20 Questions: Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington has been spending more time in Washington this summer. Her daughter is an intern for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). I caught up with the political blogger/activist last week at the Hay Adams Hotel for tea and conversation about everything from HuffingtonPost.com to her fashion tastes, curly hair and fearlessness in life and love. Huffington could not be summed up in 20 questions, so The Hill had more this time. Last night she hosted a private party at her Georgetown apartment where she mingled with D.C. friends and acquaintances. She lives full time in Los Angeles, has an office in New York, and will soon open another in Washington.

Do you see yourself as the liberal’s answer to Rush Limbaugh?

I hope not [laughs]. No, I actually see myself more as trying to break through the right-left framing that the media use to define American politics, because it’s so obsolete.

So you don’t see yourself as sharply to the left?
I don’t buy the right-left filter.

Do you have a name for this new way of thinking?
I think there is just a realignment happening in American politics. It’s still in flux.

Have you ever met Rush Limbaugh?
Yes,  I was at a cocktail party with him. The funny thing is that Mrs. Limbaugh complained immediately that I was there. I think we [Huffington and Rush] shook hands. I don’t think we had a meaningful conversation. That was the last time [we met] before he retired to Florida with his Oxycontin.

Please describe your views on President Bush.
The more I look at President Bush, the more I have a sense of tragedy. Long after he is clearing brush at Crawford, we are going to be paying for his presidency. One word? I would say he is a fanatic, and that is the most dangerous leader to have.

But he said recently he makes decisions on principle, not politics.
Ironically, that’s the fanatic mindset we are fighting in the world.

What are you most proud of in your life?

Definitely [my daughters] Christina and Isabella. They are the greatest joy in my life. Isabella is at summer camp at Yale. She calls me this morning, “Did you get me this conditioner?” Texting has been great. They will text endlessly. I gave them both BlackBerrys for their birthday. It’s more for me than for them — that way they have no reason not to text me.

Who is your most famous friend — in other words, a famous person with whom you feel genuinely close?
Bill Maher, John Cusack.

Who are your closest women friends?
Laurie David, Linda Resnick, Lynn Leer — I call them my three L’s.  

Do you believe Hillary Clinton is the right choice for president?
As I’ve written many times, I’d love to see a woman president, but her tendency to triangulate is not the leadership we need.

Do you have a candidate you prefer?
I’m not going to be endorsing anyone, given that we are going to be covering everyone on Huff Post.

Are you secretly rooting for anyone?

No. I think people are looking to be inspired.

What are you most proud of in your professional life?
I keep thinking of my mother. I don’t like this way of expressing things. She didn’t like the term [proud]. I definitely think Huffington Post is the most interesting thing I’ve done and I love it.

Why do you think it works?
Timing. [It’s] the mixture of bringing together breaking news and instant reaction … and community.

Your daughter, Christina, interns for Sen. Reid. Do you hope she’s doing something more than making copies, running errands and answering constituent mail?
If that’s all she does, it will be an incredible experience. I don’t think it matters what she’s doing; she’s a high school intern. I’m sure she’s not writing legislation.

Would you be upset if either of your daughters turned out to be Republican?
I think that would have happened already. I think it’s unlikely to change now.

But would it bother you?
I can’t imagine not loving my children whatever they turned out to be.

What was it like growing up in Greece?

It was great because of my mother. She was the most amazing mother, a real force of nature. Even though we lived in a one-room apartment — she had left [my father] after his philandering — she was fearless.

Did you grow up knowing about his infidelity?
I did. My dad was a concentration camp survivor. He came back with a sense that the rules didn’t apply to him. They actually met in a [health clinic]. She was recovering from TB and he was recovering from his time in the concentration camp.

Do you forgive him?
Oh, yes. They never divorced and they died within three months of each other.

When you go on vacation where do you go?
Anywhere near the sea: Italy, Greece. My favorite [thing to do] is to swim and let my hair go curly.

Where do you get your hair done?

Gloria, [at a small shop] on Pennsylvania Avenue in Georgetown. Now everyone will go there and I won’t be able to get an appointment.

What is your fashion sense?  
I like to wear very simple things. I wear lots of separates. Since I never check luggage, I find I can manage with very few clothes, even for a week. I put my handbag in the garment bag. The idea of waiting for luggage is just like lost time.

Favorite designers?

I like Ports 61. The only time I go shopping is with my girls; it’s a bonding experience. I try to buy age-appropriate clothing [laughs].

Your most recent book is On Becoming Fearless in Love, Work and Life. How did you become fearless, and do you think you are?
I made a list when I became 40 of all the things I was bad at. At the top of the list was skiing. I’ve decided I’m really bad at it, but forget it. I still go on skiing vacations but I don’t ski. I can sit by the fire and read. I love hiking. I define “fearless” not as the absence of fear but the mastery of fear. I’m a work in progress.

What is your greatest fear?

My greatest fear has to do with my daughters. The other day Christina texted me and I said, “I’m picking up dinner and I’ll be home in 20 minutes.” I called and she didn’t answer. By the time I got home I was a wreck. She had fallen asleep. When you have children, you kind of give up your peace of mind. I’m working now not to move into negative fantasies.

Please forgive me for asking this, but your book title does include the words “fearless in love.” What’s going on with your love life?
I don’t think we should talk about our love lives in public. I feel that if we focus on private lives we’re missing the tragic mistakes of leadership.

OK, but do you think you’ve become fearless in love?
No. I think I’ve been more successful in overcoming fear at work.

Do you think you’ll marry again?
I’m not ruling it out, [but] I got married to have children and once you have them it’s hard to think about doing it again.

With all the sex scandals out there, and most recently the one involving Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), does it touch a nerve for you?
I will not discuss my ex-husband [Michael Huffington] because of my daughters. But no, it does not. When the Esquire piece came out [disclosing my ex-husband’s homosexuality] we were already divorced, and he was no longer in public life.

Have you reached peace about it?
Yes. He and I are very good friends. We have holidays together.