Saturday, January 17, 2004

Maureen Dowd: Marriage and Career Counseling for Politicians

Maureen Dowd is a New York Times columnist who inherited the 'one-woman-only-in-a-prominent-position' job from Anna Quindlen. In fact, it's said that Anna herself fished Maureen's writings from the slush pile and brought them to the paper's attention. I so wish she had let them stay in the slush pile.

Based on her picture, Dowd is a woman, and I dare conjecture that she's supposed to cater for the female market in political readership. And what does she think might interest women readers of the Times?

The answer: argyle sweaters on men, inability of being a 'good wife' in women. Both of these topics are applied to Democratic candidates for the job of the president of the United States. Apparently our nation's future is hanging by a thread of argyle wool which a careless wife could easily snap. So.

Her latest assault on wives concerns the role and career of one Dr. Judith Steinberg, the wife of Howard Dean. Dowd begins her article suggesting that the Deans are in urgent need of George W. Bush's new initiative for propping up the conventional marriage. Why? Because Judith is not sitting in the front row when Howard gives speeches; widening her eyes into admiring opaque circles at the wonder and wit of this man that she suddenly finds herself married to. Instead, she's back home in Vermont taking care of her patients and the Deans' school-aged child still at home.

This MUST mean that the Deans marriage is in deep trouble. On the other hand, of course, if she indeed had chosen to sit in all the front rows on her husband's campaign tour, what would Maureen and others like her have thought about that? Shall I guess? Perhaps Judith would have come across as a political groupie, a woman who wants the limelight more than she wants to help her poor suffering patients. A woman who chooses to wine and dine with celebrities while her poor child is all abandoned in the middle of the frigid snow fields of Vermont.

Wives just can't win. Guilt is a fine tool in even clumsy hands as Maureen shows us:

"What will she tell their grandkids?" wondered one political reporter here. "Yeah, Grandpa was once a front-runner for president with crowds all over America cheering him but I was too busy to go see it?"

Too busy. Or too selfish. Or too cold. Or too clingy. Or too independent. Or too lumpish. Yes, I've heard them all about political wives. Poor things, they can't do a thing right, and as a corollary neither can any other wives. Is this what Maureen thinks that women like to read about in the mornings, just before donning their hairshirts and taking up the daily self-flagellation?

Why couldn't she stick to argyle shirts? Oh, but I nearly forgot! She does discuss the fashion sense of Judith:

In worn jeans and old sneakers, the shy and retiring Dr. Judith Steinberg Dean looked like a crunchy Vermont hippie, blithely uncoiffed, unadorned, unstyled and unconcerned about not being at her husband's side — the anti-Laura. You could easily imagine the din of Rush Limbaugh and Co. demonizing her as a counterculture fem-lib role model for the blue states.

No! How terrible! She's actually dressed like most women in real life! This won't do. Put her back in corsets and high heels, give her a dolly face with makeup and puff up her hair. Then wind up the key and off she totters, to walk properly just three steps behind her husband: the perfect political Barbie. The guilt and blame programs come with the basic version, and all socially conservative potential Dean voters can breathe a long sigh and relax: we can still win this thing, Dean now looks like he's supposed to: a package deal where we get a butch leader and his Suitable Spouse to fight another butch dealer with a suitable spouse.

According to the ever-unreliable source of the Drudge Report, Maureen isn't even done with Deans yet. Supposedly Howard forgot to give her a promised telephone interview, and she's promised to write about it tomorrow. Ah, the suspension! There is a hint, though, if Drudge is to be trusted (I wouldn't, personally). Dowd told him (he says):

"A race rooted mainly in attacking the president may not take Dean far enough. Voters want someone who's been through the fire. They care about character. They want to know the evolution of the man, even if it's a myth."

Myth? If Dowd wants to be the mythmaker, Echidne save us all. And she can't.
Postscript: And what did she write?

But a race rooted mainly in attacking the president may not take Dr. Dean far enough. Voters want someone who's been through the fire. They care about character. They want to know the evolution of the man, even if it's a myth.

And I want to know why she reads her columns to Matt Drudge before they are published.