Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The hateful words of Maureen Dowd and everyone else

Media Matters recently documented a pattern New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd follows as she ridicules political candidates. Dowd often has portrayed Hillary Clinton as masculine, such as writing that Senator Clinton won the Indiana primary by playing “The Man”. She has portrayed Barack Obama and John Edwards as effeminate, even claiming that historians will note that one reason Obama defeated the first serious female candidate for President was because voters were drawn to his “more feminine management style”.

I had been meaning to look up how Dowd started calling Senator Obama “Obambi”. Was that the fawn Bambi or the grown-up Bambi? Now Media Matters has helped me with that. Frequently procrastination does have that benefit. It turns out that Dowd in her column of December 13, 2006 foresaw the manly Clinton as Godzilla, taking on the not-so-black Obambi in a way that in Dowd’s mind presumably followed the very brief plot of the movie Bambi vs. Godzilla, something all of us born in the fifties must know. Dowd’s analysis of the race thereby fell short of reminding anyone of Cassandra. Apparently Dowd compensates for such lack of vision with her biting ridicule of the candidates. It wasn’t just straight analysis that got her that 1999 Pulitzer Prize for her columns on Monica Lewinsky.

Interestingly, Dowd once made the same claim for which Christopher Matthews had to apologize this year, that Clinton, “won her Senate seat only after becoming sympathetic as a victim”. Meanwhile Dowd victimized Senator Edwards, calling him a “Breck girl”. Before the current campaign, Al Gore seemed effeminate to her as well. Didn’t Dowd have any men in her life to show her that helping people is not effeminate?

At the same time Dowd finds few emasculating nicknames for Republican candidates. She didn’t ignore Rudy Giuliani dressing up as a woman, of course. But to find any sexist insult of John McCain, Media Matters had to go back to April 30, 2000, when Dowd called him “McDiva” on comparing Senator McCain to Diana Ross.

It’s not that Republicans can’t be funny as the butt of jokes. Those are easy to find in the blogosphere. But Republicans as effeminate? Well, I think I’ve seen those, but perhaps Dowd’s readers wouldn’t think that’s as funny. I’m sure Dowd knows her audience.

One thing I did notice in looking at Dowd’s columns in the Media Matters links is how much she calls Senator Obama, “Barry”. Is this where so many in the blogosphere decided this was a cool thing to do? Much more subtle than “Hussein”, I suppose.

Maureen Dowd, trendsetter for hateful words one can pretend are cool, only there’s no chance that Dowd invented such a disguise for hate. Go through any newspaper archive and look at 19th-century political attacks, words and cartoons. I’m sure “Ape” Lincoln was thought to be a clever and penetrating insult at the time. Yeah, we’ll keep that ape from becoming President. Then when he did, we’ll secede. We won’t stand for being under that ape. Then if they want to fight us, bring it on. Yeah, it was really clever to make such an extreme caricature of Lincoln.

I know of no place on either the political spectrum or the religious spectrum where there aren’t some people who think such ridicule is funny, as long as it’s directed at those other people, the ones not as cool as we are. Part of me would preach for the better way, the way of love, even for one’s enemy, instead of hate, indifference or the strange way some people combine both in their contempt for some scapegoat. Yet the more interesting part for me is to look at Maureen Dowd and know she’s not at all unique. She’s prolific in her insults, but not unique.

Maybe Dowd shares my beliefs that all religions are false and all politics corrupt. Maybe that’s where her contempt for just about everyone comes from. Is it cynicism or does she find existential joy in attacking the powerful? I don’t know Maureen Dowd well enough to tell the difference, but either way I’d rather be more straightforward. She’s not that right in relentlessly insulting candidates through gender roles. She just has a taste for that sort of insult, whether it tastes bitter or sweet to her.

There is a better way than hate and indifference if people want to choose it, but again and again, people choose hate and indifference. There is power in the latter, power in finding people who agree with you in mocking those other people, enough people to win elections, even to establish a political philosophy that will last more than one election. Such a winning political philosophy and coalition is still transient, of course, but that’s enough power for many people to embrace it.

Plus look at all the fun various people are having calling Senator Obama “Barry”, from anti-McCain libertarians and neo-cons to loyal Republicans to those who still say it’s Senator Clinton or nothing for them. They have at least 5 months to enjoy that. Then one just has to tweak one’s hatred a little after one’s position has been defeated at the polls. It can still be so clever. What do those stupid voters know?

I don’t think hatred and indifference are going away. I think it’s human nature. People so often subdivide hatred, so it becomes OK to hate racism or hate sexism or even try to decide which is being favored more, racism or sexism. It’s all hatred, whether it’s more traditional, more institutionalized or more organically from the present, whether the purveyors of a particular hatred are in power or out of power. Only some people say it’s just those other people who hate. “We’re fine. We’re being clever. They’re stupid” Right.


Mo MoDo said...

The phrase "Obambi" was coined by John Kass of the Chicago Tribune. Maureen Dowd has just been the one to popularize it.

DavidD said...

Ah, she didn't give him credit.