August 2, 2009
Maureen Dowd: Sarah Palin ScaredBy Stuart Schwartz
You're Maureen Dowd, and you're scared. The self-doubt, the "Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas," the whole Robert Frost thing --you know, "The Road Not Taken" -- relentlessly nibbles at the edge of your consciousness.
You're Maureen Dowd and you're scared -- Sarah Palin scared. Others -- like columnists Peggy Noonan and Kathleen Parker -- are jealous. But you are scared. You're celebrated, a Pulitzer prize-winning columnist for The New York Times, famed and feared, known as the "Queen of Snots" for eviscerating prose largely directed at conservatives and middle America, which begins at the Hudson River and ends just east of zip code 90210 in California.
But...the Big 6-0 is in front of you (wait-isn't that my mother's age, sixty years?! How can this be!?), the last gasps of menopause still flash hot and cold, and suddenly a woman comes on the political scene whose life, choices, and successes are the polar opposite of the choices you've made the centerpiece of your life -- written a whole book about, in fact, Are Men Necessary: Why Sexes Collide.
You have relentlessly developed an aura of intellect and sex. You are "a smart, ambitious, alluring woman in a crazy, often infuriating man's world." That's how Howard Kurtz -- a dear friend -- described you in the Washington Post. He wrote what you wanted him to write: Your mystique, your sexuality "is at the heart of Dowd's take on life."
You are the anti-Palin. You live alone because your job and accomplishments are intimidating to men, you're without children because you refuse to be "Mrs. Anonymous Biological Robot in a Docile Mass" of family and boring community, and you're not married because that's for the Sarah Palins of the world, women who want to become "harpies and nagging wives and mothers." Choices -- you chose sexy and accomplished.
Sexy. Sexy and smart. Do you hear that, Sarah Palin? Forget menopause. Sure, the face in the mirror has dried around the eyes and the mouth -- but you're of Irish stock, you know, and they're known for that white and fragile complexion. Nothing that your favorite moisturizer, Crème de la Mer, a mere $130 an ounce at the preferred store of the women of the Times, Saks Fifth Avenue, can't handle. And, of course, a ban on updating the headshot accompanying your column; not that you care, just that you have better things to do than sit for a photo of a face that hasn't changed in a decade, right?
Sarah Palin gets under your skin. Talk about itching and dryness. She thinks she's so smart. But it takes more than a runner's glow and frozen tundra to make a woman. And even then...well, it was just a bit more than five short years ago that a magazine in Canada -- which has snow, just like Alaska -- looked around and declared you to have "commanding wit and beauty."
But...you're Sarah Palin scared. You can't turn back the clock. And so you and your colleagues savage her in print and on the air, declaring her "a volatile and scattered country-music queen without the music," more stripper than executive.
And that family, you ask hotly, your estrogen fade fueling the flames? Doesn't she know successful women don't have large families, having paid the price and "squandered their fertility"? But never mind. You are one of the most powerful women in media and your choices have led to moments of extraordinary pleasure, such as Chris Matthews, grinning ear-to-ear, prostrating himself on MSNBC when you appeared as his guest: "Wow. Maureen Dowd. You're unbelievable. You are fabulous. I look up to you."
Take that, Sarah Palin!
Hah! Real women don't do families -- hasn't anyone read your column, when you channeled Sex in the City and declared that women "come to life in Sarah Jessica Parker's Carrie Bradshaw." Hardly the terrain of the Terror of the Tundra. You are the real woman, not "Caribou Barbie."
Everyone knows that, even Liz Trotta, a Fox News commentator who is conservative and old (is that what happens when you cross the big 6-0?). Liz says Sarah Palin is "inarticulate and undereducated," using "good looks and gender" to get somewhere. She's right: Palin has no brains, just "sexy shoes" and a stripper body that gets attention. Then, of course, she "put(s) away her breast pump" and shows everyone her only authentic assets.
Stupid woman making stupid choices. Why can't she just go away?! You're Maureen Dowd and you're hot and you're accomplished and....well, you're hot, a hundred times hot, described by elite media as "a glamorous woman surrounded by a rapt circle of men."
You're hot, right? And, because you're interested in the journalism of truth, you've made sure that every glimpse at your world shows you to be an "utter and unreconstructed fox", as New York magazine put it. "Men can't resist you," journalists proclaim. Even Vanity Fair speculates about what goes on in your bedroom. Your life, your body won't let you be 60 years, which is the new 50, perhaps 45...no, make that 39.
And then, along comes trashy Sarah Palin, who smiles a "vacuously spunky" smile that shows her "utterly unready to lead the world -- or even find the world on a map." And she's surrounded herself with family in an era when a real woman understands that "being married or otherwise tied down removes a gal's aura of sexual mystery."
But still, they talk about her, about her energy, about her looks, her youth, her family, her youth, and -- as Thomas Lifson puts it -- her "unmatched charisma and authenticity." And did you mention her youth? And now you're looking at her choices, a former governor of an "oversized igloo, " a "hockey mom" and "Miss Alaska runner-up," surrounded by that gruesome family of "Wasilla hillbillies"...and now you're Howard Dean in a low-backed black dress with spaghetti straps, screaming "Yeargh!!"
You're Sarah Palin scared, with a whole new set of hot flashes to worry about. You're afire, radiating enough heat to power for a month the seven homes of Michael Douglas, who was your lover before he married Catherine Zeta-Jones. Or for a year the country retreat of Howell Raines, former head of the Times; or the beach paradise of West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin; or the...need you go on?
Choices. Her husband is dumb, a "hunky Eskimo" with lead between his ears, perfect for someone "hopelessly over her head." He has a fishing boat and works for an oil company -- big deal! Aaron Sorkin has been in and out of your bed for much of the past decade, and he is a big deal. The talented creator of a hit television show could spend more on a weekend freebasing cocaine at the ritzy Four Seasons than Palin husband makes in a year. Now, Miss Alaska, who makes the best choices?
You're "bewitching," "a sorceress." So says Todd Purdum, once a colleague at the Times and now an editor at Vanity Fair. Yes, the same Todd Purdum who savaged Palin in Vanity Fair this month. He never could resist you, carrying your bags on trips, running to your place in the middle of the night to fix your computer. He's your Todd Puppy...pant, pant, pant. Anything to make you happy. And his evisceration of that "underqualified ‘babe'" makes you very happy, indeed.
But you're Maureen Dowd and you're scared. New Yorker Film critic David Denby looks at you and sees a woman who is "essentially sour and without hope." And no matter what you do, what you say...the big 6-0 is around the corner. And your ritzy Georgetown place seems quieter.
And, what's worse, you suspect that Sarah Palin, when her time comes and she is faced with the Big 6-0, will just smile and say "You betchya" ...and celebrate.
Stuart H. Schwartz, Ph.D., is a former newspaper and retail executive. He is on the faculty at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia