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Maureen Dowd: Obama Is No RFK

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In her column in the New York Times yesterday, "Desperately Seeking Street Cred," Maureen Dowd focuses her Pulitzer-prize winning intellect like a laser beam directly on the forehead of Barack Obama, who in previous articles she deemed "Obambi." This time around Dowd claims that Obama's problem is that he has lost his "fizz." A few paragraphs later she treats her readers to this observation: "He doesn't emulate Bobby Kennedy, who defied political tropes and underscored his concern about the poor by taking reporters on treks to rural Appalachia or odysseys to roiling inner cities for speeches on street corners." On this point Dowd reveals herself to be both wrong and lazy.

Even the most cursory look at the forces within the Democratic Party that Obama is currently organizing and mobilizing -- young people, low-income whites, African-Americans, Latinos, unionists, highly-educated professionals -- quickly shows that they mirror in both form and substance exactly the coalition that Robert F. Kennedy was attempting to pull together in 1968.

In the very next paragraph, Dowd gets snarky at Obama for trying "to recapture the magic -- and erase the bowling debacle -- by shooting hoops with kids in Kokomo on Friday night." Dowd's petty dig here contradicts her own lament that he is no RFK. For Dowd, Obama taking time out to shoot some hoops with young Hoosiers is not at all Kennedyesqe. But she should have taken note that on April 4, 1968, when Robert F. Kennedy spoke to the African-American section of Indianapolis on the night Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered he was speaking at the "Broadway Center Outdoor Basketball Court," a community center that featured after school basketball programs for kids.

Dowd also regurgitates the right's misconstruing of the words of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr. during his recent interview. Writes Dowd: "Obama is burdened by Jeremiah Wright's . . . comment to Bill Moyers that Obama 'does what politicians do.'" She obviously didn't bother to watch the Moyers interview with Wright because it was perfectly clear what Wright meant: Pastors and politicians speak to different audiences and are required at times to say different things. Wright wasn't demeaning "politicians" or putting down Obama for distancing himself from the sound bites generated by his more inflammatory sermons. I would urge people to dispense with Dowd's derogatory filter and just go and watch the interview on Youtube. In about 750 words, Dowd has transformed herself from someone who disparages Obama for losing his mojo and not being like RFK to dutifully repeating the "burdens" he faces that the corporate media spun out of whole de-contextualized cloth.

In the 1990s, Maureen Dowd didn't like the Clintons and won Pulitzers by lampooning both Bill Clinton and Kenneth Starr as being equally to blame for the impeachment witch hunt. In 2000, she didn't like Al Gore and reinforced all of the right's stereotypes about him as being haughty and nerdy and "effeminate." In 2004, she didn't like John Kerry and again echoed the right's smears against him as a wannabe tough guy who windsurfed in spandex tights. And now, unsurprisingly, Dowd doesn't like Barack Obama either, calling him "Wonder Boy," and chiding him for qualities the right and Hillary have been wildly exaggerating.

In all of her commentary relating to Democratic presidential candidates over the past 12 years Dowd finds them all insufficient and deserving of her patented brand of Catholic schoolgirl ridicule. They are always too "effeminate" or conniving or naive or deficient or having too much testosterone or too little, ad infinitum. That's why she always ends up helping the Republicans in national elections because she regurgitates their tropes and frames of the "weak" Democrat versus the "strong" Republican. (Glenn Greenwald's new book, "Great American Hypocrites," documents fully the Republicans' deep frame of Democratic presidential candidates that Dowd never ceases to flog.)

Maureen Dowd's brand of "analysis" emphasizes not only the personal over the political, but the puerile over the personal AND the political. She never has anything insightful to say about the social forces at work in national elections, and she lacks understanding of the historical context of 2008, which has allowed Barack Obama to surprise everybody, especially the Clintons, and to rack up a lead in the popular vote, pledged delegates, and states won. Obama has accomplished this feat through hard work, grassroots activism, and by energizing newly-registered voters. The 2008 narrative was supposed to be a Hillary coronation, and Dowd had her scalping knives ready to attack the first woman nominee for president. Now she must shift gears and become an equal opportunity put-down artist. Meanwhile, Dowd whistles past the most important election in recent history. Someday a future generation of journalists will comb over Dowd's Monica Lewinsky era columns and exclaim: "She got a Pulitzer Prize for that!?"

The Times should balance the neo-con shrieks of William Kristol and David Brooks by hiring a real political analyst to take over the precious column inches that Dowd so fruitlessly fritters away. After enduring eight years of the most reckless and damaging administration in American history -- an administration that launched aggressive wars and suspended habeas corpus and spied on Americans without warrants and tortured prisoners and destroyed the regulatory functions of the state and ballooned the national debt and destroyed our reputation abroad and so on and on and on -- Dowd is determined to party like it's 1999 and wallow in trivialities designed only to make herself look good.

Maybe at this important juncture in history -- a period so momentous that Times editors felt it necessary to add the wise and venerable William Kristol to its stable of editorialists -- maybe it's time to replace Maureen Dowd with another female columnist who can do a better job. Maybe the Times can hire Susan Faludi or Barbara Ehrenreich or Patricia Williams or Susan Douglas or Naomi Klein or Katha Pollitt or Arianna Huffington or Rachel Maddow or any number of other qualified women who are far better at serious political analysis and even write with more zing than Dowd's prurient and irrelevant revelries.