September 17, 2009
Maureen Dowd's Descent into FuryBy Stuart Schwartz
Angry. Bitter. Desperately trying to avoid irrelevance. Clinging to past glories. The average American, the beleaguered taxpayer in the age of Obama?
No, welcome to the world of Maureen Dowd. Dowd is the signature columnist for The New York Times and Cardinal Richelieu to the King Moe (a dynastic line that includes Larry and Curly) of its publisher, Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger Jr.
Dowd faces a new information age in which readers continue to turn their backs on her and her employer of 26 years, leaving a shrinking readership of aging elites from academia, politics and media. Her readers are disappearing -- and that's even before the Obama death panels for seniors kick in.
The result: she has become increasingly angry and increasingly shrill. The old gray mare ain't what she used to be.
The desperation bubbling below the surface erupted in her latest outburst, tagging a South Carolina legislator as racist because...well, because Maureen says so. All southerners are racist, as sure as the day is long and NASCAR spectators have three thumbs. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), after the president had lied in his speech to a joint session of congress on health care, shouted "You lie."
Dowd then announced to Times readers that Wilson had actually included "an unspoken word", "boy," as in "You lie, boy." Racism, pure and simple. There is no other explanation. After all, this is a president who is "urbane" and "cultivated," a graduate of Harvard Law School, and -- like his friend, the Harvard professor who delivered a spittle-flecked treatise on "yo mama" to a mild Cambridge police officer-- "summers on Martha's Vineyard."
Summers on Martha's Vineyard! That's why it has to be racism. The best and brightest summer on Martha's Vineyard, Dowd says, an island of grandees in an ocean of the "shrieking lunacy" and "frantic" racism of Rep. Wilson and Obama opponents.
The Vineyard is the repository of the nation's intellectual elite: David Letterman, Diane Sawyer, Spike Lee, and...Pinch! Dowd's boss and special "friend" prepared for the hard knocks that a life of inherited wealth can give you with a grueling newspaper internship on Martha's Vineyard, barely dragging himself home at the end of the day to his family's $50 million-plus beachfront shack.
Dowd is point man -- uh, woman -- for the nation's elite, a red-haired (carefully applied to the gray in the George Salon at the Four Seasons, the coloring salon of choice for the youthful beauties of her elite beltway set, such as Madeline Albright and Chris Matthews) Cerberus guarding the grandee gates. Family, wealth, friendship, school, and lifestyle. You either have it or you don't, which is why Dowd so despises the latest gatecrasher, Sarah Palin.
A week ago, Dowd again let her have it with both claws. Sarah Palin is just a mom -- a vicious epithet in the world of Dowd -- who is "fanning the flames" against someone she views as "a Harvard smarty pants." Palin is either jealous of his Ivy education or as "brain-dead" as her Down syndrome infant (she didn't say it, but that's "the unspoken word" she used).
Palin, with her public education, doesn't understand that Obama is Harvard "charming and informed." Dowd knows that charm is infused into the DNA of Harvard graduates, as Democrat Barney Frank, class of 1962, can attest. Barney's Dowd-like charm was on display during a recent town hall, where he called a constituent questioning his support of health care "vile and contemptuous".
And honesty. Obviously Palin and Joe Wilson -- part of two centuries of Southern rednecks who fear "takeover by blacks or the feds" -- are too dumb to understand that Harvard graduates, even from its law school, do not lie. For example, former Democratic Rep. William Jefferson (Harvard Law, 1972), recently convicted of bribery and money laundering, was honest about the $90,000 of marked bribes found in the freezer of his Virginia home: Yes, that honestly was his freezer...and he honestly didn't know where the money came from. The jury, however, may not have gone to college, or attended state universities or were from the South, as they honestly didn't buy his story.
The Times continues its slide into oblivion, with a 52% earnings drop this year alone. Dropping, too, are readers, advertisers, and the influence of what Thomas Lifson calls "the incredible, shrinking New York Times." And Maureen, the face of that slide, continues her descent into fury, her columns a series of yeah-but's.
Yeah but: When first dates never turned into second dates, she said it doesn't matter, writing a book about why men "aren't necessary." The Gray Lady knows best, and those men who date her once and then run screaming into the night -- one woman involved in procuring a date for Dowd remarked on her self-absorbed "utter social cluelessness" -- are simply jealous of her success.
And so, on the heels of fleeing males, comes the rage. Yeah but. So many dumb people, so little time to savage. Yeah but: Blue-eyed white men are racist predators; proponents of conventional marriage are mentally ill; and conventional moms are women-hating zombies; and so on. Hate is what makes the Dowd world go ‘round.
She has always had rage, as New York Magazine described the emotional state underlying her writing. But the decline of the Times and her influence has burst from the page, the embarrassingly crazed rants of a beltway King Canute desperately trying to hold back the tides.
The eyes tell the story . They are tired, lined, a bit puffy. Look at the spontaneous photographs, not the posed one put out by the newspaper. Maureen Dowd is weary, the kind of weariness that comes with the realization that...you're not wearing well in the long run. The nation no longer buys what you are selling. The Internet has opened the floodgates, freeing readers from the priorities and worldview of the elites.
Maureen does not understand. Yeah, but. She lives in the home owned by John F. Kennedy when he was single and living in Washington. She sits where he sat, sleeps where he...well, never mind. But she fancies herself part of both the old and new Camelot. Her inauguration party was THE place to go, packed wall-to-wall with the rock stars of elite Washington, from Rahm Emanuel to David Geffen to Anderson Cooper.
They wanted to be seen with her. Maureen Dowd attracts powerful men. She is not simply part of Camelot; she is Camelot. She is king, not queen -- real women don't do queen -- of the East Coast elites in the Age of Barack Obama.
Yeah but. She looks at Sarah Palin; she looks at Joe Wilson; she looks at the empty desks in the Times newsroom, the layoffs, the vanishing readers...
And the king of the new Camelot, the sultan of snark, has a sneaking thought: My kingdom for a new reader.
Stuart H. Schwartz is on the faculty at Liberty University in Virginia.