Stossel Talks Politics With Huffington

Huffington Post founder tells Stossel conservatives "hijacked" United States.

April 25, 2008 — -- She was on the right, now she's on the left. These days, it seems as though Arianna Huffington is everywhere.

For decades, Huffington has been a political gadfly and a perennial pundit on news shows. Now she's editor in chief of the popular news and opinion Web site The Huffington Post.

Huffington's politics lean left, but that wasn't the case in the mid-'90s when she was a friend to Newt Gingrich and a card-carrying member of the Republican Party.

Now she's written a new book called "Right Is Wrong," in which she argues that the "lunatic fringe" of American conservatives have "hijacked" the country.

CLICK HERE to read an excerpt from Huffington's book.

ABC correspondent John Stossel is counted among that group because he no longer believes government programs are the best way to solve problems. One blogger on Huffington's site writes, "John Stossel is a Pathological Liar," and another asks, "What Has John Stossel Been Smoking?"

Watch "20/20" today at 10 p.m. ET as Stossel and Huffington spar over the presidential election and just how "big" government should be.

Arguing Against Welfare Reform

Huffington believes that millions of Americans need to be pulled out of poverty, and she's sincere about wanting to help. For a decade she's volunteered at an after-school mentoring program in Los Angeles, but she says that government needs to take the reins in aiding the country's poor.

"What we need is serious government policies to address poverty," Huffington said.

In her book, Huffington writes that the problem of poverty cannot be overcome without "the raw power of annual government appropriations." When discussing welfare reform, whose aim is to give jobs to people in poverty rather than giving cash handouts, she argued, "welfare reform in the end was not a success when it came to those most in need in this country."

She cited poor job training as a reason for the failure, however, since welfare was limited, 8 million people have left the welfare rolls. Though there is an economic downturn, the inflation-adjusted income of the poorest Americans is now higher than before the reforms and unemployment is lower. Even so, Huffington joins the Democratic presidential candidates in saying that everything is getting worse.

"We have over 30 million Americans living below the poverty line," she said.

A higher percentage of Americans were living below the poverty line before welfare reform, however, and poverty levels are much lower than they were a half-century ago.

To this Huffington responded, "The fact that we used to live in caves … is not a justification for the state of affairs right now."

Huffington also campaigns against global warming. She drives a Toyota Prius and she co-founded the Detroit Project, an initiative that lobbies automakers to produce more fuel-efficient cars. She also lives in an enormous home and flies in private jets.

Huffington admits that there are contradictions in her crusade, but, she said, "I'm not setting myself up as some paragon who only goes around on a bicycle and lives by candlelight."

The Huffington Post Draws Big Name Bloggers

Even though it was created three years ago, The Huffington Post already has 14 million readers a month. The list of influential bloggers on the site includes Sean Penn, Ellen DeGeneres, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, King of Jordan Abdullah II and presidential candidates Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Why does Huffington command so much attention from famous and powerful people?

"To know her is to love her," writes her friend comedian Bill Maher. "She's such a caring, giving, down-to-earth, has-your-back friend, and I don't flatter myself I'm the only one who she's made feel that way."

It's no wonder celebrities trust Huffington's site as a secure forum to tell their side of a scandal. Earlier this month, when Rob Lowe wanted to get ahead of a story that was going to break about his former nanny suing him for sexual harassment, he told Huffington he wanted to blog about it.

"Three years later it has definitely exceeded our expectations," Huffington said of the site.

'I Definitely Called Myself a Conservative'

Huffington has come a long way since her days as a self-described "awkward kid" growing up in Greece. She was born Arianna Stassinopoulos, the daughter of a working-class journalist and a stay-at-home mom. As a teen, the whip-smart Huffington attended Cambridge University in England, and at 23, published her first book, "The Female Woman."

She moved to the United States and married oil magnate-turned-Republican Congressman Michael Huffington. The two were a Republican power couple during the mid-1990s, but their marriage ended in 1997. It was around that time that Huffington became disillusioned and left the Republican Party.

"I definitely called myself a conservative," Huffington said. "The main reason was because how I saw the role of government. I actually believed that the private sector would be able to address a lot of the issues that I believed were very important, like taking care of those in need. And then I saw firsthand how difficult it was."

Today, Huffington's biggest fear is that a Republican may win the next presidential election.

"John McCain has been completely hijacked by the right because he did not believe he could get elected without that lunatic fringe that has become the base of the Republican Party," she said. "They have hijacked his brain in the sense that this is how he believes he's going to become President of the United States … He made this Faustian bargain of really surrendering everything for the sake of being elected because he did not believe he could get elected without that lunatic fringe that has become the base of the Republican Party."

"The Right has been taken over… by the Neo-conservatives who have been wanting to invade Iraq for years. And as the result the Right of the Ronald Reagan era is no longer the Right. It's now the Right of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly," Huffington said. "They've hijacked America by hijacking public policy."

But are O'Reilly and Limbaugh powerful enough to "hijack" America? Do they have that kind of control over public figures?

"They are very powerful," she said with a laugh. "Though they will not be as powerful after we finish dealing with them."

ABC News contacted Limbaugh and O'Reilly to comment on Huffington's accusation, and their responses, not surprisingly, were dubious of her characterization.

Limbaugh remembers when Huffington was a conservative and said, "She was just as mixed up then as she is now. She is a silly woman. Fortunately, no one can understand what she's saying."

O'Reilly wrote, "Arianna Huffington is entitled to her far-left political views. It is the personal attacks that she traffics in that disqualify her as a person of respect."

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