Is there any job in the world easier than being a bad but famous pundit? And is there any profession more rewarding? Bad pundits not only enjoy psychic rewards like fame, good tables at hard-to-get-into restaurants, first-class travel, lots of free stuff sent to them, and people sucking up to them for no good reason, but also genuine rewards in terms of television contracts, massive paydays from glossy magazines, and high-five-figure speaking fees for giving the same talk over and over.
And yet what exactly does it take in terms of constructing an argument and offering it to readers in a convincing and compelling manner? Nothing much, I'm afraid.
Is The New York Times's Maureen Dowd a bad pundit? Well, it depends on one's criteria. She's clever and her writing sometimes sparkles with wit. She's not easily pigeon-holed politically and this sometimes gives her a column a dose of suspense as to who is not living up to her demanding moral standards. I understand why she has a column but I'm not sure she does.
Take, for instance, this column that some faux-clever person titled -- we can't blame Dowd without checking it out first -- "Blowin' in the Idiot Wind." In it, we see some of the old Dowd moral opprobrium with which she used to shower poor Monica Lewinsky day after day in the bad old days of the Clinton impeachment soap opera. Dowd's dander is raised by the fact that Bob Dylan, whom she goofily calls "the raspy troubadour of '60s freedom anthems," would "go to a dictatorship and not sing those anthems is a whole new kind of sellout -- even worse than Beyoncé, Mariah and Usher collecting millions to croon to Qaddafi's family, or Elton John raking in a fortune to serenade gay-bashers at Rush Limbaugh's fourth wedding."
Dowd had a lot to say about the moral failures she detected in Bob Dylan's song list in China, almost all of it ridiculous. She seems to think that she, rather than the Chinese dictators, should be allowed to dictate the artist's setlist. (And by the way, there is no evidence that Dowd has any actual inside information about how Dylan's choice of songs was determined, nor what, if any, role Chinese authorities played in it.)
Even so, with all her kvetching, none of its nuttiness rises to the level of her attack on the artist for failing to offer a reprise of "Hurricane," his song about "the man the authorities came to blame for something that he never done." Did it occur to Dowd to check -- or have her full-time assistant check -- the last time Dylan actually played "Hurricane" live? Um, that would be 35 years ago. The man plays an amazing 200 shows a year for nearly 30 years and yet at every single one of these thousands of shows he has failed to offer such a reprise. (What's more, if Dylan had, for some reason, chosen to play a song about the inequities of the American justice system when it comes to strong black men falsely convicted of murder, is it possible that the Chinese might have interpreted that song as an attack not on Chinese justice, but on, um, the country whose justice system the song actually attacks?)
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