Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I Deconstruct Maureen Dowd Thusly

Maureen Dowd sucks. I don't mean she's a bad person. I mean she must literally suck, because it had to have taken an unimaginable amount of oral copulation to convince The New York Times that she was a good writer. There is no other explanation, because the theory that the NYT is secretly masterminded by Robert Reno, the half-wit brother of a former Attorney General, is inadequate to account for this degree of bad judgment.

Another theory is that you can get a job as a New York Times columnist if you collect enough coupons from their advertisers' products. So if you buy 3000 boxes of Mrs. Paul's Fish Stix (or some other combination of products) they'll move you into an office right next to Paul Krugman. And you can win an associate editor position as a prize in a bag of Frito Lay potato chips. Statistically, you would have to buy 20,000 bags of potato chips per week in order to have a 10% chance of winning, so it's not like it's easy to get a job as an associate editor at The New York Times. But I digress.

Getting back to Maureen Dowd: if she's ever written any influential columns I'm not aware of it, but she writes lots of notorious ones. The latest being Why No Tea and Sympathy? (titles are not a big plus for Dowd) with the now infamous sentence: "... the moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute."

This is the last sentence in the column, and to get there you have to go through the choppy little paragraphs that Dowd spits out. This is as much fun as running over a series of road-killed armadillos. Except that the paragraphs have little relation to one another, so it's more like hitting an armadillo, a bag of soiled diapers, a swarm of honey bees, and finally an overturned lumber truck.

The fifth dead armadillo reads like this:
And the Rolling Stones have taken a rare break from sex odes to record an antiwar song called "Sweet Neo Con," chiding Condi Rice and Mr. Bush. "You call yourself a Christian; I call you a hypocrite," Mick Jagger sings.
Okay, so this isn't the worst writing in the world. Perfectly good enough for a college newspaper rant. "A rare break from sex odes" probably sounds like elegant prose to Dowd, but it tastes like turkey loaf. At least she didn't write "Mick Jagger croons". It would have been totally unbearable with crooning. She also refrained from describing Jagger as "thoughtful", or "poignant" - although I get the idea that she probably did exactly that, and her editor chopped it.

Of course, a smart columnist (whether left or right) would probably not have quoted this lyric without noting that Jagger is obviously unaware of the fact that most of the legendary neoconservatives are Jewish. Hell, Mike Royko - or any political writer worth their spit - would have known that. If Dowd had taken the opportunity to point this out, her column would have contained something that resembled an original thought. Editorialists are supposed to comment on things, wryly or pithily, not just repeat them. For example, Mike Royko would not have written:
It's amazing that the White House does not have the elementary shrewdness to have Mr. Bush simply walk down the driveway and hear the woman out, or invite her in for a cup of tea.
That sort of "elementary shrewdness" might work okay in a Jane Austen novel, but in the State of Texas, inviting someone into your house for "a cup of tea" is a good way to get shot. The correct etiquette would be for Bush to go out to see Cindy Sheehan with a six pack of beer. Maureen Dowd would probably be appalled - actually, she seems to be permanently appalled, so whatever the next higher stage of indignation is - if Bush offered Sheehan a cold one, and yet she thinks it's perfectly normal to have tea and danish with somebody who's accusing you of murder. Go figure.

Finally, the overturned lumber truck:
But his humanitarianism will remain inhumane as long as he fails to understand that the moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute.
Now, this is not the sort of thing that a good columnist would say. This is the sort of thing that an incredibly stupid politician would say, and that a good columnist would rip him to pieces for. Great newspaper writers like H.L. Mencken did not go down in history for saying things like this. They went down in history for making people who say things like this wish that they'd never been born.

For example, here is Mencken in a 1921 column for the Baltimore Sun, doing to Woodrow Wilson what Dowd wants to do to Bush:
Woodrow knew how to conjure up words. He knew how to make them glow, and weep. He wasted no time on the heads of his dupes, but aimed directly at their ears, diaphragms and hearts.

But reading his speeches in cold blood offers a curious experience. It is difficult to believe that even idiots ever succumbed to such transparent contradictions, to such gaudy processions of mere counter-words, to so vast and obvious a nonsensicality.

When Wilson got upon his legs in those days he seems to have gone into a sort of a trance, with all the peculiar illusions and delusions that belong to a pedagogue gone mashugga ... The important thing is not that a popular orator should have uttered such vaporous and preposterous phrases, but that they should have been received, for weary years, by a whole race of men, some of them intelligent.
Now that's how they used to rip the Big Boys a new one, back in the days of halcyon yore. In our sad times, alas, the columnists rely on vaporous and preposterous phrases of their own. Observing Dowd vs. the "Unsweet Neo Cons", it's as if the Woodrow Wilsons and the H.L. Menckens have switched places. In a modern version of Citizen Kane, the whip-smart Charles Foster Kane would have Karl Rove's job, and his ignorant and loutish enemies would launch lame attacks on him in the newspapers.

Except that Dowd, no matter how vaporous, is no Woodrow Wilson. As Mencken wrote, Wilson could at least make words "glow and weep". Dowd just makes them squeak, like dog toys.