Arianna Huffington’s latest book — Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe — thoroughly documents the most influential fact in our political life: namely, that the right-wing faction which has taken over the Republican Party is radical, deeply hostile to America’s core political traditions and values, and incomparably destructive. As she puts it: "they don’t believe in evolution but believe in torture."
But the real value of this book is its examination of the two key culprits in the ascension of this right-wing fringe: the establishment media and the Beltway leaders of the Democratic Party. Huffington’s insights are most piercing and innovative when her targets are the bloated, empty-headed media stars who have done more than anyone else to allow this fringe group to masquerade as part of the mainstream. And she pinpoints the dual afflictions which have rendered the media totally supine, when they aren’t actively complicit, in the face of this falsehood-spewing, extremist movement — the twisted notion of journalistic "balance" which means that they present every claim no matter how objectively false, along with the "self-hating" mentality of "liberal" journalists who have internalized right-wing smears and thus repeat them and seek to accommodate them:
A key to understanding the fanatical Right’s takeover of the Republican Party and how these ideas spread to the rest of the country is looking at the role of the media—not the Fox News pseudo-newsmen or the talk radio blowhards—but the respectable, supposedly liberal media. Without the enabling of the traditional media—with their obsession with “balance” and their pathological devotion to the idea that truth is always found in the middle—the radical Right would never have been able to have its ideas taken seriously. . . . By reporting everything through this prism the media missed the big story: the hijacking of America by the lunatic Right.
Perhaps the most compelling proof of how potent is Huffington’s critique of the media’s malfeasance is that one of her prime and most-deserving targets, pseudo-tough-guy Tim Russert, banned Huffington from appearing on NBC and MSNBC shows to discuss her book, because of his hurt feelings over the criticism she voices. As demonstrated by the recent network news blackout of the NYT‘s "military analyst" expose — a blackout which Huffington recently described as "among the most shameful in the history of American journalism" — our media stars will simply suppress, conceal from their audience, any content which reveals their fundamental corruption. Hence, Russert uses his position at NBC to ensure that NBC viewers are blocked from hearing Huffington’s revealing critique of his "journalism."
Huffington is equally unsparing — and equally on-point — when it comes to the fear-driven, weakness-embodying Democratic Party establishment, which has been as unwilling as the establishment press to take on the fringe Right:
The other not-so-innocent bystanders to the Right’s takeover are the Democrats who have continued to tread far too lightly when it comes to holding the GOP’s fanatical core accountable. Time and time again, the Democratic leadership has allowed itself to get played, run over, or distracted.
In sum, we are a nation that has been taken over by a political movement that holds fringe views largely because the two institutions which had the responsibility to expose the truth of what they are — the media and the "opposition party" — miserably failed to fulfill those functions. Huffington’s book is a merciless though extremely well-documented indictment of those failed institutions, and highlights the havoc these failures have wreaked on our country and political culture.
As depressing as all of that may sound, the book itself is characterized by the vibrant and entertaining yet always hard-hitting tone which characterizes everything Arianna does. And underlying its assessment of our deep-seated political woes is a bulging optimism that the Right can be easily crushed — the same optimistic premise which drove her to create and build with shocking speed The Huffington Post, one of the few real counter-weights to the toxic right-wing noise machine. The reason for this optimism is clear and simple. As she puts it:
Democrats are in the majority today because the positions they campaigned are in line with mainstream America. But if the lunatic fringe group now known as the Republican Party is to be stopped in its efforts to radically remake this country, Democrats are going to have to step up and defend the mainstream that swept them into power in 2006.
This is the critical truth proven by Huffington’s book: that Democrats’ core positions are mainstream and the GOP’s those of a repudiated fringe. Whether that will translate into political success for the Democrats, and the desperately needed destruction of the Right, depends largely on whether the prescriptions set out in this book are followed or ignored.