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Eight days before election, Ariana Huffington visits St. Olaf

<rls, and Northfield residents alike packed St. Olaf’s Boe Memorial Chapel Monday night for a talk by Arianna Huffington, founder of left-wing online news source The Huffington Post.

Huffington was born in Athens, Greece in 1950. At the age of 16, she moved to England, eventually graduating from Cambridge University with a degree in economics. In 1980, Huffington moved to the United States. Five years later, she married conservative oil millionaire and friend of the Bush family, Michael Huffington. Their marriage lasted until 1997, during which time she campaigned for him in his race for California representative. In 2003, six years after her divorce from Huffington, she ran as an independent for Governor of California.

Huffington began her speech by leaving no doubt about the degree to which her political views have changed since her early days in the United States. She quoted a blog post by Seinfeld producer Larry David, saying, “I can’t take much more of this. Two weeks to go and I’m at the end of my rope. […] This is like waiting for the result of a biopsy. Actually, it’s worse. If a biopsy comes back positive there is still the chance of a cure. […] [If McCain wins], there’s no cure.” After she finished reading, Huffington linked the post to what would be one of the major themes of her talk: the impact that blogging (and the internet in general) has made on this election. “The power of the internet has made dramatic changes,” Huffington said, “both in the way that the candidates are working and in the way the public is receiving.” She went on to add, “If it were not for the internet, Barack Obama would not be the democratic candidate,” because “it was the internet that made it possible for him to beat [Senator Hillary Clinton, his rival for the democratic nomination] in fundraising.”

Huffington went on to call the role of the internet in this election the end of “Rovian politics,” saying “fear-mongering is not really working in this election, not the way it worked in 2000, and not the way it worked in 2002 or 2004 […] This change is partly because of YouTube and because of the internet.” “Can I remind you that YouTube did not exist in 2004?” she said. Huffington went on to add that overall, the internet has resulted in greater accountability. “The Internet makes it much harder to simply make stuff up,” she said. Huffington expanded on the significance of YouTube, saying, “Barack Obama’s very important speech on race, which was 37 minutes long, has been seen in its entirety by over six million people.” With that sort of exposure, she said, it is difficult for the McCain campaign to make the public believe that Obama is “like Reverend Wright.” As an additional example, Huffington cited the response to Sarah Palin’s claim that she opposed the “bridge to nowhere.” “The mainstream media suffers from attention deficit disorder,” Huffington said. “They encounter something, put out the truth about something, and then move on. We in the blogosphere suffer from OCD. While the mainstream media moves on to the next shiny object […] we keep the truth there for people to see.” According to Huffington, this availability of information makes un-truths like Palin’s claim about the bridge to nowhere glaringly obvious. “Have you noticed that the McCain-Palin campaign no longer uses the bridge to nowhere line?” she asked the crowd.

Switching topics from the role of the Internet to the role of partisanship, Huffington said, “We all tend to see American politics through this prism of left and right,” but “what used to be considered left wing positions are now mainstream.” As examples, she cited the beliefs that we should “have some form of universal healthcare, be doing something, about global warming, and bring our troops home from Iraq. “The center has shifted,” Huffington said. “There is something about this zeitgeist […] that has shifted.” She indicated current economic crisis as one possible cause, saying “it is very hard to considered government the problem when a lot of the problems we are facing are the result of a lack of regulation.” Huffington added that the role of government is the issue that spurned her personal political shift from right to left. “It was being exposed to what the role of government really was that made me change my views about the two parties,” said Huffington on Monday evening.

Huffington closed her talk by encouraging those present to vote, reminding the audience, “if Obama wins, he would also have to look at what is happening in the senate races.” “It is very hard to bring about fundamental change without 60 seats in the senate,” she said, adding that the Minnesota senatorial race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman is very close. “I always though that it was very impressive in the greatest democracy on earth to have close to 50% of registered voters not voting in a presidential election, and many of them young people,” she said, bidding those present to do their part by “encouraging people to vote [and] driving people to the polls.” “I am very delighted to be speaking at a college,” Huffington concluded, “because I really believe that this is a generational change. Those in the audience and those in this college have the opportunity to be part of a generational change.”

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