“The longing to be called to a cause, to respond to something great, is within us, dormant. [America] just needs the right leaders in Washington and the right community organizers to make it happen.” These words, spoken by Arianna Huffington last Thursday evening, elicited wild applause from a capacity audience in Chapin Hall. Huffington, renowned political pundit and editor-in-chief of the popular online blog The Huffington Post, delivered a speech to hundreds of students, faculty and locals about the issues surrounding the 2008 election that she feels are not being adequately recognized.
After her introduction by political science professor James Mahon, Huffington called for a moment of silence to remember the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that occurred seven years before to the date, then launched into a fiery speech illuminating her views on the possibilities for America’s immediate political future.
She focused on what she sees as the diminishing integrity and increasing availability of the media, and the way these changes are heavily influencing the election. Huffington believes that journalists are so afraid of compromising truth by being partisan that they end up withholding important truths from the public. “The media is obsessed with fake objectivity and not pointing out the truth because it’s Ã¢â‚¬Ëœpartisan,’” she said. “But it’s not partisan – the point of journalism is to find the truth!”
She proceeded to discuss how the public absorbs facts that they believe come from unbiased sources, such as voting polls. Polls often prove incorrect because they only account for a small portion of voters, Huffington said, with the New Hampshire primary that predicted an Obama victory serving as a prime example. “All of these conclusions that we get on issues [in polls] are from bored, lonely Americans willing to talk to strangers during dinner hours,” she said. After equating the legitimacy of polls to that of the candidates’ astrological signs, she encouraged her audience to diminish the manipulative influence of the polls by refusing to answer surveyors’ questions.
One aspect of this election that distinguishes it from that of 2004 is the internet’s prevalence and power. Information about the election is constantly available through online sources, including blogs, Facebook and YouTube. “Barack Obama would not have been the democratic nominee if it were not for the internet,” Huffington said, referring to the millions of supporters and fundraising dollars he acquired through online social networking sites.
She pointed out that the internet allows the public to access information at any time, making aspects of the election that previously would have remained unnoticed by a majority of Americans more mainstream. For example, 4.5 million people have watched on Youtube the speech that Obama delivered on the issue of race in America.
However, the internet’s ability to influence the public has its pitfalls. Huffington scorned the attention paid to trivial, sensationalized issues, such as the recent “lipstick on a pig” controversy, as well as the debate over the credentials of republican vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin.
“[Palin can be called] Ã¢â‚¬ËœThe Trojan Moose.’ She is a major distraction. If the McCain campaign succeeds in making this election about [her], they win,” Huffington said. “Even if the democrats prove everything wrong about her, they lose because then the election is about small lies instead of the fact the Bush administration wreaked havoc and the fact that the
McCain campaign would be perpetuating those policies.”
The speech then turned to the perceived weaknesses of John McCain and his campaign. Although it is rarely disputed that John McCain was a brave war hero, “he is no longer the maverick we loved in 2000,” Huffington said. “On issue after issue he has surrendered and has made bargains. It is imperative that we remind the media who he has become.”
However, Huffington believes that even if McCain has lost conviction in his beliefs, Obama’s campaign may be jeopardized if he does not gain boldness himself. “Every election after September 11 will be ultimately decided by [the issue of] national security,” Huffington said. Huffington believes that Obama must show the strength that Americans who fear for their security desire, as well as the anger they feel against the Bush administration. “The American people need someone to express their fury. [Obama] needs to express righteous outrage, and this can be done in a way that’s not alienating,” she said. “We’re drawn to leaders who do it – Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela. Leaders must do it if they want to change the world.”
Huffington lamented the media’s creation of a system of political archetypes: President Bush and McCain represent the John Wayne cowboy image of “someone you can have a beer with,” which she said “does not work in real life.” Obama, on the other hand, can and should embrace the Atticus Finch archetype of “someone who fights fire with fire, but not in the John Wayne way, in the Atticus Finch way. And in that way, we can win,” Huffington said.
Huffington concluded her speech by expressing her belief that young people have the opportunity and responsibility to influence the election. Although the days between now and Nov. 4 are dwindling, the election is far from decided. “There are still 50 days to go. That’s a long time in politics,” Huffington said.