. Like many people, I suppose, I
used to read Maureen Dowd's columns and think, "What the hell is she
talking about?" She makes references to current events, but the
landscape is always rearranged in ways that make it oddly remote from
reality, as if she were living in some alternate universe. At that
point, I could have taken the wise course followed by thousands of
other readers and simply shrugged, turned on my heel, and walked away.
But there was something about her that gnawed at me, as if, contrary to
superficial appearances, there really was a sentient human being
lurking inside her delusionary world of mangled quotes and malicious
Then I read the following passage in one of her columns from January
In all those great Tracy/Hepburn movies
more than a half-century ago, it was the snap and crackle of a romance
between equals that was so exciting. Moviemakers these days seem far
more interested in the soothing aura of romances between unequals.
In James Brooks's "Spanglish," Adam
Sandler, as a Los Angeles chef, falls for his hot Mexican maid. The
maid, who cleans up after Mr. Sandler without being able to speak
English, is presented as the ideal woman. The wife, played by
Téa Leoni, is repellent: a jangly, yakking, overachieving,
overexercised, unfaithful, shallow she-monster who has just lost her
job with a commercial design firm. Picture Faye Dunaway in "Network" if
she'd had to stay home, or Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction" without
The same attraction of unequals animated
Richard Curtis's "Love Actually," a 2003 holiday hit. The witty and
sophisticated British prime minister, played by Hugh Grant, falls for
the chubby girl who wheels the tea and scones into his office. A
businessman married to the substantial Emma Thompson falls for his
sultry secretary. A writer falls for his maid, who speaks only
(I wonder if the trend in making maids
who don't speak English heroines is related to the trend of guys who
like to watch Kelly Ripa in the morning with the sound turned off?)
Art is imitating life, turning women who
seek equality into selfish narcissists and objects of rejection, rather
realized, of course, that the whole column was really about herself ,
and then in an instant I realized that all her columns are really about
herself. The distorted politcal topology she delineates day after day
is , in fact, an accurate rendition of the "Universe of One" inhabited
by a very lonely, insecure, and needy lady named Maureen Dowd.
If you'll think about this notion for a moment, it makes such great
sense that it seems to explain everything that is otherwise
unexplainable in her whacked-out commentary. She doesn't much care
about using leader dots (that's ellipses for the snobbish among you) to
transform the meaning of quotes into terms that suit her because she is accurately quoting all that she
really hears or listens to. She still does it even though her
journalistic sins in this regard have been formally recognized:
Dowd's critics, especially James Taranto,
have often accused her of editing quotes and adding ellipses so as to
change the quotes' intended meanings; the word "dowdify" has been
coined to describe this habit. The word has been used as parlance among
conservative journalists and bloggers to describe any wilful
misinterpretation of a quote.
But she cares no more than Mrs. Malaprop about the ignominy of
having such a pattern of blunders named for her. Why? She regards
herself as a wit, and she believes that wit exists not to illuminate
the topic but the speaker. She is always performing in a drawing room
peopled by those whose admiration she desires. Every word of her
writing reflects this perspective. She affects a chatty, breezy style
reminiscent of cocktail party gossip as her preferred voice for
condemning outrageous global-scale crimes against humanity. She is deaf
to the dissonance of a catty little girl voice issuing from the throne of
the star chamber. She cannot hear herself because she is always merely
seeing herself talking brilliantly. Amd that's what she wants from us.
When she refers to Rumsfeld as "Rummy" she practically insists that we
see her scowling and gesticulating in her couture dress while sipping a
glass of chic white wine. The real purpose of calling him Rummy is to
convey her superiority to him, and the reason for talking about
national and international policy is the same. She is showing us
exactly where she wishes to be placed in the scheme of things, which is
always, invariably, at the center of attention.
It gets easy to understand Maureen Dowd's columns when you have
internalized this model of her universe. Whatever she seems to be
writing about, she is always talking about something that is obsessing
or troubling her in her own life at the moment. If you doubt it, take a
look at her recent columns about her favorite bete-noire George W.
Bush. These are important because they mark her return after a mysterious
"hiatus" from her job at the New York Times, which began at least as
early as the first week of June:
Where's MoDo?... Have you noticed
any of President Bush's critics at the New York Times or Air America
Radio being shipped off to a prison camp lately? Me, neither, although
the official explanation for Maureen Dowd's current hiatus is still
Yet in her very first
column after returning to work, she wrote:
It's amazing that the White House does
not have the elementary
shrewdness to have Mr. Bush simply walk down the driveway and hear the
woman out, or invite her in for a cup of tea. But W., who has spent
nearly 20 percent of his presidency at his ranch, is burrowed into his
five-week vacation and two-hour daily workouts. He may be in great
shape, but Iraq sure isn't.
It's worth stressing the fact that her little razor slash about a
five-week absence from the White House comes hard on the heels of her
own (minimum) eight-week absence from her duties at the Times. When we
dial in the "Universe of One" effect, we can see that Maureen is
clearly troubled about some aspect of her own vacation hiatus. But
what? We can obtain a clue here by examining the always fertile realm
of Dowdian equivalencies. For example, she chooses to equate the
President's physical "shape" with the plight, the nationwide "shape,"
of Iraq. She may regard this as wit, but for those who are truly
concerned with the suffering of U.S. troops and Iraqis in wartime, the
jest falls a bit flat. It's flippant, and because it calls more
attention to a turn of phrase than to the elements it manipulates, it's
more self-aggrandizing of the writer than demonstrative of anything
like truth. The Iraq War is being pressed into service as a punchline,
But Dowd has somehow equated them in her own mind. It must be that
there is something cosmically important about the term "great shape."
This is confirmed by another of her equivalencies, seen in the phrase
"five week vacation and two-hour daily workouts." The thoughtful reader
must conclude that Dowd has the subject of exercise on her mind.
Can we possibly prove such a theory? Yes. Turning to her latest column,
(titled My Private Idaho
, and note the
possessive pronoun) we read [emphases mine]:
so hard in Texas he got bushed.
He needed a vacation from his vacation.
The most rested president in
American history headed West
get away from his Western getaway - and the mushrooming Crawford
Woodstock - and spend a couple of days at the Tamarack Resort in the
rural Idaho mountains.
"I'm kind of hangin' loose, as they say,"
he told reporters.
As The Financial Times noted, Mr. Bush is acting positively French in
his love of le loafing, with
339 days at his ranch since he took office
- nearly a year out of his five. Most Americans, on the other hand,
take fewer vacations than anyone else in the developed world (even the
Japanese), averaging only 13 to 16 days off a year.
W. didn't go alone, of course. Just as he took his beloved feather
pillow on the road during his 2000 campaign, now he takes his beloved
bike. An Air Force One steward tenderly unloaded W.'s $3,000 Trek Fuel
mountain bike when they landed in Boise.
Gas is guzzling toward $3 a gallon. U.S. troop casualties in Iraq are
at their highest levels since the invasion. As Donald Rumsfeld conceded
yesterday, "The lethality, however, is up." Afghanistan's getting more
dangerous, too. The defense secretary says he's raising troop levels in
both places for coming elections.
So our overextended troops must prepare for more forced rotations,
while the president hangs loose.
I mean, I like to exercise, but
W. is psychopathic about it.
interviewed one potential Supreme Court nominee, Harvie Wilkinson III,
by asking him how much he exercised. Last winter, Mr. Bush was obsessed
with his love handles, telling people he was determined to get rid of
Shouldn't the president worry more
about body armor than body fat?
I think we can now begin to put the pieces together. Beginning in
January, Maureen decided she was fed up with not being able to find a
boyfriend who was her social superior (or at least her equal).
Returning to that column, we can now read it with the following
In all those great Tracy/Hepburn movies
more than a half-century ago, it was the
snap and crackle of a romance between equals that was so exciting. Moviemakers these days
seem far more interested in the
soothing aura of romances between unequals.
In James Brooks's "Spanglish," Adam Sandler, as a Los Angeles chef,
falls for his hot Mexican maid. The maid, who cleans up after Mr.
Sandler without being able to speak English, is presented as the ideal woman. The wife, played by Téa Leoni, is
repellent: a jangly, yakking,
overachieving, overexercised, unfaithful, shallow she-monster
who has just lost her job with a commercial design firm. Picture Faye
Dunaway in "Network" if she'd had to stay home, or Glenn Close in
"Fatal Attraction" without the charm.
The same attraction of unequals animated Richard Curtis's "Love
Actually," a 2003 holiday hit. The witty and sophisticated British
prime minister, played by Hugh Grant, falls for the chubby girl who
wheels the tea and scones into his office. A businessman married to the
substantial Emma Thompson falls for his sultry secretary. A writer
falls for his maid, who speaks only Portuguese.
(I wonder if the trend in making maids who don't speak English heroines
is related to the trend of guys who like to watch Kelly Ripa in the morning with the
sound turned off?)
Art is imitating life, turning women
who seek equality into selfish narcissists and objects of rejection,
rather than affection.
It would seem that her affair with a very powerful and well connected
married man had just gone south. She thought he viewed her as an equal
-- and definitely more acceptable than the "jangly.. overexercised"
wife -- but he dumped her for a mere chick, probably a famous but
callow Kelly Ripa type. Interestingly enough, the exercise motif
attaches to both rivals, including Kelly
Kelly Ripa gained an amazing 80 pounds
in her recent pregnancy and was back to her svelte physique in weeks.
And so Maureen finally decided that the only way to get her lover back,
or to find an equally powerful replacement, was to get her aging body
into peak condition. She hired a personal trainer and even went to the
extreme length of taking a leave of absence from the New York Times,
the better to commit herself to getting into "great shape."
Sadly, though, where the spirit was willing, the flesh was weak. Either
she lacked the discipline to stick to her regimen, or her pecs and
glutes and abdominals were too far gone. At any rate, she "got bushed"
and finally took "a vacation from (her) vacation." Nothing has
improved. She feels guilty. All this time, she should have been caring
"more for body armor than body fat." And she's wasted all those months
on what turned out to be no more than "le loafing." Worse, the
old boyfriend, whose heart she thought might grow fonder in her
absence, refused to meet with her; he didn't even have the common
decency to "simply walk down the driveway and hear (her) out, or invite
her in for a cup of tea."
That's what's so supremely galling about George W. Bush. All those
supremely powerful men are the same. Everything comes easily to them,
and the women they should
consorting with are simply used and -- as soon as they make any demands
-- contemptuously discarded as "selfish narcissists and objects of
rejection." Nothing works. If you make a name for yourself by being
fabulously witty about torture and roadside bombs, they dismiss you as
a bitch who talks too much and leave you for the first bimbo with a
great ass "who speaks only Portuguese." Then, if you stoop to catering
to their basest instincts by slaving in the gym to develop a body to
die for, they completely forget about you while you're away. Life
sucks. It's kind of like a long bloody war of attrition in the middle
east where you just can't win and you can't seem to walk away, and all
the time the men who are responsible for making you so miserable just
lie and smile and play with their toys and get away with everything.
It's hard to know what to say. Maureen, we're sorry things aren't
working out for you. Maybe Rummy really will
leave his wife one day. You
can never tell.
*To be perfectly honest, this photo isn't completely 100 percent
accurate. But it's true in certain terms. Think of it as a
photographic, uh, ellipsis.