The Right's Queen Doubts Palin
Fiery radio host Laura Ingraham banters with Lloyd Grove about her scathing new book, The Obama Diaries, why Palin is unlikely to win—and her surprising affection for Michelle Obama's mom.
Talk-radio troublemaker Laura Ingraham claims she really likes Joe Biden.
“I have to say, he’s the polar opposite of my thinking on most issues, but he’s the kind of guy who could hang out in a bar in the afternoon, throw back a few cold ones, talk about policy, but not take himself too seriously,” says Ingraham, who is vying with Ann Coulter to be the breakout blonde of the vast right-wing conspiracy. “When he comes across people at parties in Washington that he knows don’t like him, he doesn’t do what a lot of arrogant politicos do—seize up and freeze up. He basically says, ‘I know you don’t like me, but you’re a great person. You’re funny. You crack me up.’ He’s a likable guy.”
“I wouldn’t have Harry Reid walk my yellow Labrador!”
Laura Ingraham promoting her new book "The Obama Diaries".
The 46-year-old Ingraham—a onetime law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas—tells me she had a very similar actual vice-presidential encounter one night at George Will’s house. She dutifully tarts it up in The Obama Diaries, a book-length anti-Barack polemic punctuated by imaginary private musings by the current (mostly disagreeable) occupants of the White House and their long-suffering underlings.
Except that in Ingraham’s satirical retelling, it’s Biden who seems to have designs on her. “Had we not been in a room full of journalists, I would have kissed Ingrahan [sic]”—she misspells her own surname for the sake of verisimilitude—“right on the mouth,” the fictional Biden confesses to his diary. “Hell, George Will might have actually cracked a smile.”
The only other Obama camp follower for whom Ingraham seems to have a modicum of affection is “first grandmother” Marian Robinson, who in her fake diary entries is constantly berating her daughter, Michelle Obama, as a body image-obsessed harridan, and her son-in-law, the president, as a selfish megalomaniac.
“They come off as a bit out of touch, and a bit arrogant, and a bit entitled,” Ingraham concedes about her portrayal of the first couple. “The thing I like about Michelle’s mother, she’s a lot like all of our mothers. She’s very no-nonsense, common sense, has a gritty sensibility about her. Basically, she’s like, ‘Look. These girls want to have some cheeseburgers, let them have a cheeseburger. Don’t get on them every five seconds for eating unhealthy.’ She’s like a typical grandma, she spoils her grandkids… I find her particularly endearing.”
If Ingraham (pronounced “ingram”) seems to have mellowed slightly since I knew her in Washington, when she was a razor-edged talking head and I was a reporter for The Washington Post, maybe it can be chalked up to some personal crucibles—a battle with breast cancer, a melodramatic dating life that was frequent fodder for the gossip columns, and her adopting two children—one from Guatemala and the other from Russia—as a single mom.
“I feel like I was given a real second chance after the whole breast-cancer thing,” she tells me. “It just changed everything—it changed the way I thought, it changed my way of looking at the world. I try not to waste time. I try not to sweat the small stuff. I don’t always succeed, but I try. Before that, I was kind of a ball-bearing in a box, tipping from one side to the other… These children are just God’s blessing—the most amazing gift.”
Ingraham’s 5-year-old daughter, Maria, and her 2-year-old son, Dmitri, are filling her days and nights. “Maria has the Latina fire. She’s fiery and funny,” she confides. “Dmitri is more the Russian engineer type, but also a love bug, wants to cuddle and snuggle… We’re all from different parts of the world. I’m leading a mini-U.N. at my house. This is a U.N. I can support.”
As for her love life, “I’m happily dating,” Ingraham says. “And that’s all I’m going to tell you.”
But don’t think, Dear Reader, that Ingraham has gone soft. Just ask her about the president.
Mitt Romney on Laura Ingraham's radio show discussing appropriate responses to the BP oil disaster.
“Just because Barack Obama is an attractive character, and can be a charismatic speaker, and has a beautiful family, does not ipso facto make him, No. 1, a good president, or No. 2, an experienced leader, or No. 3, didn’t make him ever qualified to take on the job in the first place,” says Ingraham, whose syndicated daily radio show reaches on average 5.5 million listeners every week. “I think the media became so enamored with his personal narrative that most people just abdicated their responsibility—like, wait a second, what exactly has he done to qualify for this? And how is this going to play out?
“And I think a lot of people who are singing the “Buyers’ Remorse Hymn” right now—it’s not all that surprising and it’s also not all that helpful. People had a responsibility to look through the razzle-dazzle of the historical nature of it—the beautiful kids, the Vogue covers, Parade magazine’s letters to the daughters, all this cavalcade of human-interest stories that really overwhelmed the proper narrative: Which is that this guy, No. 1, has a pretty radical view of things, and No. 2, is wildly unqualified to run the biggest economy in the world, the biggest military in the world.”
Was Ingraham entirely unmoved by the election of the first African-American president of the United States?
“Was I surprised we could do that as Americans? No. I worked for the second black justice on the Supreme Court, but nobody cared about that because it was Clarence Thomas,” she answers. “I just don’t look at things that way. I think we live in the greatest country on the face of the earth. And of course America was going to elect a minority president. Why wouldn’t we? I always hoped it would be a conservative that would be elected first, but we’re America! Stephen Hawking is one of the most brilliant people in the face of the planet—a celebrated person around the world, also a disabled man. I mean, Oprah Winfrey is an African-American woman.”
Ingraham is only mildly deflated when I point out that Hawking is a British subject. “Oh, well, OK,” she says, “but you get the point.” Of course, the Obamas of the Diaries aren’t all that inspiring. He’s a preening lightweight infatuated by his press clippings, and she’s a bitter harpy fixated on how her bare arms look in news photos.
“I think they are both pretty arrogant,” Ingraham tells me, “and oftentimes come across as incredibly tone deaf, and also often seem to not understand the core of the country.”
So who would make a better president—Sarah Palin?
“I think she’s probably the most captivating conservative personality out there today, but I don’t know if that’ll translate to electability,” Ingraham says. “People are very, very wedded to this idea that you have to have an enormous amount of experience to be able to handle what’s coming at us and I don’t know if she—I don’t know. I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
What about Mitt Romney, a candidate Ingraham enthusiastically embraced the last time around?
“I’m not really focused on 2012,” she says. “I know that sounds like a copout, but I’m really not. I thought Romney, with his business acumen and background would probably have a pretty solid approach about how to tackle these economic problems. I think his executive experience would’ve been extremely helpful in handling this Gulf of Mexico crisis—which is an absolute catastrophe.”
Will there be a Laura Ingraham primary?
For now, Ingraham says she’s focused on the 2010 midterms and the prospect of a Republican majority in Congress, and is especially looking forward to the defeat of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
“If the Republicans blow that race, then well, look, they deserve to lose,” she says. “If they can’t beat Harry Reid, then it’s time to just hang it up. Talk about a weak candidate! I know people go after Sharron Angle [Reid’s gaffe-prone Republican opponent], but I had her on my show, and I thought she was pretty good. I wouldn’t have Harry Reid walk my yellow Labrador!”
Lloyd Grove is editor at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.