Maureen Dowd’s Campaign Advice for Hillary

Maybe I used to know what mattered to Maureen Dowd on a substantive level, but that hasn’t been the case for a long time now. She seems to be someone whose values mainly align with the left end of the spectrum of American political thought, but she treats politics more like a spectator sport or maybe a movie to be reviewed than as something that could have consequential outcomes.

Speaking of outcomes, take a look at the result of her labors:

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She has a curious fan club, don’t you think?

Of course, the Glenn Beck, Christopher Ruddy, Breitbart crew has nothing but contempt for Maureen Dowd and her employer. To them, she is just a useful idiot.

And they will, of course, find her latest column quite useful. It’s one more in a series of columns utilizing right-wing talking points as a way to savage Hillary Clinton. This particular piece also takes heavy advantage of Saturday Night Live caricatures.

I have already reported how things look from Sally Quinn’s dining room and wondered aloud why Beltway reporters are so much less amused by Hillary Clinton’s missing message than they were by Saddam Hussein’s missing weapons of mass destruction.

I have all the same criticisms of Maureen Dowd’s column this morning, but then we can add on to this the bizarre tendency of Dowd to interject a bloodless sexuality into virtually everything she writes.

President Obama is “feminized” somehow; we are not told how. In 2008, Hillary Clinton was too much as a Thatcheresque ball-buster, and now she’s too much as a doting grandmother “basking in estrogen as she emote[s] about the need for longer paid leave for new mothers.”

If I drill down and try to find the real nugget of criticism here, what I come up with is an idea that Hillary Clinton is too packaged. She’s listening to advisors who are telling her what to say, what subjects to focus on, where and how to travel, and how feminine or masculine she should be. As their advice changes, so does Clinton’s behavior and her image. The logical inference here is that Clinton should be less packaged and more authentic.

This could be decent advice. I know many people tried in vain to get Al Gore to follow this kind of advice, but the premise there was that Al Gore was privately much funnier and likable than he was on the campaign trail. I guess some people say the same about Clinton, but that doesn’t seem to be Dowd’s point. Ironically, she isn’t arguing for less packaging, but for packaging that is better calibrated.

…isn’t there a more authentic way for Hillary to campaign as a woman — something between an overdose of testosterone and an overdose of estrogen, something between Macho Man and Humble Granny?

And she thinks that she’s found the correct balance:

As she hits the trail again, Hillary is a blur of competing images, a paean to the calibrated, artful and generic, a low-key lady who doesn’t stand for anything except low-keyness. She has seen, over and over, that overcorrecting can be self-defeating for her and parlous to the nation, but she keeps doing it.

Let’s hope that the hokey Chipotle Granny will give way to the cool Tumblr Chick in time to teach her Republican rivals — who are coming after her with every condescending, misogynist, distorted thing they’ve got — that bitch is still the new black.

Unfortunately, this still doesn’t quite clear things up. For one, Maureen Dowd just said outright that if Clinton doesn’t get this right it will be “parlous to the nation,” meaning that a failed Clinton campaign would be dangerous and put us all at risk. So, we are supposed to take this column (despite all appearances) as some kind of constructive advice. This is next to impossible to do.

And then there is that thing about “the cool Tumblr Chick” that is supposed to represent the ideal packaging for Hillary Clinton. What is that?

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler showed the way in 2008, deploring the sexism against Hillary and hailing her as the unapologetically tough chick. It was a precursor to her cool “Don’t mess with me” Tumblr meme, showing her with dark glasses serenely checking her BlackBerry on a military plane.

So, we’re talking about something like this:

See, that mix of cool engaged detachment strikes Dowd as the perfect balance, not too hen-pecky and not too doting. It projects just enough ass-kicker to give her the nuclear codes, but retains enough modern professional woman to avoid male fears of castration.

So, what this column amounts to in the end is a strange kind of endorsement of Clinton’s campaign which is supposed to be so critical to the well-being of the nation that it needs just the right kind of image. And Dowd is the woman to consult if we want to avoid disaster.

I do get tired of pointing this out, but Dowd gets paid quite a lot to produce this drivel. There are others who could do better.

[Cross-posted at Progress Pond]

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.