It’s easy to criticize Maureen Dowd. She gets a lot of guff from the Right for being too liberal, and jabs from the Left for being too nasty. Pundits of all political stripes pretty much think she’s superficial and too in love with her own references and puns.
Yes, her record is spotty (a Pulitzer one year, a series of columns about Barneys the next). Every time she gets up to bat, she’s under a cloud: will she hit a homerun, or will mighty Maureen strike out? That’s why when she knocks it out of the park, you gotta stand up and cheer.
This Sunday’s column, Murder Most Fowl (Feb. 8, 2004) is a great achievement, both rhetorically, and stylistically. Dowd frequently errs too far on the side of style over substance, but writing about Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney this week, she marries (or at least civilly unionizes) the two impulses beautifully:
Now, with the White House looking untrustworthy and desperate; with the national security team flapping around and pointing fingers at each other and, of course, Bill Clinton; with even the placid Laura getting testy; and with Newsweek reporting that the Justice Department is reviewing whether Halliburton was involved in paying $180 million in kickbacks to get contracts in Nigeria at a time when Dick Cheney was chairman, anybody else would be sweating.
Not deadeye Dick. His heavy lids didn’t blink when it turned out he’d blown up a half-century of American foreign policy alliances on a high-level hallucination.
Here he was, fresh from presenting a crystal dove to an obviously perplexed pope, stolidly waiting for the club’s pheasant wranglers to shoo the doomed birds into his line of fire. He had killed only 70 or so the last time out. But this time he was convinced that the bird population could sustain more casualties. Quack and Awe.
“This is our due,” Dick said. He fired a shot: BLAM!
That “BLAM!” (and “This is our due”) is repeated throughout the column, like some angry/resentful incantation by an administration under siege. This is our world, our time, our choices, they seem to be saying. We want the world and we want it NOW!, as Jim Morrison, the deepest poet I read in eighth grade used to say. Dowd may be imagining the thoughts in Cheney’s head while he hunts (domesticated) pheasants, but what emerges are the increasingly desperate—sad, even—rationalizations of a sitting duck who has no idea which way to run.
Dowd’s no birdbrain: she knows Cheney’s goose is cooked, and she’s not afraid to crow about it.