Arianna Huffington is busy indulging herself in a new personality cult – her own. Between public and prime-time appearances, controversial anti-S.U.V. commercials (a la the Bush administration’s Super Bowl pot-equals-terrorism spots) and a New York Times bestseller, she’s been working the self-promotional circuit with seemingly indefatigable verve.
“Pigs at the Trough” is Cambridge-educated Huffington’s ninth book. In a country where the majority of the population backs the political right, it’s clear that the 20 percent strong “political class” has been wielding its lefty book buying power. Huffington’s latest title seems to fill a niche on the bestseller list left open by the popularity phase-out of Michael Moore’s 2002 hit, “Stupid White Men.”
But the cultish following that Huffington has developed over the last few months may actually be doing her message a disservice. The advance critical acclaim that the bookjacket heralds dilutes her sizeable substance with obsession over delivery. Television producer Aaron Sorkin called it “hilarious” while comedian Bill Maher found it “entertaining.”
Both Huffington’s writing and wit are sharp. This, however, doesn’t translate into a book on the order of hilarity. The overdone word games and calculated turns of prose that dominate her syndicated column to the point of distraction thankfully run more sparsely through “Pigs at the Trough.” She writes with an edge and a sense of humor, but “Pigs at the Trough” is a work more serious than even her publicist would seem to want acknowledged.
Problematically though, Huffington also fights her own message in offering easy validation and rationalizations to the insecurities of her slightly upper-class audience. Much of the book is dominated with laundry lists of CEOs’ salary figures and real estate holdings. Forget the rungs of the corporate ladder: The rich, she would have us believe, are only rich because they’ve stepped on the backs of the little guy – the blue collar corporate employee, the gullibly provincial customer – to get there.
The problematic points of the book are familiar to those versed in the culture of the avant-gadfly. Like Moore, Huffington’s political personality may be interfering with the presumable aim of her criticism, change. Like Ann Coulter, a disturbingly in-style act on the other end of the political spectrum, Huffington seems to overstate her point to serve her purpose: It’s questionable whether Huffington believes the entire corporate world to be as thoroughly filthy as she professes. Unlike Coulter though, for people of moderate political sensibilities Huffington’s political views are far less offensive than the sometimes horrifying muck she is able to dredge to support them.
“Pigs at the Trough” is a good read, and a good read should always be (if not necessarily fun) enjoyable or edifying. While “Pigs at the Trough” has the trappings of both, it may be more effective as a serious-minded criticism, and without the baggage of Huffington’s controversial personality – the very baggage which, ironically, is responsible for its great success.