A political discussion

Huffington and Matalin on the Tea Party, the fate of Western New York and women in politics.

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The Spectrum

Thursday night, Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, and Mary Matalin, Republican political strategist and CNN contributor, graced Alumni Arena's stage for UB's first Distinguished Speaker Series event of the 2010-11 school year.

Huffington, who graduated from Cambridge University with an M.A. in economics co-launched The Huffington Post in May of 2005, which quickly became one of the world's most influential news and opinion websites. She has since been included in Time magazine's world's 100 most influential people, Forbes magazine's most influential women in media, Newsweek's top ten thought leaders of the decade and Financial Times top 50 people who shaped the decade.

She has also appeared on a number of television shows such as, "Good Morning America," "Real Time with Bill Maher," "Inside Politics," "Larry King Live" and "The O'Reilly Factor."

Mary Matalin is hailed as one of the country's leading Republican political strategists. Especially known for her intelligent and blunt insights, she served as the deputy campaign manager on President George H. W. Bush's 1992 re-election bid. She served as an assistant to President George H. W. Bush and counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney.

As a political contributor for CNN, Matalin brings her candid conservative views to the public. She has also appeared on State of the Union with John King, The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper 360° as well as co-authoring the national bestseller All's Fair.

Assistant Life Editor Amanda Jonas was granted an exclusive interview with Huffington and Matalin.

AJ: It's very inspirational for a young woman like myself to see two women who are prevalent in a field that is mostly run by men. What first got you started in politics?

MM: Arianna's much more accomplished than I am. The way I got on TV was by losing the campaign in '92. I was the face of the losing campaign.

AH: I had a different set of entry points. My second book was a book about the crisis in political leadership that I wrote in my 20s, which was rejected by 36 publishers and finally published and sold 3,000 copies… It was like a labor of love because I really cared about leadership and understanding political leadership.

Then I took a detour and wrote a lot of biographies and did a lot of cultural writing. I was always following politics; it's kind of in your genes if you're Greek, because everyone is political and everyone goes to the cafes. It's not like a separate skill, it's like you all do it.

Then I married Michael Huffington; he's a Republican. He had worked for George W. Bush's father and run for Congress, so that was another entry point into politics, as a political wife, and then [I ran] for Senate and lost. That got me involved in the day-to-day politics of the country. Then I started doing a syndicated column, largely on politics.

AJ: Ms. Huffington, in the early 1990's you supported Newt Gingrich's campaign and Bob Dole's bid for presidency and now you are a well-known liberal pundit and author. What spurred you to switch party affiliation?

AH: Well, my switch was in the end of 1996 and it had to do with my understanding of the role of government. I cared about the same things, especially what's happening to people left out of the good times. During my Republican years, I thought we could solve this problem in the private sector, through charity, through people and being able to contribute to their communities… but then I saw that the problems were still major and we needed the raw power of government, the appropriations as well as what communities are doing. So that was the switch in 1996.

AJ: Miss Matalin, you were recently interviewed by Don Purcell and you said that the Republicans have a 90 percent chance of taking both the House and the Senate. Do you feel more confident with that statement after last week's primary elections?

MM: Yes I do. I mean I'm not spinning…I don't need to [be] spinning any more. It's not my business. But I think getting out of Washington has given me more life perspective. I hear all my colleagues who are knee-deep in it, not understanding what's going on up there. Because I live it everyday, I see it.

I see how these Tea Party people are and they're not Republicans and they're not what the elites think they are. It's not Christine O'Donnell, it's not about Sarah Palin, it's about the role of government and America. We're really at the crossroads, which is what Arianna's latest brilliant book is about.

Shockingly, the reason I think everyone got so emotional about that Delaware seat, [is that] they thought they could pick up 10 seats and they thought that was a lay-down, but there are so many more seats in play. They're not considering lay-downs. I think we're going to win… So I'm 100 percent on the House and 90 percent on the Senate. But if anyone knows how to snatch victory from the jaws, it's the Republican Party. I've been there too many times, reaching for those brass rings.

AJ: Everyone talks about the split in the GOP. Do you feel like there's really a split or is there just one side that is more fanatical and just pushing more people to act?

MM: I don't think the Tea Party people are fanatical. I think the Republicans have not been philosophically consistent enough on fiscal conservatism, which is why they lost in '06. And if they take over, and they talk about it all the time, if they aren't cutting spending…then they'll lose in 2012.

I think what people talk less about but is more poignant…is the split in the Democratic Party. All the chairmen of all the committees come from these safe liberal districts. Obama's wiping [the competitive seats] out; they don't agree with Nancy Pelosi, so both parties have long intentions.

AJ: Going back to the Tea Party. Carl Paladino, a wealthy businessman from Buffalo, successfully won the New York primary for the Republican Party and has a tremendous Tea Party backing. Do you think that momentum like they have for the O'Donnell and Paladino elections will carry over into 2012?

AH: Well, I think there is an undoubted rebellion against the status quo and the Tea Party is the big beneficiary of that. It is the status quo across both parties. The solutions that are being offered are different and I feel like they are not the solutions we need, but the anger at the status quo is an anger that is incredibly widespread and is really completely underestimated by the elites. At the heart of this for me is the bailout. It's not that the banks were bailed out, because one could make a case for that, it's the fact that they were bailed out without any strings attached, without any conditions that would have benefited the middle class.

AJ: Can you think of a point in history in American politics when we had a Tea Party-type movement?

AH: Well there was the Progressive movement at the turn of the century, which was a movement against the trusts and the elites of the time.

MM: The most recent one, that we've lived through, was [the Reform movement led by] Ross Perot…but they definitely lost that race for Bush in '92…These pre-movements [like the Tea Party] are like bees, they sting and they die, and they elect their last choice. So this is tricky right here, I thought up until these last primaries that there wasn't a tension, but I hope [that both sides of the GOP] don't fight [each other]. I hope they pull together.

AJ: Ms. Huffington, in your new book, you talk about the abandonment of the middle class. What does that mean for a place like Buffalo that has a largely working middle class population?

AH: Right, I think the middle class is the foundation, not only of our prosperity, but also of our democracy and our political stability and I don't think there has been the same type of urgency to address the problem of the disappearing middle class that we've brought to, say, the problems of Wall Street or the financial system's imminent collapse in the fall of '08.

It affects everybody…Kids are graduating college and there are no jobs, kids have to leave Buffalo to find jobs, there's this whole exodus from the community. Buffalo was not the beneficiary of the good times, so now they're the beneficiary of the bad times. I'm sure the anger is multiplied.

AJ: What advice would you offer young women who see you in the media as successful female journalists, and how would you encourage them to act in college and in their careers?

AH: Well my advice, which is my advice to my daughters in college, is actually what I wrote about in my book called "On Becoming Fearless", which is not to be afraid of failing. Not to be afraid of taking risks, that failure is not the opposite of success – it's like a stepping-stone to success. Everyone who has succeeded has failed along the way, and it's important for a young person to recognize that and not to shy away from following your dreams.

MM: I agree with all of that. My advice for my girls all the time is don't act like anything, just be who you are and that's hard. It sounds so easy to say, but I don't think I was who I was till I spread my full wings.