The Buzz

Maureen Dowd, Psychic

In a recent blog post for TNI, Jacob Heilbrunn mentions the “rough pounding” Maureen Dowd issued to Barack Obama in her New York Times column last week. He is, I think, being kind.

Dowd’s column is a bizarre, rambling indictment of Obama’s character painted in broad, general strokes. She is writing specifically about what she calls “the great psychodrama of [the Democratic] convention”: the relationship between Obama and Bill Clinton.

She paints the two men as polar opposites. Clinton is the consummate “political natural,” always trying to “linger and schmooze issues with crowds”; Obama is the “diffident debutante,” too often a “dispassionate observer,” the “cold shower to Bill’s warm bath.” 

Even if one takes Dowd’s point that Obama tends to “retreat inside himself at crucial moments, climbing back to his contemplative mountaintop” (and accepts that “contemplative” is an undesirable quality for a president), it’s difficult to get behind her tendency to psychoanalyze Obama as if she were inside his head. She tells us not only that he was irritated, hungry and indignant on his first Iowa campaign trip but also that his first political speech made him feel “both elation at his ability to rouse with words and disdain at how easy it was.” Maureen Dowd, it seems, is privy to Obama’s deepest, most personal feelings.

Dowd does make one point worth noting. She accuses Obama of reassuring “jittery voters that the future can look like the past.” If there’s one thing to take away from the recent conventions, it’s the starring role of nostalgia. Whether it’s Bill Clinton speaking in Charlotte, a four-minute tribute video to Ronald Reagan in Tampa or, conversely, the notable absence of George W. Bush in name and legacy—the Huffington Post called him “The President Who Must Not Be Named” at the RNC—voters are either hungry for a return to their party’s glory days or desperate to forget perceived mistakes. But that observation, however astute, can’t save Dowd’s piece from being labeled a howler.