Blogger, author and nationally syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington revealed this week that Senator John McCain had told her eight years ago that he did not vote for President Bush in the 2000 election. McCain has angrily denied the claim. Huffington joins us to talk about her disillusionment with McCain, whom she says has abandoned his principles in his quest for the Republican nomination. Huffington is author of the new book, Right is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe — and What you Need to Know to End the Madness. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: As the race for the White House continues, we spend the rest of the hour with the nationally syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington. She is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post and the author of twelve books.
Arianna Huffington revealed on Monday that Senator John McCain had told her at a dinner party in 2000 that he did not vote for Bush in the 2000 election. Today, however, the Arizona Senator and presidential hopeful has almost wholly embraced the Bush doctrine. Huffington writes, “The John McCain the media fell in love with in 2000 isn’t on the ballot in 2008. But the mainstream media doesn’t seem to have noticed a change and have barely taken him to task.”
The hijacking of John McCain and the media’s failure to
report on what he now stands for is one of the many stories featured in Ariana Huffington’s latest book. It’s called Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe (and What You Need to Know to End the Madness).
Arianna Huffington joins us here in our firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Thank you, Amy. It’s great to be with you.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to be with you. OK, John McCain basically is calling you a liar.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Yes, and not only that. Mark Salter, you know, one of his closest aides, called me a poser and a diva, and, you know, just basically the smearing that Karl Rove has been so famous for has now been completely embraced by John McCain.
AMY GOODMAN: Is Karl Rove working with John McCain?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: He’s consulting with John McCain, yes, which is stunning. And the reason I revealed the fact that he had not voted for George Bush is to show his Shakespearean fall, and I call it “Shakespearean” because I really believe that John McCain was a real leader and a real reformer back in 2000, and to see the way he has been willing to sell his soul, to sell his principles, from immigration to tax cuts to torture, for the presidency has been a really sad and kind of tragic sight. And now, of course, he’s using the smear tactics against anyone who says anything against him.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go back to when John McCain, you allege, he said this to you. Where were you? What exactly was said?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: It is now in the New York Times that it was a dinner at Candice Bergen’s home in Los Angeles. And it was just before the inauguration in January 2001. And he was talking about how dangerous George Bush is, about how you cannot have a conversation with him because he will just move on to baseball. And at the table with me were also Brad Whitford and Richard Schiff and other — both of them are West Wing actors, among other things. And today in the New York Times in a story by Elizabeth Bumiller, they have both confirmed what John McCain said.
AMY GOODMAN: So did he tell this to you, or you overheard him?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: No, he just said it to me and to —- you know, in the presence of this small group.
AMY GOODMAN: So it was John McCain and his wife Cindy?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Yes. Well, his wife Cindy at the time was at a different table, but later on she also said that she did not vote for George Bush, either. She wrote John McCain’s name in.
AMY GOODMAN: She did a write-in vote of John McCain. So, John McCain is flat-out saying this is not true –
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —- that he did vote for Bush in 2000?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Exactly, and he repeated it yesterday when Bill O’Reilly asked him on the show.
AMY GOODMAN: They’re saying you simply have a book to sell, and that’s why you’ve raised this?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Right. And my point is that if I had done it to sell the book, I would have put it in the book.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, why did you reveal it now and not put it in the book?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: I revealed it now, because for me the final straw was last Friday, when John McCain made this comment that we went to Iraq for oil, and the media gave him a complete pass. So I was flying to Washington on Sunday, and I read every paper, and I could not believe that this was not a story. And I thought, well, clearly the media are still in love with a John McCain who did not vote for George Bush in 2000 and was an independent, a maverick, somebody who many of us had fallen in love with in the media. And so, the unmasking of John McCain has to begin immediately, because otherwise we have this huge disconnect, which is 28 percent of Americans approve of George Bush, but 48 percent of Americans say they will vote for John McCain. So it’s going to take a lot of work to educate that 20 percent about John McCain.
AMY GOODMAN: Arianna, you were a Republican.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: You were the wife of a man who was running for governor of —-
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: For senator.
AMY GOODMAN: For senator of California.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Why did you change?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: I changed back at the end of ’96, when I realized that my misguided view about the role of government was not really born out by facts and evidence. You know, I really thought that the private sector could step up to the plate and address a lot of the social problems that I cared about then as much as I care about now. And then I discovered, just by trying to do it and by seeing what was happening, that it was never going to happen, that we really needed the raw power of government appropriations to be able to seriously address these problems. And that, for me, was the turning point. That and getting to know Newt Gingrich.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: You know, Newt Gingrich gave a speech when he first became Speaker about the importance of fighting poverty being more urgent than balancing the budget. And then his first act as Speaker was cutting Medicare in order to balance the budget.
AMY GOODMAN: He was taken very much with hearing you in a speech that you gave -—
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Yes, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: — back in the time of the Republican Revolution.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Exactly. That’s how it started. So he reached out to me when I gave a speech about, can conservatives have a social conscience, and went back to the Bible and the Bible’s sort of admonitions that we are going to be judged by what we do for the least among us. So he reached out to me when he watched that speech on C-SPAN. And so, that was the beginning of my relationship with him, and the beginning of my disillusionment was what happened after he became Speaker.
AMY GOODMAN: You say you’ll never go on a TV show with Ann Coulter.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Yes. You know, I devoted just one page to Ann Coulter in the book, and I ended that page by saying that life is too short to go on TV with her. And the reason I only devoted one page to her, maybe a paragraph to some of the other toxic curiosities, like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, because I think that the main problem that we’re having now are the mainstream media, and not Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and FOX.
And so, I focus in my book on the role of the media in enabling the right’s hijacking of our democracy and our debate, not just in the lead-up to the war, but since the war, including the buying into the right’s names, messaging and talking points, which we saw so clearly in the ABC debate when there was so much focus put on equating flag pins with patriotism and Reverend Wright and all those sideshows that have been distracting the media and the public for so long.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is most important for people to understand about John McCain? And explain why you liked him, even mentioned loved him, for a long time.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: You know, John McCain truly was an independent thinker and a maverick back in 2000. I traveled with him on the “Straight Talk Express” through New Hampshire. And he was somebody who, when I invited him to spotlight, to keynote the Shadow Convention that I had organized in Philadelphia —-
AMY GOODMAN: The Shadow Convention that was right next to the main Republican Convention
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: The main convention, yes -— to address all the issues that the main parties — both parties, actually — were not addressing, like poverty, the failed war on drugs and the need for campaign finance reform. He came and keynoted that conference, even though George Bush himself had called him and asked him to pull out. And that was John McCain. And that was John McCain, who could not bring himself to vote for George Bush. I think this is very significant as a sign of how far he’s gone. And that’s why in that chapter on the hijacking of John McCain, I kind of catalog all the different ways in which that John McCain is no more.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain. Take them point by point.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Let’s just take some of the critical ones. The agents of intolerance. Remember he famously called the religious riot — you know, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson — the agents of intolerance. And then he really has completely embraced them and has even sought the endorsement of John Hagee, which has not gotten enough attention in the media.
On tax cuts, he said he could not in good conscience —- these were his words -—
AMY GOODMAN: Just on the issue of John Hagee, Keith Olbermann yesterday was playing the comments of John Hagee, only this past week, where he had said that Hurricane Katrina was retaliation for a gay rights parade that was going to be taking place, you know, washing away the sin. Then he took that back. Then last week, he stuck right to it again.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: It is truly unbelievable that this is not getting more play. But that, again, is part of what I’m arguing, that the media have not updated their image of John McCain and therefore keep giving him a pass again and again.
So, moving on to tax cuts, you know, the words “not voting for a tax cut in good conscience” were very John McCain. You know, the word “conscience” is a word that we don’t often hear in American politics. But he used it. So to hear him now — and he voted against them twice. So to hear him now say that he will make them permanent is just unbelievable.
So I’ve had this sort of series of moments of when he would do things which I couldn’t believe he would do. On immigration, in a Republican primary debate, he basically said he would not be voting for his own bill.
And there, for me — I mean, there are many other instances, but for me the most crushing one was on torture, when this man who was tortured voted against the bill —-
AMY GOODMAN: In Vietnam.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: In Vietnam -— voted against the bill to prevent the CIA from using torture, this man who had previously, in a policy on torture, had said it’s not about who they are, it’s about who we are.
AMY GOODMAN: And authored the McCain anti-torture bill.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: Which Bush signed, but signed a signing statement, which meant he didn’t have to fully abide by it.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: And basically undermined it, yeah. So that —-
AMY GOODMAN: But after that?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: But after that, yes, he voted against a bill that would have made it impossible for the CIA to use torture legally. So that -— and if you take all that and then add the hundred-year war statement, which the media now are trying to soften and say he didn’t really mean to be there as in terms of this being a war, but more in terms of the way we are in North Korea or as in Germany. Well, you know, nobody’s dying in Germany. But so, as Rik Hertzberg wrote in The New Yorker, is he basically arguing that we should be in Iraq indefinitely, let more and more soldiers die, until we will continue to be there without them dying? It doesn’t make any sense. It’s just basically a kind of strange love-in, love of war, and especially this continuous obsession with Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think not only John McCain has changed, but the media has changed in dealing with him? Or have they never hardened up?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: No, I think the media have not changed in dealing with him. The media drank the Kool-Aid, you know, in 2000, and with very good reason. And I was one of them. And now, we all need to wake up and realize that the most dangerous thing that could happen to this country is electing John McCain in 2008, because this country absolutely cannot afford a third term of George Bush, and that’s what John McCain would be offering.
AMY GOODMAN: As you talk about the mainstream media or the not-so-mainstream media, you’ve also established The Huffington Post. You’re the editor-in-chief of it. What are you trying to do with The Huffington Post? It has become an extremely popular site online.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Basically, we are becoming an internet newspaper. And by adding different sections, you know, that are not about politics, on media, business, entertainment, living, we are bringing in people who may not agree with us politically or may not even be particularly political. So we are hoping to be expanding who we’re speaking to.
And that’s part of what I feel is generally what is happening in American politics right now, and it hasn’t been commented enough on, which is that the center has shifted. What used to be considered leftwing positions — you know, pulling out of Iraq, universal healthcare, corporate responsibility, doing something about global warming — are now completely mainstream positions. You know, we have 60, 70 percent of people in favor of these positions. The right has shrunk. The right is that 28 percent will still approve of George Bush. But the media still insists on describing everything as right versus left.
AMY GOODMAN: The Huffington Post says that Hillary Clinton could drop out by June 15th. What do you know?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Lawrence O’Donnell wrote that. That’s one of our —-
AMY GOODMAN: Bloggers.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: —- bloggers, yes, having talked to insiders. In my conversations with insiders in the Clinton campaign, it seems that practically everyone around her realizes that this is now a lost cause, and it is really up to the two of them to realize it. I think Bill and Hillary are having a real problem at the moment in dealing with the realization that this is over.
AMY GOODMAN: Just as she has admitted now loaning, what, $6 million of her own money to the campaign. Why did you come out so early for Barack Obama?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: You know, I — the site has never endorsed Barack Obama, and we’ve provided a platform to many people who are — who have written passionately about Hillary Clinton. I met Barack Obama at Norman Lear’s home before he was a senator, before his famous speech at the convention, and I was very inspired and moved by his opposition to the war in Iraq, which was — which, for me, is the major issue of our time. And so, the fact that Hillary Clinton had not only voted for the war but had supported the war for so long after, indeed right up to the primary, was the main problem that I had with her, which overcame the fact that I obviously would have loved to see a woman president in my lifetime.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Arianna Huffington, our guest, her book has just been published, Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe (and What You Need to Know to End the Madness).