Back in 2005, SteveAudio and I decided to have a party so bloggers in Southern California could meet face-to-face, so we threw the first Kobepallooza at his house in Granada Hills. I emailed invitations to everyone I could think of in the area, and an eclectic group that included TBogg, Kevin Drum, Skippy, R.J. Eskow, John Amato, Ezra Klein and David E. arrived for a poolside barbecue where many met for the first time. On a lark, I sent an email to newbie blogger Arianna Huffington, who — to everyone’s surprise — showed up.
It may have been the first barbecue Arianna Huffington attended in Granada Hills, but it wasn’t the last local blogger event. She came to Kobepallooza II, blogger brunch at the Farmer’s Market, and most other local blogger meetups that happened in the early days. We were all impressed that she didn’t expect to enter the market at the top with a bunch of celebrity names and assume the blogosphere would just fall in line behind her. She genuinely wanted to be part of a growing community, and really tried to understand how it all worked.
Since that time, Arianna has been a friend, adviser, mentor and collaborator. She calls me and pries me for gossip, and vice versa. She meets my dates and tells me if they pass muster. She works tirelessly, travels constantly and for the past 5 years she has sat at the helm of one of the fastest growing and most innovative media enterprises in American history.
The HuffingtonPost now outstrips the Washington Post’s traffic, and is gaining on the New York Times. It has put Ariana in both the limelight and the crosshairs of a rapidly changing media world at a time of tremendous social and political upheval. More than anyone, Arianna is the one who gets called on the carpet and asked to explain this strange thing called a “blog” to elites who seem fundamentally unable to understand the internets.
As someone who has been reading Arianna’s books since the 1980s when she was still Arianna Stassinopoulos, I think that “Third World America” is her most compelling and important work to date — and it is an important work. Her vantage point mediating between the insular political realm and a vast, interconnected online communications world has given her unique insights into the chasm between political groupthink and the way that ordinary Americans experience current events. This book offers a clear, concise warning to those who think an uptick in the stock market for a few days means our economic worries are behind us.
“The middle class is teetering on the brink of collapse just as surely as AIG was in the fall of 2009,” she says. But those stories aren’t making it into the media, and she rightly blames the economic bubble that insulates the storytellers. In 2009, unemployment for those making $150,000 a year was only 3%. The rate for those in the middle income range was 9%, and for those in the bottom 10% it’s a “staggering 31%.”
Does anyone believe that the sense of urgency coming out of Washington wouldn’t be wildly different if the unemployment rate for the top 10 percent of income earners was 31 percent? If one-third of the television news producers, pundits, bankers and lobbyists were unemployed, would the measures proposed by the White House and Congress still be as anemic? Of course not – the sense of national emergency would be so great you’d hear air-raid sirens howling.
Arianna has long been arguing that political parties are part of the systemic problem we face, and that retreat into the right/left pie throwing contest only furthers the social fault lines that are easily exploited by corporate robber barons to further erode the middle class. I have to admit I didn’t hear what she was saying when we got into a friendly scrap over Newt Gingrich in 2006, after she said that the anti-war left should welcome his support when Newt seemed to be calling for and end to the war in Iraq. I was focused on the fact that Newt probably wasn’t being an honest player here, and in the end, being Newt, he wasn’t.
But it was a long time before I grasped the larger point Arianna was struggling to articulate — namely that partisan politics has become a game politicians play to obscure the fact that they are unwilling to do what is right and necessary for the country, and by indulging in right/left broadsides while failing to hold those in power accountable, we enable them. She finds her voice and communicates that message clearly and precisely in “Third World America.” It is a book that is largely free of right/left polemics, and instead looks for systemic solutions including campaign finance reform and greater government transparency that have the potential to transform the entire political system.
In an era of hyper-partisanship, it isn’t always a popular message, and Arianna opens up her book with an homage to another great Greek: “It’s never fund being Cassandra,” she says. “But remember, Cassandra ended up being right. And the Trojans, who remained blissfully blind to her warnings, ended up being very wrong and very dead.”
Indeed, we are as she says traveling down a dangerous road. “In the absence of manufacturing, the only way to compete with Third World nations is to become a Third World nation, which is exactly what will happen if we allow our middle class to disappear,” she says.
But there is hope, in that we are no longer exclusively reliant on the traditional media who “failed to serve the public interest by missing the two biggest stories of our time — the run up to the war and Iraq an the financial meltdown.”
“Third World America will not be televised…it wil be blogged, tweeted, and uploaded to YouTube,” she says.
Please welcome Arianna Huffington in the comments.