switch?
It has been exaggerated. When I was a Republican, I was pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-gun control. There aren't many Republicans who would identify themselves in those ways today.

You ran as an independent for governor in California: would you go into politics again?
No, I love my day job!

What's your take on Obama's presidency?
The administration massively underestimated the extent of the economic devastation. While people were losing jobs and homes in epidemic proportions, there was no sense of urgency coming out of the White House.

Where did he go wrong?
A lot of the problems started with the fact that he was surrounded by a very Wall Street-centric economic team, led by Larry Summers. They assumed that once Wall Street was saved, everything else would follow.

What's your prediction for the presidential elections in 2012?
Everything depends on the lessons Obama takes from the midterm elections, but he doesn't seem to have taken the right lessons. He still seems unfocused.

Does the Tea Party have longevity in US politics?
Yes, because the foundation of the Tea Party is anger, and there's a lot of very legitimate anger in America and the government has not worked in the interests of the people.

In what sense?
The government has spent taxpayer money in the interests of different elites, rather than in the interests of the people. And it's continuing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars perpetuating two wars that are not in America's national security interest.

Are we right to assume that Sarah Palin is going to run for president?
It looks as though she's going to run. Anything can change, but that's how it looks.

Has she got a chance?
She's going to be a force in any primary field that does not have an obvious strong runner. But at the same time, even among her supporters, many do not consider her qualified.

What is the secret of her success?
Whenever there is deep economic anxiety, it is easy to exploit people's fear - appealing to people's "knee-jerk brain", rather than their actual brain.

You set up the Huffington Post five years ago. How has its purpose changed with the times?
The purpose is the same as it's always been: to turn a spotlight on the issues we think are important, to hold our leaders' feet to the fire, and to provide real-time commentary and news that will affect the national conversation.

How do you see the media evolving over the next five to ten years?
Ten years ago, no one could have predicted the rise of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter - so anyone who gazes into their crystal ball and tells you what the media will be like ten or even five years down the road is engaging in a fool's errand. That said, I have no doubt that the media will be even more interactive and that news coverage will be increasingly social. News is no longer something we passively take in; we are all part of the evolution of a story now.

Was there a plan?
There was never a plan. But I feel there is a blueprint to our lives. The secret is figuring out how to read it.

Is there anything you'd like to forget?
I can't remember.

Do you vote?
Always.

Are we all doomed?
In the long run, we are all going to be fine. The medium run is the problematic part.

Defining Moments

1950 Born in Athens
1966 Moves to England
1971 Made president of Cambridge Union
1986 Marries Michael Huffington, a businessman and, later, congressman
1996 Prominently supports Bob Dole's Republican presidential bid
2003 Withdraws bid for governorship of California after it is reported she paid only $771 in state taxes for the previous two years
2005 Sets up Huffington Post

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