Professor B has a very thoughtful partial defense of Maureen Dowd, and raises a lot of good points. I certainly don’t want to deny that internalized sexism could have affected the content and tone of my arguments. And certainly I agree that to the extent that criticisms of Dowd are criticisms of using personal narratives as part of a political analysis, this is quite wrong.
I should, however, make clear that the superficial and sloppy cultural analysis that I admittedly couldn’t resist making fun of isn’t why I think her column is so pernicious. If that was all she wrote, she would be annoying but harmless, a non-libertarian Tierney who can actually write. The problem with her column is much bigger. You may recall that the 2000 election was quite important, resulting in a ruinous war, massive deficits that will hamstring progressive initiatives for decades, widening inequality, and the federal courts packed with Neoconfederate cranks (among many other things.) You may also recall that, remarkably enough, at the time this monumentally important election was generally portrayed as essentially meaningless, a contest between “Gush and Bore” hahaha. And you may remember that Al Gore was relentlessly portrayed in negative terms, and many of the stories spread about him were not, in fact, true. It is remarkable that with possibility of a thoroughly incompetent reactionary taking office, the media was having interminable discussions about “earth tones” and terrible Ali McGraw movies, but that’s what happened.
Well, you know who was one of the most egregious offenders, from the base of the liberalNewYorkTimes? Maureen Dowd. Oh, yes, she’s turned her vacuous snark on Bush now. But when he was busy being elected, Dowd was lying about Gore’s fundraising, peddling the “invented the internet” and “summer chores” lies, accusing Gore of flip-flopping with no evidence, writing idiotic pop-psych nonsense including the “earth tones” crap, discussing Hillary Clinton’s haircuts, spreading the “Alpha Male” meme, attacking Gore for having the temerity to discuss actual issues in a Presidential campaign, and on and on and on. (And any feminist defense of Dowd should explain her attacks of Gore in re Naomi Wolf’s salary. Anybody think she would comment on the salary of a political consultant if said consultant had a penis?) And she didn’t just repeat the empty cliches and lies of others. She actually created some: Dowd invented the bullshit Love Story smear. The Bush presidency that Dowd started decrying when it was too late to do anything about it came about in no small part because large parts of the media covered an election for President of the United States in a manner that might be appropriate for a junior high student council election. And Dowd was one of the worst offenders. Making the personal into the political is a valuable form of analysis. But for Dowd, the “personal” consists of crude cliches, and there’s essentially no “politics” at all. While her colleague Paul Krugman was pointing out little details like the fact that Bush was outright lying about his fiscal policies during the debates, Dowd was repeating a bunch of memes that were 1)generally made up out of whole cloth, and 2)would be utterly irrelevant to anything if they were true.
So when it comes to my dislike for Dowd’s column, whatever else I’m wrong about I stand behind it. I wouldn’t give her a pass for her egregious hackwork in the 2000 campaign any more than I would give one to Chris Matthews, and I don’t think her columns are any better now that her substance-free hackwork is directed against the administration she did her best to help put in office.
…welcome new readers! My most substantive post on the underlying debate can be found here.