But finding a politician willing to talk about fundamental reform of America’s education system beyond the president’s anemic Education Act is harder than locating a flat chest — or a real one — at the Playboy mansion.
– Arianna Huffington, April 4, 2002
Van Jones, quoted in Marc Cooper’s column in today’s LA Weekly, sets forth succinctly and resonantly the bind in which California progressives find themselves:
“We can’t afford another three years of these state budgets,” says the 35-year-old Yale Law School graduate and director of the Oakland-based Ella Baker Human Rights Center. “In my town we’ve got classrooms of 30 kids who have to share six books. We’ve got classrooms without chalk. We’ve got a state where prison spending has risen 650 percent in 20 years. We’ve got a prison guards union that, in the midst of this budget crisis, is getting a 7 and a half percent pay raise. California has become the biggest incarcerator in the world. From our point of view this recall election is a survival struggle. We’re disgusted and appalled by Gray Davis, and we’re afraid of the Republicans. We need another choice.”
That third choice, Van Jones – and a more sceptical Marc Cooper as well – see personified in Republican-Congressman’s-Trendy-and-Witty-Wife turned Trendy-and-Witty-Leftist-Populist-Divorcee Arianna Huffington. As David Brock describes her in Blinded by the Right:
The leading social light in the new GOP power structure in Washington was Arianna Huffington…The indefagitable Huffington, whose failure to comply with the laws governing household help probably cost her husband the election, returned to Washington determined to reinvent herself as the godmother of the Gingrich Revolution. Since her debut as the first woman member of the Cambridge Union student debating society, the witty, articulate Greek-born beauty had set out, with brio, to conquer her world. In the 1970s, she took London by storm, writing a famous antifeminist manifesto at the height of the women’s movement, and carrying on a high-profile affair with the British intellectual Bernard Levin. Moving on to New York in the Reagan years, she hosted the likes of Brooke Astor and Barbara Walters at glittering dinner parties…
With Arianna honing the campaign’s conservative message and even standing in for Michael in candidate debates, Huffington confounded political experts and won the seat. THe only discernible theme through it all was Arianna’s boundless ambition. “The Sir Edmund Hillary of all social climbers,” as Los Angeles magazine put it. Arianna drew the attention of Newt Gingrich during Michael’s first congressional term, when she published a book called The Fourth Instinct, in which she argued that the welfare state should be replaced by reviving the concept of tithing, or charitable giving…
Nearly ten years after the period Brock is describing, Cooper writes:
For anyone who knew Arianna in her past life as a “compassionate conservative,” the meeting of that informal committee at her sprawling Brentwood home last Sunday afternoon would have seemed unimaginable. Van Jones, environmentalists, leaders of the anti-war movement and some of the most effective advocates against the drug war crowded onto Arianna’s sofas and divans to hear her come just short of a formal announcement. The several dozen activists included an ex-president of LULAC (the leading Latino civil rights organization); Marge Tabankin, who once ran the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee; Salon.com founder and editor David Talbot; producer and liberal activist Lynda Obst; Lara Bergthold, from Norman Lear’s operation; the radical educator and former Crossroads School president Paul Cummins; former RTD official and onetime mayoral candidate Nick Patsaouras; Jerry Brown’s former campaign manager and current Code Pink organizer Jodie Evans; and civil rights attorney Connie Rice.
Huffington, who has another week at most to decide whether to run on the recall ballot but says she’s leaning towards it, has several factors running against her. As Cooper puts it:
And as someone who had publicly encouraged Arianna to consider the run, let me be among the first to openly acknowledge the scope of the challenges her candidacy would face, beyond that mountain of $10 million or so. In an extraordinarily compressed campaign window between today and the October 7 vote, Arianna needs to craft an understandable and coherent program that offers serious alternatives to both Republicans and Democrats yet retains mainstream appeal; she must convince voters that, if elected, she has the executive oomph both to manage the current crisis and to effect real policy reform in Sacramento. And she must be effective in blunting what will be the inevitable attempts by the media and other candidates to marginalize and trivialize her independent run.
What Huffington does have, however, is the freedom as a non-Democrat to aggressively promote herself and run against the ugly record of the New Democrat Davis, the potential as an independant to mobilize progressive (or merely exasperated) Democrats with a suspicion of organized third parties, and the combination of wit and charisma responsible for her quick rise first on the right and then on the left. It’s hard not to feel some affinity for a woman who would do televised election-night debate as a Republican in pajamas sharing a bed with Al Franken, and fund commercials as an independant suggesting that, contrary to the government line, it’s your oil habit and not your drug habit that’s funding international terrorism.
The founders of http://www.runariannarun.com, including Van Jones, argue Huffington has a strong shot under three conditions:
1) The Democrats offer up only Davis, and refuse to list any credible, marquee Democrat as one of his potential replacements;
(2) The GOP fields three or four major candidates at the same time;
(3) Liberals and progressives field only one, big-name populist like Arianna as a potential replacement for Davis.
It may be, as has been widely speculated, that the Democrats will draft someone other than Davis at the last minute for the ballot, figuring that the embarrassment of breaking ranks is less than the potential embarrassment of losing the governorship of the largest – and one of the leftest – state in the Union. But pronouncements like Terry McAuliffe’s recent one seem to make such a move more and more costly for them. Meanwhile the chance of the GOP uniting behind one candidate seems infeasible if not impossible – Issa’s spent much too much of his car alarm fortune (plus whatever he made off of those cars he broke into before that) on recruiting petitioners from around to country not to see his name on the ballot; Riordan and Schwarzenagger seem adamant that one or the other will run in an appeal to the libertarians that are convinced Davis is a big spender but would be scared off by the socially conservative Issa; and Bill Simon hasn’t yet figured out how to dig up. Finally, Camejo’s suggestion that he and the Green Party would drop out of the race and throw their support behind Huffington eliminates a crucial competitor.
Where does this leave us? A Huffington candidacy would be, if nothing else, an interesting prospect which would facilitate the articulation of a real progressive agenda and leftist vision during a period in which a conservative Democrat is somewhat successfully being portrayed as a left-wing radical – and could potentially garner competitive support. Meanwhile, check out her writing on SUVS, the drug war, economic justice, and democracy.
Speaking of prospects (the twisted, sensational, voyeuristic kind specifically), while I suppose it’s good news that Michael Huffington has gone back on his earlier suggestion that he too might enter the race, if a deal were cut where the Governor’s race were a one-on-one between Michael and Arianna, with nightly televised debates, I might be convinced to rethink my stance on the merits of the recall…
Michael: Your view of America is as cold as your lovemaking.
Arianna: Your economic plan is as potent as, well –
Michael: You know, for someone who never had time for her children, you sure put a lot of time into bastardizing the political discourse.
Arianna: Michael, let’s not bring your mother into this.