THE BLOG
01/04/2008 10:25 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Maureen Dowd, and The Women of Washington Who Project on to Hillary

Every op-ed writer seeks to broaden the public discourse about his chosen topic, so I accept the invitation, extended last Sunday, for a national conversation about your visit to a faith healer.

First, kudos for acknowledging your need for a spiritual detox. And in furtherance of that laudable goal, let me offer a reality check. You write:

After scrutinizing my body language, [the faith healer] breaks the bad news: my intimacy chakra is blocked.

Sorry, that's not news, or at least it's not news to those of us familiar with your writing. Think about it. You asked your faith healer, "Was I a nun in a past life?" You wrote a book called Are Men Necessary? which opens with, "I don't understand men. I don't even understand what I don't understand about men."

And most conspicuously, you have 12-year body of work writing political columns at The New York Times. During that tenure, you have never ventured far from three broad overarching themes: trivia (witness your Sunday column), sarcasm, and trivial sarcasm aimed at the Clintons. Not only your body language but your words themselves signal major intimacy blockages.

The dynamics of a sarcastic personality were examined recently in Psychology Today:

Though they may not be aware of it, sarcasm is their means of indirectly expressing aggression toward others and insecurity about themselves. Wrapping their thoughts in a joke shields them from the vulnerability that comes with directly putting one's opinions out there

. Voila. And while some men are put off by strong successful women, don't kid yourself. You are not conveying strength. (This may be what you don't understand what you don't understand about men.) In addition,

Albert Katz, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Western Ontario, has recently looked at the wisecrackers' focus on one-upsmanship from a biological perspective, showing that people whose brains are best equipped to understand sarcasm tend to have aggressive personalities. Subjects who scored high on aggression tests showed different patterns of brain activity in response to sarcasm than those who did not... 'Sarcasm is definitely a dominance thing--it's related to being top dog,' Katz says, both for initiators of sarcastic banter and those who catch on and offer a retort.

Maybe that's why you and the president share a fondness for disparaging nicknames. There's a reason the London Guardian labeled you the "woman of mass derision."

Now I suspect we're getting into some touchy territory here - you never know where a faith healer may lead you - but hear me out. Did you ever consider that your intimacy chakra might become unblocked if you dropped your obsession with the Clintons' marital life? You should schedule a follow-up session with your faith healer to confirm the diagnosis, but a quick review of your columns over the past four months shows repeated and unmistakable signs of psychological projection.

Projection is where you attribute to others your own unacceptable or unwanted thoughts and emotions. In this case, you neurotically attribute to Hillary Clinton your own inability to connect emotionally with men, and therefore feel a need to portray the Clintons, whose marriage has endured, like Lord and Lady Macbeth.

Before anyone reduces this thesis to "Maureen's-jealous-because-Hillary-has-a-husband," let me assure you that some men appear similarly afflicted in the psychological projection department. A few conspicuous examples:

[If you find these guys too much of a distraction Maureen, feel free to skip past them so we can get back to you.]

Andrew Sullivan

[Senator Clinton] harkens back to the '90s. I think she's been a very sensible senator. I think, in fact, it's hard to disagree with her on the war. But when I see her again, all my--all the cootie vibes sort of resurrect themselves...I'm sorry. I must represent a lot of people... I actually find her positions appealing in many ways. I just can't stand her. Andrew Sullivan on The Chris Matthews Show, January 28, 2007

Hillary resurrects cootie vibes? Seven years ago, Sullivan gained notoriety as a menace to public health, when, as an HIV-positive man, he placed an ad soliciting unprotected anal intercourse with strangers. Yet when he harkens back to that time, he associates Senator Clinton with the slang word for body lice.

He finds her positions appealing in many ways but he just can't stand her. Hmm. Doesn't sound very rational. Maybe he can't stand to admit that his writings in support of the Bush administration have all been discredited. Maybe he can't deal with the fact that he shares positions with people he attacked with vitriolic fervor a few years earlier. And maybe he projects on to Senator Clinton his own personal hypocrisy.

Carl Bernstein

Promoting his new Hillary Clinton biography, Carl Bernstein used his standard talking points on Charlie Rose. He kept pounding home that Hillary was not authentic. He and Rose used some form of that word ("authenticity", "inauthentic") about 32 times.

ROSE: Should she be president?

BERNSTEIN: I think that she should be president if she becomes authentic again.
....
ROSE: Do you believe somebody between now and November of 2008, who you judge not to be inauthentic, is going to become authentic? Do you?

BERNSTEIN: I think that, look, we have had a catastrophic presidency for eight -- six years now. And the nature and extent of this catastrophe we're going to be paying for, for generations. And it is about time that we find a way to elect somebody who is authentic and moves away from a broken political system.

Assuming that "inauthenticity" is a meaningful character flaw as opposed to an it's-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder type of shortcoming, what did Bernstein offer as proof?

BERNSTEIN: She flunked her bar exam and never admitted it to anybody for 30 years. But what it says is, OK, what does that mean? If the people I talked to who are closest to her -- Nancy Hernreich, one of her closest friends, Deborah Sale, Web Hubbell -- they didn't know she had flunked the bar exam. And Williams & Connolly lawyers, where she said, oh, well, they wanted to hire me -- she couldn't have gone to work there unless she was going to be a paralegal or took the bar again, and she never did.

So it comes back to this question of there is an inauthenticity is a word that I have used, not in the book but in discussing it, about the way she presents herself, what she stands for, and the reality of the record.

I guess she never admitted it to anybody until she wrote about it in her autobiography. And I thought she moved to Arkansas with Bill, so that passing the D.C. bar would have been a moot point. I never flunked the bar exam but I got a C- in statistics, a fact I have never shared with my closest friends (till now). Does that make me inauthentic? As I see it, Hillary failed to mention something from the past that was unimportant.

But Bernstein thinks otherwise. As for being qualified to judge the authenticity of Hillary's public and private persona in the D.C. fishbowl, well that's something Bernstein has a feel for, since there are a few striking parallels with his own life.

Bernstein got married within the same 12-month period that the Clintons got married, and Bernstein's wife was pregnant when Hillary was pregnant. And like Bill was years later, Carl was unfaithful. In fact, the adulterous affair which received the most notoriety inside the beltway, prior to the Monica Lewinsky saga, was between Margaret Jay, a former BBC journalist who at the time was both wife to the British Ambassador and the daughter of Britain's Prime minister, and Carl Bernstein. The British Ambassador apparently knew what was going on; he was screwing the nanny, who became pregnant. (By the way, wouldn't this make great movie for HBO?)

The affair was an open secret among le tout Washington, except to Bernstein's wife, Nora Ephron, and the two separated in 1979, when she was 7 months pregnant. By contrast, 1979 was an especially happy year for Hillary, when she had Chelsea, became partner at the Rose Law firm and Bill was elected governor for the first time.

And like the Clintons, Bernstein was not happy when others wrote about his personal life. His ex-wife Nora used her personal pain as a source of humor in her very funny novel, Heartburn, that was very loosely based on her life in Washington. Heartburn was optioned for a movie, and here's where the issue of authenticity comes up. Bernstein threatened Paramount with a lawsuit to prevent the filming Nora's novel. Think about it. What kind of writer can profess to be an authentic journalist if he seeks prior legal restraint on the free expression of a work of fiction? (A legal aside: It is possible to defame a person in a work of fiction, though I don't believe that protection applies to public figures like Bernstein.)

So here's what it looks like. Bernstein projects onto Hillary his own public embarrassment caused by an ex-wife who wasn't so tightlipped, and since he can't deal with his own hypocrisy, he labels the Senator as inauthentic.

But back to you Maureen...

Just when I thought I was out, the Clintons pull me back into their conjugal psychodrama. 12/23/07

They pull you back in? Sorry, dear, you're projecting again. Since Labor Day, about half of your columns have been devoted to trashing Hillary. And it's the old crap over and over. No kidding, it's really obsessional.

At the breakfast, a reporter asked Mr. Penn if the campaign has polled to figure out how to proceed if Bill's personal foibles once more take Hillaryland hostage. 10/21/07

As Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, once told me: "She's never going to get out of our faces. ... She's like some hellish housewife who has seen something that she really, really wants and won't stop nagging you about it until finally you say, fine, take it, be the damn president, just leave me alone."9/30/07

If elected, would the old Hillary pop up, dragging us back to the dysfunctional Clinton kingdom? She is speaking in a soft, measured voice in these final days, so that, as with Daisy Buchanan, you have to lean in to listen. But is she really different than she was in the years when she was so careless about the people around her getting hurt by the Clinton legal whirlwind that she was dubbed the Daisy Buchanan of the boomer set? 1/02/08

Did you actually read The Great Gatsby Maureen? Daisy married Buchanan, a dolt, because he was rich and privileged, instead of Gatsby, who was born poor. Daisy is a very passive and frivolous character who never thinks out the consequences of her actions. Daisy could not be more different than Hillary. As for getting hurt by the legal whirlwind, if Kenneth Starr found nothing, what basis do you have for putting the blame on Hillary?

And here's a chestnut we haven't heard a thousand times over the past 15 years...

Without nepotism, Hillary would be running for the president of Vassar. 9/30/07

Right. And what would Christopher Dodd be doing? Or Elizabeth Dole? Or Teddy Kennedy? Or Cokie Roberts? But for nepotism, who would have ever heard of Indira Ghandi? But for nepotism, Katherine Graham had no material to write a book that won the Pulitzer Prize, Margaret Chase Smith would have been an obscure housewife and Donald Trump would have been a real estate agent in Queens.

Get over it and get a life, Maureen.

By the way, I had an idea for a play. It's something like Stuff Happens, written by David Hare, who compiled verbatim remarks by Donald Rumsfeld for a theatrical indictment of the war in Iraq. My play would be a brief one-act set in a Georgetown living room, and the characters would be you, Sally Quinn, Kathleen Parker and a fictional magazine writer who profiles all of you for the French edition of Marie Claire. The interviewer asks what you all think of the Clintons. Then everything else would be your own words. It would be like an updated take on The Women by Clare Booth Luce.

Interviewer: What is your sense of Hillary Clinton as a person?

Dowd: A combination of Tony and Carmela Soprano. Like Carmela, who was rewarded with jewels, watches and building permits for her husband's infidelities with his goomahs, Hillary, too, found a way to profit from her husband's failings and flaws... And like Tony, Hillary is so power-hungry that she can justify any thuggish means to get the prize."

Interviewer: You see Hillary's political rise as a reaction to the Monica Lewinsky scandal? Was the scandal that important?

Quinn: Certainly Clinton is not the first president to lie. But the scope and circumstances of his lying enrage Establishment Washington.

Interviewer: You don't think the special prosecutor was overzealous?

Quinn: Independent counsel Ken Starr is not seen by many Washington insiders as an out-of-control prudish crusader. Starr is a Washington insider, too. He has lived and worked here for years. He had a reputation as a fair and honest judge. He has many friends in both parties. Their wives are friendly with one another and their children go to the same schools.

Interviewer: Now, Salon had reported that you bear a grudge against Hillary because in 1993 she declined your invitation to a society luncheon.

Quinn: Ridiculous. There's just something about her that pisses people off.

Interviewer: She's a woman surrounded by woman advisors. What does that say?

Parker: It makes a case with a certain demographic. And I noticed the picture on the front of the Washington Post the other day showed her with all of these women and her crew, and did you notice there was only one blonde out of about 15 women? So it's sort of--I thought that was very telling.

[Editors note: Both Quinn and Parker were raised in the South. And they are both blonde.]

I started the play and then thought, why would anyone care? The Women is a period piece and its appeal was very much a reflection of its time. The play opened on Broadway at the beginning of 1937, when the world was in turmoil and a lot of Americans were hurting. But here was this group of privileged self-involved women who seemed untouched by Franco's aerial bombing of Madrid, Japan's expanded invasion into China, and a sudden severe contraction to the US economy that boosted unemployment by 7 million. These women were more focused on spreading nasty gossip about an idealistic woman with an unfaithful husband. That seems so different from the world of Washington today.

Which reminds me, at the Yearly Kos convention last June, I asked Sidney Blumenthal why Washington insiders held on to their strong visceral dislike of the Clintons. Blumenthal said that Washington is a very hierarchical and status-driven place, and they considered Bill Clinton - a Rhodes scholar - the equivalent of trailer trash. Which reminded me of a quote from a woman who, until she died, held your position as Queen Bee of Washington's Hillary-haters:

Look at Bill Clinton's mother, as opposed to George W.'s mother. Is your mother a barfly who gets used by men? Or is your mother a strong woman who demanded respect for her ideas and always received it?

But at the end of the day Maureen, who was a better mother? Barbara Bush or Virginia Kelley? And who has stronger emotional connections with others? You or Hillary?