I confess to never having been much of a Maureen Dowd fan. The breezy, cynical, name-dropping style has never worked for me.
I'm a few years younger than Dowd and came of age when the hard-hitting journalists of the '60s were in their heyday -- Hunter S. Thompson, Joan Didion, Norman Mailer -- along with the succeeding wave of feminist scribes like Barbara Ehrenreich, Deirdre English and Joan Walsh. They took their shots, absorbed the blows and you always knew from which direction they were coming.
Dowd is often described as a "liberal," a designation I've never fancied, and certainly not a progressive or, heaven forbid, a radical. In a splendid profile of Dowd in New York Magazine, she told Ariel Levy that the purpose of her column was "to look at things through a woman's eyes" -- but she's not necessarily a feminist. Like Johnny Cash, she walks the line. And a fine one at that.
Her political sensibilities are thus defined by a situational ethos and a personalized approach to the subject, rather than to an ideological bent or an overarching moral principle. It's a form of relative liberalism, glib and not too exacting or deeply thought out. It's mostly about finding the soft spot in the underbelly of an argument.
When Dowd went after Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, she described Clinton as behaving like "a teenage girl trying to protect her virginity." Later she called out poor Al Gore for "practically lactating." These journalistic castrations won Dowd the Pulitzer Prize, though one never got the feeling that Dowd would make for pleasant company in the bunker -- particularly if she had a stiletto hidden in her Louis Vuitton.
Come now U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. Had Mean Maureen been a cornerback in the NFL, she would have received a 15-yard penalty for piling on. During a week in which those icons of feminism -- senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham -- viciously attacked Rice, Dowd somehow decided it was perspicacious to go after her, too, using a series of unsourced allegations.
Dowd accused the "ambitious" Rice of "renting" her soul "on the talk shows one Sunday in September" when making preliminary comments on the fatal September 11 attacks at U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi.
And then Ms. Pulitzer Prize cited a series of anonymous sources: "one administration official," "one intelligence official" and the omnipresent "some" -- as in "some have wondered if Rice... is diplomatic enough for the top diplomatic job."
Who are these people who talk in perfect syntax and just happen to be there whenever Dowd needs a pithy quote? Dowd doesn't say. And then she ascribed to absolutely no source at all Rice's alleged "bull-in-a-china-shop reputation."
The Mean One has always been a cheap-shot artist, but her initial attack on Rice last week was even below the bargain-bin variety. There wasn't a single attributed interview in the entire piece -- this in a newspaper that dumped on Joe McGinniss for using a handful of "unnamed sources" not long ago in his book-length profile on Sarah Palin.
But it gets worse. Much worse. Rice, Dowd pontificated, "should have realized that when a gang showed up with R.P.G.'s and mortars in a place known as a hotbed of Qaeda sympathizers and Islamic extremist training camps, it was not anger over a movie."
A few years back, Ms. Dowd was found to have plagiarized a passage by Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo -- quite nearly verbatim. Now read the above paragraph again and then compare it to this one: "I knew it was a terrorist attack from the beginning. People don't go to spontaneous demonstrations with mortars and R.P.G.'s."
That statement was uttered by John McCain. Dowd reversed the mortars and the R.P.G.'s, but claimed them as her own. Funny whose talking points Dowd is channeling these days, isn't it? And whose acronyms she is using?
Well, perhaps, not so funny. I guess they talk about R.P.G.'s at Georgetown cocktail parties all the time.
Dowd concluded her journalistic assault by describing Rice as a "diplomatic damsel in distress" -- a description that sounded frighteningly like something Rush Limbaugh might say, doesn't it? -- and chastising the president for making Rice look "vulnerable," rather than "venerable."
I'm sorry, but I just had the feeling that Mean Maureen's mugging of the U.N. Ambassador had a certain catty feel to it. It certainly wasn't an act of sisterhood. Could it be that Rice -- a Rhodes Scholar and three-sport star in high school who actually engages in politics on the real board -- doesn't throw sufficiently like a girl?
And it seemed more than a little calculated, too, don't you think?
Dowd's digging the dagger into the back of Ambassador Rice comes little more than a month after Dowd herself was ravaged by the conservative press (and some in the mainstream, as well) for describing Romney foreign policy adviser Dan Senor as being a "neocon puppet master." For that they charged her with being "anti-Semitic." Dowd was simply pointing out that Senor and his necon cronies have destroyed American credibility throughout the Middle East and that they have never met a Muslim that they liked, at least alive.
Dowd was spot-on. But it seemed to some like she was being, ahem, partisan. Word had it that the Obama campaign was triumphantly tweeting her column.
So let me translate: Dowd's initial Rice piece was a corrective.
Now Dowd has doubled down on the Rice issue this week by trivializing what is an outrageous attack on a talented and dedicated public servant with the headline: "Make Up Turned Break Up." It sounds like a pop tune from the '50s.
This time around, Dowd has covered her feline tracks by using a Republican senator from Maine, Susan Collins, as her voice -- only Dowd conveniently never identified her by her party affiliation. Not once. Instead, she described Collins as "quiet" and a "moderate," which, I suppose, may be accurate from the McCain position Dowd is espousing -- but where I come from, to borrow a line from Time magazine, Collins (who supported Bush II's Iraq War Resolution) is "a half turn to the right" of moderate.
One needs to ask: Why didn't Dowd identify Collins' as a Republican? Could she have been emphasizing gender to mask the partisan nature of Collins' opposition? Collins' most recent comment -- that Rice was playing a "political role" in her statements on Benghazi -- was a flat out lie.
Part of Dowd's mainstream media "cred" comes from taking on all comers, no matter what their political stripe, whether it be Clinton and Gore or the Bushes. And now Obama & Co. But when a young and talented woman with impeccable credentials, who, not so incidentally, happens to be African-American, is getting assaulted by the white, right-wing bully boyz in the Senate, one might have hoped that Dowd would have extended a helping hand rather than a hand grenade. Especially since her own newspaper has identified significant ambiguities in the source of the Benghazi attack.
Is Rice actually "cooked," as the rather unclever Times headline to the Dowdian missive surmised? The proof, one might argue, is actually in the holiday pudding.
It's been unequivocally established by Dowd's own paper that Ambassador Rice never veered an inch from the talking points provided her by U.S. intelligence agencies. And I'd be willing to bet that if Obama really wants Rice as Secretary of State, then Rice it's going to be -- whether John McCain or Maureen Dowd like it or not.
Neither of them got 332 electoral votes on the First Tuesday in November.