BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Arianna Huffington, author of "How to Overthrow the Government," why
did you kick off this book with a preface that talked about Boyden
Ms. ARIANNA HUFFINGTON (Author, "How to Overthrow the
Government"): I wanted to explain a little bit my own journey, how I came to write a
book like that, which is pretty radical. And so I described that
scene at a dinner that Boyden Gray, who used to be in--a counsel at
George Bush's White House--he gave a dinner in honor of Mr. and Mrs.
Rush Limbaugh, and it was a kind of conservative who's who. And I
walked in, and Mrs. Limbaugh got very angry that I had been invited
because I had written a series of columns criticizing her husband.
And one in particular that she objected to was the one that referred
to his social Darwinism and are we really going to allow
conservativism to be hijacked by the Rush Limbaugh version of
And so I suddenly looked around, and I realized that the room was full
of people whose husbands I had criticized in my column, including
people I--I really liked, and that became a sort of starting point for
the book, about my own journey of being a Republican, thinking that
Newt Gingrich was really going to put poverty on top of the agenda, as
he had said, and gradually being disillusioned and coming to the
conclusion, as I come in this book, that it will take a movement to
really change things.
LAMB:But you--in this preface, you write about, you know, Mrs.
Limbaugh immediately saying, `Oh, why is she here?' or something like
that. Did you hear her say that?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: I kind of heard her--I didn't hear the exact words,
but I saw her consulting with Boyden and that she wasn't happy to see
me there. And then I asked Boyden what she had said, and he had told
LAMB:Had that happened to you before, and does it happen very often?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Oh, no, not in that stark way, which is why I
decided to include it. But what happens is to have people like Susan
Armey, Dick Armey's wife, whom I really like, whom I used to see when
I lived in Washington--she had a shop, a clothing store, and I would
have take--I used to take my little girls, and we would go shopping
there on a Saturday. And then I started writing this column; it was
very critical of her husband, his style of leadership. And at that
dinner, that was actually the hardest moment. She came up to me and
she said, `How could you do that? I thought you were our friend.' And
there was nothing personal about them in the attacks, and yet
obviously, she had taken them very personal, even though they're
political in nature. And that is a problem.
But I remember Maureen Dowd telling me, when I started doing a
syndicated column, `If you're going to do a good column, be prepared
to make no new friends.'
LAMB:How long have you been doing the column?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Five years.
LAMB:D--and, you know, people often accuse Washington of being such
an insider world here, that that's why you don't get an honest view
out of this town by people here that live here and--and socialize. Is
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Well, there's definitely some pressure if you really
care about what everybody thinks of you to conform, to be nice, to
pick up the phone and tell them maybe what you think, but not put it
in the paper. Actually that's what Bob Shrum told me, because
the--the criticism is across both aisles. Bob Shrum had run Al
Checchi's campaign for governor in California and run it into the
ground, in my opinion, and I said that in a column, in which I said
that at the beginning of the campaign, Al Checchi looked like Tony
Perkins; at the end of the campaign, he looked like Tony Perkins at
the end of "Psycho" because Shrum had run so many negative ads it
And I saw him at a mutual friend's wedding, and he came up to me and
said, `Couldn't you have picked up the phone and told me that?' And
that's not the same. I wasn't making a point about him specifically,
but about the culture of campaign consultants and negative
LAMB:One of the names I think comes up as often as any in the book
is Bob Dole. Why Bob Dole? What do you think of Bob Dole?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Well, one of the--one of the first columns I wrote
against Bob Dole was one called The Presidency's Not An Entitlement.
And it was really why he should not be nominated. That was a few
months before he was nominated, right? I felt it was a terrible
indictment of the Republican Party, which was so hierarchical that
they would choose as a nominee somebody who was really unelectable, I
mean, against Bill Clinton. It was so obvious. I mean, it's obvious
in retrospect, but it should have been obvious at the time.
And since then, of course, what he has done I--I find really
unacceptable. I think for a public servant to be pushing Viagra--I
know he--he calls them public service announcements for Pfizer,
but--and for erectile dysfunction, but it's basically cashing in.
There's no other word for it. And on top of it, I kind of object to
the amount of energy and cash ...(unintelligible) that goes into fund
raising for buildings. You know, he, again, put his reputation on the
line to raise over $100 million for another monument for Second World
War heroes while there are many veterans who are homeless, without
health care. And I think the priority should be to take care of the
veterans who are alive rather than build another edifice for those who
are dead. So, really, who Bob Dole is, for me, represents a lot of
what's wrong in our political culture.
LAMB:What's wrong with cashing in?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Well, cashing in really goes right against the whole
idea of public service. You know, it's one thing to give speeches;
it's another thing to be pushing Viagra and--and pushing Pfizer, which
is sort of another ma--pharmaceutical company that, in my
opinion--that's another issue that I--I address in the book--also
promotes, in many ways, anti-depressants for children, indirectly, not
directly. But we now have anti-depressants for children, like Prozac,
like Zoloft, being prescribed in incredible numbers; I mean, close to
two million prescriptions last year. And they haven't been approved
even by the FDA for pediatric use.
So I think that's another area where legislators are pulling back.
They're not really, in my opinion, providing the kind of oversight
they should be providing over an industry that spends millions of
dollars on lobbyists and millions of dollars in direct and soft money
LAMB:When was the first year you moved to this town, Washington?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: To Washington, the first time I moved here in '86,
shortly after I was married to Michael. And at the time, he was
working at the Defense Department for...
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Michael Huffington. And then we moved to California
and moved back here when he was elected to Congress in '92 and moved
back to California after we were divorced in '97.
LAMB:How has this town changed since you first moved here in 1986?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: I think it's--all those problems that I write about
of the dominance of special interests, the prevalence of lobbyists
have just become worse. I mean, we have statistics that show this
phenomenal increase in lobbyists between '97 and '99 and then the
revolving door--you know, the number of former members who become
lobbyists, most recently Bob Livington, who's been very up front about
it. You know, he can't wait to--for the year f--of lim--of--you know,
that he's limited not to be able to directly lobby his former
colleagues to expire so he can start doing it.
And I think it's just become worse, and my fear is that it will only
get worse. It's--it's really like a bad relationship. It doesn't
stay static. You know, it either gets better or it gets worse. And I
think our--right now our relationship with government is just getting
LAMB:What's causing it?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: What's causing it is that there hasn't been enough
of an effort by the people to change it. I really d--think it's very
hard for those inside the system to change the system. John McCain is
making a valiant effort, and his victory in New Hampshire is, I think,
obviously going to give him the megaphone to address these issues on
an even broader scale. But he's hated by the establishment. I'm--I
have a feeling that Mitch McConnell would rather see Gore in the White
House than John McCain, that deep is the hatred. And that's not
accidental. I mean, it's also not accidental that there have been
numerous campaign finance reform bills, and nothing has passed.
LAMB:Your husband ran for the Senate in what year?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: In '94.
LAMB:Did you campaign for him?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Yes.
LAMB:What were you feeling in '94 as he entered--what do--he spent a
lot of his own money.
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Yes. He spent close to $30 million.
LAMB:Of his own money.
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Of his own money, yes. I think his children should
sue him, don't you think, for squandering their inheritance?
LAMB:What--but what were you thinking about at the time he was doing
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Well, at the time he was doing that, I was
really--it was my first sort of exposure to a big campaign from the
inside. I mean, in fact, a lot of my views were formed during his
campaign. I don't think I would have reached these conclusions as
fast if I hadn't seen how a major campaign is run. And I think
Michael's campaign was typical, you know, neither worse nor better
than the average campaign: taken over by consultants and pollsters,
where decisions are made based on the polls, based on what's going to
bring the--the opponent's approval ratings down and all those
decisions that you see being made by campaigns every day.
And it's--at the time, of course, you know, I wanted my husband to
win. I also, though, was really troubled by the way campaigns were
run. And increasingly after he lost and after I started addressing
these issues more in my column, I saw how campaigns had really become
demolition derbies, where nothing mattered except winning. And, I
mean, I would hear that again and again within Michael's campaign.
You know, `After he wins, he can do this or that or he can say this or
that, but not now, you know, because if he doesn't win, then he can't
do anything.' So that always becomes the excuse for pandering, for not
really running a campaign that's based on trying to create a consensus
around an issue, even if that consensus does not exist yet in the
LAMB:Did y--do you remember the conversations you had with him
before he ran, and if you do, wh--why did he want to run? Why did he
want to be a United States senator?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Well, I remember that everybody--everybody in his
life tried to dissuade him from running: his parents, me, his
friends, everybody. Everybody felt it was premature; that he had just
been in Congress for a term, and it seemed premature to everybody.
A--but he decided to do it, and once he decided to do it, sort of
everybody rallied around.
My--what I particularly did in--during his campaign, something which I
had done during his congressional race, and this was to--to try to
make visiting places that dealt with those most in need in their
communities part of my own schedule because while I started doing that
in Santa Barbara, where he first run, it was an incredible eye-opener.
Of course, Santa Barbara is one of the most idyllic and wealthy areas
in our country, and yet there was still so much poverty and
homelessness and suffering that was really hidden from the big estates
in Montecito and from the sort of public image of Santa Barbara, and
the same was true all around California.
And so I made a point of making that part of--of my schedule, and now
I think that candidates should make that part of their schedule. I
mean, in New Hampshire, you know, there are 6,000 homeless. There are
transition houses. There are homeless sleeping under the bridges.
But how much coverage did we have of that race, and did you see any
pictures of the homeless? Did you see any candidates visiting
those--visiting those shelters? No.
LAMB:Do you consider yourself a member of a party?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: No.
LAMB:Did you ever?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Yes, I did. I did while Michael was running and
while he was in Congress. I did consider myself a member of the
Republican Party. Now I consider our two-party system broken, and I'd
like to see third and fourth and fifth parties growing up. After all,
we have many varieties of everything, except political parties, in
this country. And I know that the Reform Party isn't exactly a model
of a third party, but there are going to be a lot of growing pains
in--in creating a system that goes beyond this duopoly that we have
LAMB:How long have you been an American citizen?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Since--I became a mother in '89 and then an American
citizen, I think, the next year.
LAMB:Where were you born?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: In Athens, Greece.
LAMB:Why--how long did you stay there?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: I stayed in Athens until I was 17, and then I moved
to England. I went to Cambridge, where I studied economics, and
actually spent most of my time there debating at the Cambridge Union.
I--that's where--I mean, I started being appalling, you know, not
being able to speak with my accent being even heavier than it is now.
But I--I just--I was so moved by the spectacle of debating and moving
people's minds through words that I was determined to learn. And I
sort of persevered, and I would wait and speak at every debate.
Sometimes they would call on me at midnight, and I really learned from
some of the greatest speakers in--in England at the time.
LAMB:When you grow up in Athens for 17 years, are you steeped in the
origins of democracy? Do they talk about that kind of thing in
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Oh, yes, they really did. In fact, at the time when
I was growing up, you could choose to go through a classical
education, even at high school, or a sort of practical education. So
mine was an entirely classical education, which is why I'm still bad
at math, but I--it meant Latin and Greek and really studying Plato and
Aristotle and--and the play--the great Greek playwrights. And it was,
I think, a great grounding.
LAMB:Would you go to places where Socrates and Plato and Aristotle
hung out in Athens?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Yes, yes, we would.
LAMB:I mean, do people do--I mean, here, you know, we go to George
Washington's home and all that stuff. You do the same kind of thing
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Uh-huh. Absolutely. Yeah. No, they--there's
tremendous pride in growing up in Athens, despite all the pollution.
LAMB:What was your family like there?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: I have the most extraordinary mother. My parents
divorced when I was 10. I'm still very close to my father, but my
mother is the sort of rock of Gibraltar in my life. She still lives
with us. She helps me bring up my two daughters. And at the time,
she's entirely self-taught, but she can sit here and discuss Nietzche
and Sharpenauer with you. And she speaks four languages and she--but
more important than that, she is a sort of--she's a mother to
everybody. Now at home, you know, you cannot--if you came into her
house, you could not leave without sitting down and trying what she
had just cooked, even if you are the Federal Express deliveryman.
She'd say, `Come in, sit down. Have something to eat.' So she creates
this sort of tribal feeling around our home.
LAMB:What did your dad do? Is he still alive by the way?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Yes. My dad was a journalist. He was, in fact,
publishing an underground newspaper during the occupation of Greece by
the Germans. And he was arrested and spent the war in a concentration
camp. And he met my mother in a sanitarium when she was recovering
from TB, and he was recovering from the concentration camp. And so he
was a journalist who would start newspapers that would fall. So--so
he would make some money, then he would invest in--in--in a newspaper.
The newspaper would last for a few months. And so then we would have
So my--I had this sort of precarious existence of sort of no money,
then some money, then no money, and then--a lot of sort of insecurity.
I still remember the days when I would stay up at night listening to
my parents while they were still together, and that is one of the
reasons where it all came apart, because it was hard to--as my mother
says now, to live with him sort of trying to fulfill this dream of
having a newspaper.
LAMB:What were his politics?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: His politics were all, really, very much formed by
the war and by his experience, so--so they were very sort of
pro-freedom, you know, a--against--very much, for example, against the
Greek dictators when they took over Greece in '67. So it was--it was
his experience during the war that formed them more than anything.
LAMB:How did you find your way to Cambridge? I mean, you just don't
walk into Cambridge and sign a dotted line and they accept you. You
had to get there somehow.
Ms. HUFFINGTON: That was really my mother. You know, I--I just
remember just reading magazines and seeing Cambridge. I knew nothing
about it, and I just thought, `Wouldn't that be great to go there?'
And--and she said to me, `We'll make it happen.' You know, she was
somebody who wanted to--to just make your dreams happen, and at the
same time, she unconditionally loved you. So when you failed, she
still loved you. So you felt you could try because she would still
love you if you didn't succeed.
And so I went to the British consul in Athens, and I started taking my
GCs, which is what you need to get into an English university, and
then I--we went to London. She borrowed money. She would always
borrow money. That's why I have a thing about paying down the debt,
because I think sometimes you--you need debt to sort of get to the
next stage in your life, and then you pay down. So that's what she
did. She borrowed money, she got me to London, where I had to take
the special entrance exam for Cambridge.
And I remember when we were waiting for the results getting this
telegram which said, `Awarded Gerton.' Gerton was the college I went
to, Gerton Exhibition. And we didn't know what that meant. That was
a scholarship that I got. And it was just one of the greatest moments
in my life, and it definitely changed my life.
LAMB:And how long did you stay at Cambridge?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: I was there for three years. That's wh--that's how
long it takes in--at Cambridge to get a BA. And then two years later,
provided you stay out of jail, they give you an MA. This is just a
peculiarity of the Oxbridge system. They--I'm sure it's not true
anymore, but at the time, it was supposed to be so much superior to
any other college that--that you would automatically get an MA after
your BA, even without any additional work.
LAMB:And what kind of work--what kind of--what was the subject
matter you got the MA in?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: In economics.
LAMB:And how long did you live in London?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: After that, in my third year at Cambridge, when I
was president of the Cambridge Union, the debating society, I
organized, as is the tradition at Cambridge, a farewell debate when I
spoke. And the--the topic was--in favor of sort of bringing some more
balance to the feminist movement. My theme was that you don't have to
throw--throw the baby out with the bathwater; you know, that, yes,
women should have equal pay and equal opportunity and be able to do
everything they want, but we should also equally value women's choice
to be a mother and a wife.
And at the time, of course, that was very controversial. It was in
the early '70s when the only woman idealized was the woman with the
attache case. So that debate was televised, and Jim Enger's publisher
wrote to me and asked me if I would write a book on the views
expressed in the debate. And I wrote back and I said, `I can't write.
I'm going to Harvard.' I had a place to go to the Kennedy School of
Government. And the publisher s--wrote back and said, `Do you have
lunch?' And he invited me to lunch, and he offered to subsidize me
modestly for a year. And he said, you know, if it turns out that you
can't write,' he said--I lost, whatever it was 2,000 pounds--`and you
can go to Harvard a year later.'
So I did that. I wrote that book, which was my first book, called
"The Female Woman," which Random House published here and which was
translated in 70 languages. And suddenly, at the age of 24, I had my
mid-life crisis because I--I suddenly was financially independent for
the first time in my life, and I had all these offers to do more books
on women and to do shows on women. And...
LAMB:What was your name then?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Arianna Stassinopoulos.
LAMB:So your early books were published under that name.
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Mm-hmm.
LAMB:And you came to this country then in 19...
Ms. HUFFINGTON: So then I stayed in London, and I did journalism.
And I wrote my second book. I--instead of writing any more on women,
because I felt I had nothing more to say on the subject, I wrote a
book which nobody wanted to publish and which was rejected by 36
LAMB:Thirty-six. You counted them.
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Oh, yeah, I did count them. It was finally
published here by a publisher who has since gone bankrupt. I hope not
because they published my book, Stein & Day. And that book, in a way,
is a precursor of this new book. In England, it was called "The Other
Revolution." Here, it was called "After Reason." But it was basically
about the bankruptcy of political leadership in the West since the
war. Living in London at the time, I had more English examples than
American examples, but I remember a chapter on Harold MacMillan, who
you remember had coined that famous phase--phrase, `You never had it
And after the election, there was this cartoon in Punch of MacMillan
surrounded by refrigerators and washing machines and looking around
saying, `Thank you, guys. We won the election.' And it was really
very much the theme today of the prosperity--you know, all politicians
talking about our prosperity, as though this is the only thing that
matters in a democracy.
LAMB:You know, I--it's interesting. I--the first time I ever saw
you was--and you--the reason I mention this is because I--you mention
it in your book--was when you spoke at Princeton. And you say the
reason that you were at Princeton was because Newt Gingrich saw you on
this network speaking somewhere.
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Yes.
LAMB:How did--tell us more about your relationship, because
you--you've had a flip-flop in your relationship...
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Definitely.
LAMB:...with Newt Gingrich. How did it start?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: It started--I gave a speech here at--in Washington
at the National Review conference, and the title of my speech was:
Can Conservatives Have A Social Conscience?
LAMB:This is the Bill Buckley magazine, National Review.
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Right.
Ms. HUFFINGTON: And what I argued was that it was about time that
conservatives began to focus on the biblical admonition to care for
the least among us; that this is the true political morality. It's
not sexual morality. It's not gay rights or the attack on gay rights
or abortion, but the real political morality is what are we doing for
those left behind? And that was the theme of my speech, and you
carried it. I'm sure you personally made that decision, Brian.
And so I got a call from Newt Gingrich, whom I didn't know, saying, `I
saw your speech.' He said, `And I really agree with what you said.
This is going to be our new agenda. I want to stress those issues of
overcoming poverty and the moral imperative of that, and I want you to
come and speak to our congressional class in--during our retreat at
Princeton.' So that's what I did.
And so I really believed that he meant it because why would he pick up
the phone to tell me that? And so when he became speaker and he gave
that great speech when he first became speaker, saying that, `The
moral imperative of overcoming poverty'--I'm paraphrasing--`is greater
than balancing the budget,' I thought, `Great.' You know, `This is
going to transform the Republican Party and, indeed, transform
American politics.' And then over the next few months, it was a
gradual process of disillusionment.
It was very clear that he didn't mean it. Suddenly the main issue
became Medicare, and the reason why Medicare became the main issue is
because that was the only way he could balance the budget. And I had
a few conversations with him like that, and he would always say,
`Well, you have to handle this first, and then we're going to deal
with these issues of poverty and all those things.' And it never
happened, and so my columns became increasingly more critical. And,
finally, I wrote a column, which was sort of a breaking point, in
which I criticized him and Bill Bennett for criticizing the Clinton
administration for losing the drug war. Having said for years that we
cannot win the war on poverty from Washington, suddenly why could we
win the war on drugs from Washington?
And I got a handwritten note from Gingrich saying, `Your column is
strategically counterproductive'--not wrong, but `counterproductive,'
which I thought sounded very Stalinist. And he added, `What good does
it do to take on your friends six weeks before the election?' And at
that point, I knew that there was really no relationship left, and I
became increasingly harsher in my criticism of him and calling on his
res--calling for his resignation and very jubilant when he did resign.
LAMB:How often do you find people here that re--really mean what
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Not often enough and that's really why John McCain
has been so refreshing, except when it comes, for example, to
the--what he said about the Confederate flag, which he called a--an
offensive symbol and in 48 hours he called a symbol of heritage. So
there's something about the system that even the best within the
system find themselves pandering in a transparent way. And that's why
I now have come to the conclusion that it will take a movement like it
took the civil rights movement. It will take a movement, a grassroots
movement, to change the wind. And when we change the wind, then the
politicians will put their finger up and it will be blowing in a
LAMB:Where do you--by the way, what book is this for you? What
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Eight.
LAMB:Well--and you write your column how many days a week?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Mondays and Thursdays, twice a week.
LAMB:And how many papers is that published in?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Just about a hundred papers.
LAMB:Do you have a relationship with any television operation on a
full-time basis? I mean...
Ms. HUFFINGTON: No, I just do different...
LAMB:So where you go, you go?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Yeah.
LAMB:And you live...
Ms. HUFFINGTON: I live in Los Angeles and I have an apartment in
Washington, and I'm here every couple of weeks.
LAMB:And you've--you've got two daughters, but I want to ask you why
you've--your dedication is, `To my older daughter, Christina, whose
energy and optimism are an endless source of inspiration.' Why not
Ms. HUFFINGTON: I actually have already dedicated a book to both my
daughters. I dedicated a book called "The Fourth Instinct" to both
Christina and Isabella, so this time we had a family conference and
decided that I would dedicate this book to Christina and the next book
LAMB:How old are they?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Christina is 10 and Isabella's eight.
LAMB:What are they like?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Christina is really interested in politics. She was
v--very excited about John McCain winning. In fact, I was on the
phone every hour to her from New Hampshire giving her blow-by-blow
accounts. And she--she has met John McCain's children when we visited
them in Arizona, so she wanted to know what they thought, so, `Had I
talked to them? How were they feeling?'
LAMB:What about the little one?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Isabella is--is my little Zorba the Greek. You
know, she's--she embraces life and sort of life embraces her back.
You know, she's joyful in a--in a--in an almost sort of permanent way.
And she's still very much the baby even though she's now eight. But I
think we're trying to keep her the baby.
LAMB:Wh--where do you want to go with all this?--the books, the
column? And wh--what's your ultimate personal goal in this? What do
you want to happen?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Right now, with the book and the columns I write
right now, are all part of this movement building. That's why we are
launching the book in conjunction with television and radio ads, which
show ordinary people taking action. Like, my favorite television ad
shows an old lady who says, `I'm now retired, so I have plenty of time
on my hands so I decided to overthrow the government and I'm starting
by refusing to talk to pollsters.' She says, as I believe, that
polling has dominated our political life. And there's nothing we can
do about our leaders' addiction to polling, but there's something we
can do as citizens. We can hang up on pollsters and drive down the
response rate to even more ludicrous levels. It's already hovering
between 20 percent and 30 percent, in many cases. And it's almost a
kind of small civil disobedience step that we can do something that
will make the sort of random digit dialing on which polling results
are based less effective, less--less correct.
LAMB:Wh--wh--when did you decide that the American system of
democracy was the best way to go?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: I never had any doubt that democracy was the best
system to--to have. The question is: When I--when did I decide that
our system here is not working, that there is a crisis in democracy?
I think that's really what we need to prove and what we need to
convince people is the case. But when you have two-thirds of eligible
voters not participating in an election, as was the case in 1998, that
means that 115 million Americans eligible to vote chose not to. That,
to me, is a crisis in democracy. The two parties don't really care
because, frankly, they're--it's easy for them to manipulate a smaller
electorate and with this customized campaigns, targeted campaigns--I
write a sort of satirical column predicting that maybe in 300 years
from now there'll be just one voter left, and George Bush the XX will
be fighting for this vote against whoever is on the other side. And
that sounds like an Or--Orwellian nightmare, but it's--it's really the
trend. It's towards lower and lower turnout. And what is even more
disturbing is the fact that younger people are voting at lower and
lower rates. And the poor, which is always the case, of course, are
voting in--in much smaller percentages. So as a result, we see that
public policy is being effected tremendously.
I mean, why--why are we talking about prescription drugs for seniors,
even though two-thirds of them already have them, instead of talking
about prescription drugs and, indeed, health insurance for the
millions of children that don't even have health insurance, because
children don't vote, don't have lobbies?
LAMB:You talk about something called--you--you--you call it the `new
callousness' and you refer to a--a statement made by Judge Judy--maybe
I ought to read it so everybody knows what we're talking about. You
said that Judge Judy--is her--is her name Shine--Sheindlin?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Mm-hmm.
LAMB:...who, according to Australian Associated Press, told an
audience while on a book tour Down Under that instead of attempting to
control AIDS and hepatitis by providing clean needles to drug addicts,
we should, quote, "give them all dirty needles and let them die." I--I
guess a couple questions for you. Why was she being quoted? Who is
she? And what does that statement say to you?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Well, Judge Judy has a tremendous following. And
her--that statement, which she made in Australia, maybe she didn't
think that it would--it would actually reach us here, w--says
something much more than just about Judge Judy. It--it says something
about the way we treat the homeless. It--it says something about
Mayor Giuliani deciding to round up homeless people from their
shelters because of some minor violations in the middle of a cold
night. It says something about the fact that the homeless, the
addicted have become the invisible people in our society. And it says
something that is really at the heart of my book, that we have become
two nations. And that nation of the homeless and the addicted is not
part of our national political conversation. When the president
stands up at the State of the Union and says, `The state of our union
is stronger than it has ever been,' he's only talking about one
In fact, I thought this was a chilling, hubristic statement. And
we're going to pay for that, because the neglect of that other nation
has been going on for so long and now it is really, by both
parties--you know, when Ronald Reagan was in the White House, you had
front-page stories in The New York Times about homelessness. Now we
are beginning to see that again, but for years we didn't. In fact,
the Village Voice did an analysis, a comparative analysis of the
coverage of homelessness in the Reagan years compared to the Clinton
years. Homelessness has been unchanged, according to the Conference
of Mayor's report, but the coverage of it, our response to it has been
In fact, I say in the book that if you wanted to do something about
the poor, put a Republican in the White House--not because he will do
anything more about the poor, but suddenly those on the left would
find their voices again and start criticizing the neglect.
LAMB:Where did you--what do you think the source is of your interest
in the poor and poverty-stricken people?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: It is really a very visceral reaction. I mean, that
moment of what I call compassionate conversion for me happened in--in
'91, while I was campaigning in Santa Barbara for Michael, and I made
a point of going and visiting these places left out.
LAMB:But why were you doing that?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: I don't really know what first got me to do that. I
mean, at the beginning, it may have been just part of what wives
do--comp--campaign wives do, but then it became what I wanted to do
more than anything. I wanted to learn about it. I started getting in
touch with people and groups who had made that their lives' work.
They're--they're really my heroes now. I mean, there are people out
there in the trenches who are doing such incredible work day in and
day out and really from hand to mouth. I mean, that is what I find is
so troubling, that they--these people know how to turn lives around.
They shouldn't also be expected to know how to fund-raise, you know?
These are different skills. And now we have really a different model
of how we can take care of the poor. It's not the great society model
of big federal government programs. It's really identifying what
works on the ground and then using government to leverage these
projects up, you know, to take them to market, as they say, to provide
them with the funding that they need so they can really do the work.
It's a very different model and it should be put into practice. This
is really the great opportunity with all our prosperity, but it's not
a major item on our agenda.
LAMB:Do people think you're a conservative?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: You know, people do define me as a conservative.
I'm--I think that if you consider Teddy Roosevelt a conservative, I
would call myself a Teddy Roosevelt conservative. After all, he was
the architect of a lot the progressive reforms, the anti-trust,
pro-labor reforms, that we're still benefiting from. He was the one
who talked about the dangers of predatory wealth. So conservativism
and the Republican Party, once upon a time, used to be the party of
reform, even wi--even without having to go back to Abraham Lincoln.
LAMB:What was it like? And--and--and was your marriage to Michael
Huffington the first time you ha--saw a lot of wealth?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Oh, I had seen a lot of wealth before. I mean, I
was around wealthy people before and I--and my books had made a lot of
money. My biographies, especially, of Maria Callas and Pablo Picasso,
so I--I was sort of independently wealthy by then.
LAMB:And--and--and what do you--what did you see in that wealthy
community? I mean, is there any interest in the wealthy community
about the poor and the...
Ms. HUFFINGTON: There are--there is in some, but what I saw in the
wealthy community--and, in fact, that's something which is another
sort of crusade of mine--is that a lot of that money goes to three
things. It goes to prestigious educational institutions like Harvard.
It goes to teaching hospitals, so rich people can always get a kidney,
if they need one. And it goes to art museums. It goes to culture.
And all the things are great, but I personally believe that our first
responsibility is to give back to those mired in poverty. And that
takes many forms, so using it--it as a catch-all phrase, you know,
it--it includes education, health, addiction, violence, everything,
all the dysfunctions of society. And after that, we can give to
everything else we love, whether it's our old school at Harvard or the
In fact, what I'm proposing is--is ca--tithing, to bring back tithing;
that everybody who can afford it gives 10 percent of their income,
earned and unearned, to poverty fighting. Beyond that, if they want
to give to the opera or the museum, great. And, in fact, you know
this late '60s, Michael Kinsley puts out this list of the 16 most
charitable people of--I wrote a column criticizing it because it did
not make any distinctions between those who gave--for example, Mondavi
gave to the Mondavi Institute for the Study of Wine and Art, you
know--that's a very self-referrential extension of his business. And
those who really give to education, especially elementary education or
to the poor in--broadly defined. And then he asked me to--to actually
take the list and create criteria of minuses and pluses, depending on
what people give to. So that--there's a lot we can do as a culture to
promote a certain kind of giving, which is the giving that we most
need, and yet, we have least of.
LAMB:Have you noticed people treating you any differently since
you've been writing these critical columns, other than the--the party
you talk about? I mean, has that happened more often than not now
when people see you?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Well, it really--it really works both ways. I've
also made some great new friends in the poverty-fighting movement,
like Jim Wallis, the editor of the Sojourners magazine and the
convener of the Call to Renewal, which is a--a call from the
faith-based community to overcome poverty. It's a national movement
that is having a tremendous impact. And--and there are many people
like that whose names you may not have heard but who are working in
the trenches who have become my friends with whom--and--and allies. I
consider them allies in this--in this work.
LAMB:But go back to your book and the--the whole section, the case
study you have on--on politics and drugs and all that. What is the
case and why did you call it the Case Study? What was the point of
that whole chapter?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: I wanted to take one industry--an--and I chose the
drug industry--to show how contributions to politicians have affected
policy and have affected our lives in so many insidious ways. And let
me just give you a couple of examples. We're spending billions of
dollars every year on the drug war. No politician has the guts to say
that the drug war has failed, that it has filled our jails with
non-violent drug offenders, disproportionately African-American and
other minorities. We actually now have two million people in American
jails. That's more than they have in China. When I first read that
that's more than they have in China, I really didn't believe it. I
had to sort of do a Lexis/Nexis search to establish that it was really
true. And that's a result of the drug war. And yet, no politician is
going to address it and look at the hypocrisy, though, of overdrugging
our children with legal drugs, especially mood-altering drugs, like
Prozac, and not seeing the continuum between prescribing legal drugs
to our children so that they become incapable of really managing their
emotions and the roller-coaster that life often is and then saying to
them, `We can medicate you, but you cannot take illegal drugs. No to
drugs.' It doesn't make any sense. This is a continuum.
There are studies being done now at Berkeley that show, for example,
that children who've been on Ritalin for extensive periods of time are
more likely to use cocaine, but politicians are not going to touch
that. In fact, when I started writing about this in my column and I
needed some information from the FDA, which was not available to
journalists, I tried to get a member of Congress on the FDA Oversight
Committee. And I got responses again and again, `Arianna, I'm sorry,
I can't touch it. Eli Lilly is a big contributor.' I mean, literally,
I would get that...
LAMB:And Eli Lilly makes what?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Eli Lilly makes Prozac.
LAMB:Who makes Zoloft?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Pfizer.
LAMB:And how much of the money that comes from in the politicians,
do you think, impacts what happens on the Hill?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Tremendous amount. A tremendous amount. I mean, I
have this direct evidence. In the end, I got one member of Congress,
Congressman Dennis Kucinich from Cleveland, who agreed to write to the
FDA. We got some very important information about what was happening
there, the attempts to make Prozac approved for pediatric use, which
it isn't yet. And he has become a great ally in this battle, but most
people in Congress won't touch it.
LAMB:What's the story about the White House conference and a claim
of so many people being involved in this?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: That's the other thing--the White House Conference
on Mental Health. If truly we have two-thirds of Americans suffering
from some kind of mental illness, I mean, we should--we should declare
a crisis, a kind of state of emergency. But this is like the--the
definition of mental health and mental illness is so driven by the
drug industry. You know, there's one thing to consider a
schizophrenia, man--manic depression mental illness, and it's another
thing to consider common garden depression mental illness. I mean, we
all go through depression. I mean, that's part of life. And I think
there's a real--it's very unfortunate when the political
establishment--in that case, both the president, Mrs. Clinton, the
vice president and Mrs. Gore were there--basically lend their own
credibility to what is ultimately in the best interests of the drug
LAMB:But let me ask you about a figure. You--you went after the
figure 13.7 million of the nation's childrens have--have been
diagnosed with mental illness. And let me just read what you wrote.
You say, `When I asked Mrs. Gore's press secretary how the conference
came up with this number, she referred me to the White House press
office, which in turn referred me to the Health and Human Services
Department, which sent me to the American Psychiatric Association and
its director of research, Dr. Harold Pinkus.' What do you--you know,
what are you looking for there?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: I'm looking for wh--how did they get--how--where did
that number come from? I mean, that's a...
LAMB:Did you ever find it?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Yes. It came from a minor study from a Florida
university with a minor, tiny sample. And yet, that number, 13.7
million children suffering from mental illness, is now being used as
the gospel. Since that, I've--I've received press releases from
members of Congress saying, `13.7 million children are suffering from
mental illness. Therefore, we must do X and Y.' And that's why I
thought it was amazing that the people who put together that
conference could not give me a source for that number.
LAMB:On a lot of other things, before we run out of time, you say
Elizabeth Dole's, quote, "I am not a politician," didn't sit too well
Ms. HUFFINGTON: No, because she is obviously a politician. She was
a politician through and through. In fact, she was a good old boy.
It proved that you don't have to be a man to be a good old boy. She
was really very much part of that group that is funded by Dwayne
Andreas and--the head of Archer Daniels Midland, which is another
story about the corruption of our system, the way, you know, he funds
politicians, the--the media. And as a result, when his own executives
were found guilty of price fixing in Chicago, yes, it was reported in
the papers, but it was hard to see it being covered anywhere else in
LAMB:Do the--the circle on--on the Dwayne Andreas story about
ethanol. You say, you know, they spent a $1/2 million a year with
politicians, guarantees them half of the ethanol...
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Right. They get...
Ms. HUFFINGTON: They get $600 million a year of what taxpayers pay
towards the ethanol subsidy. So when--you had even Bill Bradley who
had been against ethanol subsidies when he was in the Senate changing
his mind in order to run in Iowa. You see again how untouchable this
thing has become--the ethanol subsidy, which is a huge boondoggle.
There's absolutely no justification for it. It is not in the public
interest remotely, and yet, the only candidate running for president
who has dared be against it is John McCain. And he didn't participate
LAMB:You criticize Orrin Hatch for using the royal `we'. What does
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Well, it's the--another sort of pet peeve of mine
that I--I write a lot about in the book is the abuse of language. The
Orrin Hatch abuse is minor compared to the manipulation of language
that we've seen so much of in the last year. Orrin Hatch tends--tends
to use the royal `we'. And others like Steve Forbes or Pat Buchanan
use the third person, like Pat Buchanan will do this, `Pat says,' or
`Steve Forbes will never leave this race,' or whatever. And for--for
me, this are just devices to sort of distance yourself from what
you're saying, and, therefore, to distance yourself from your
LAMB:What's the story of the birthday cards? Jim Rogan's birthday
card, John McCain's wife's birthday card. Her--I guess her
solicitation. But what's--and Jim Bunning, all these names use a
birthday card at her--to do what?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Well, direct mail has become, you know, a huge way
to sort of not only raise money but criticize your opponent sort of a
little bit under the radar screen because it's not on TV, and,
therefore, the media may not catch onto it quickly. For some reason,
I am on many politicians' direct mail list. So I get Republicans',
Democrats' direct mail. And I also have now friends--because I
started writing about it--who send me their direct mail. And one such
friend sent me a letter she received from Jim Rogan's wife about Jim
Robin's--I think it was--43rd birthday, saying, `You know, you're such
a good friend of ours, your friendship means so much to us. And I
want you to be part of Jim's birthday and--and could you please send
us $43 or any amount, you know?'
LAMB:And in John McCain's case, Cindy McCain's letter said, `Send
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Sixty-three dollars, right.
LAMB:`...for his 63rd birthday.'
Ms. HUFFINGTON: And I found it really appalling that--especially
this family values politicians would exploit their families and
something personal like a birthday as another fund-raising tool. On
top of it, they barely knew this woman. She was a booker on
"Politically Incorrect," and yet, you had all this fake intimacy. You
know, `How much your friendship means to us.' And that is another
example of this abuse of language, this...
LAMB:Does it work?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: It does work.
LAMB:And why do you think it works?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: It works because it gives the impression of
intimacy. It is--it is this kind of phony friendliness that works
unfortunately. But the fact that it works doesn't mean it should be
LAMB:Of all the columns you've written, which one has gotten the
Ms. HUFFINGTON: The columns that I write about drugs and children
get an enormous amount of feedback from parents and teachers. The
column that I wrote urging Warren Beatty to run for president got an
enormous amount, thousands of e-mails. And the...
LAMB:Why didn't he do it?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: He didn't do it because in the end, he--he didn't
feel that the ridicule that he would come under would allow his
message to get through. The reason why I thought he should run is not
because I believed he had any chance of winning but because I felt he
could have the megaphone and he could get attention for those issues
of poverty, of America becoming two nations and because he is a
storyteller. I don't know if you've see "Bulworth." But that is a
very, very compelling movie. And we need storytellers. We need
leaders who can sort of bring us around the campfire and tell us the
story of where America is now, not just where the Dow Jones is now.
That's the story we know very well but the story of where we are now
and really call us to great things. There's a tremendous reserve of
idealism, I believe, in--in all of us.
LAMB:In history--I know you mentioned Disraeli in your book, you
mentioned Gladstone. Who--who in history are your favorite leaders?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Disraeli is a favorite leader of mine because he
understood, as he said himself, that in order to govern, you first
have to change the hearts and minds of people. And at the time, he
did it through novels. He wrote "Sybil," a novel which really
transformed the way the English looked at poverty in Victorian
England. And he coined the term `the two nations,' which again makes
nonsense of these distinctions between right and left because he was a
Tory, he was a conservative in our terms. And yet, he made that
healing of the rift between the two nations his primary goal.
LAMB:Should we ever expect Arianna Huffington to be a politician
someday, run for office?
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Not at the moment. Right now, I really--who knows
down the road--but right now, I really believe that helping being part
of this movement that is happening--of activism and of compassion and
of taking back our government--is something where I can be more
LAMB:This is the cover of the book. And the title is "How to
Overthrow the Government." Our guest has been Arianna Huffington. We
thank you very much.
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2001. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.