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Posted by on Feb 4, 2009 in At TMV | 5 comments

On Maureen Dowd’s Appallingly Bad Takedown of Obama

I used to read Maureen Dowd. Once upon a time. Way back when. I can admit that, can’t I? She was funny, sometimes, and her intertwining of pop culture and pop politics amused me. There was never any depth to her, but it didn’t matter. Reading her Times columns, pithy drivel and all, was a fine way to pass the time — when I had some time, didn’t feel like having to think all that much, and nothing more compelling was available, mainly because I was too lazy to look.

And now? Not so much. Or, rather, not at all. Part of it, I suppose, is that her former targets — Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al. — are no longer in power. Another part of it is that she’s gotten worse. Nowadays, I find what she writes mostly unreadable. There was substance, if only a tiny speck, when she was exposing Bushworld as the bubble of darkness it was. Now she just seems shallower than ever, with little of value to add. This was the case during the primaries, when she resembled a gossip columnist more than an op-ed columnist for the leading newspaper in America, if not the world, and it is certainly the case now, training her sights on the new targets in the Obama Administration, starting in the Oval Office itself.

Case in point: Her column in today’s NYT, which begins thusly:

On 9/11, President Bush learned of disaster while reading “The Pet Goat” to grade-school kids. On Tuesday, President Obama escaped from disaster by reading “The Moon Over Star” to grade-school kids.

“We were just tired of being in the White House,” the two-week-old president, with Michelle at his side, explained to students at a public charter school near the White House.

Even as he told the children his favorite superheroes were Batman and Spider-Man, his own dream of being the superhero who swoops in to swiftly save America was going SPLAT!

It just ain’t that easy.

Where, oh where, to begin. (And why even bother?)

First, losing Daschle — which is what is behind this — isn’t a disaster. It’s a shame that Daschle had to withdraw, and it was his own fault for being so reckless with his taxes, but Obama will simply replace him with another, and hopefully less compromised and less corrupt, nominee. True, I thought that Daschle was the right man for the job — or, rather, for the two jobs of HHS secretary and head of the White House health care reform office — but there are other good candidates out there, including Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Second, losing Daschle is not akin to 9/11. And reading to children at a local school on the day you lose one of your key nominees is not the same as freezing on the spot when you’re told of attacks on the United States. And what’s wrong with reading to children anyway? Why refer to it as escaping from disaster?

Third, Obama is a sensible and sober leader, as we have already seen. He does not see himself as some sort of superhero on a mission to save America. He has his feet firmly planted in reality, unlike a certain Times columnist desperately trying to make waves.

Fourth, Obama’s presidency didn’t suddenly go SPLAT! just because Daschle withdrew his nomination. That’s just stupid.

Fifth, while it is indeed true that Obama admitted to screwing up, it’s not at all clear what he should have done in place of standing by his friend. After all, Daschle didn’t do anything illegal and his failure to pay taxes on a car and driver was probably just an honest mistake. What is refreshing is that Obama was able to admit that it could have been handled differently — the nomination, that is — and to stress that “there aren’t two sets of rules.” So how was Obama’s attitude “arrogant”? How was he trying to protect “his charmed circle”? After all, Daschle resigned soon after the story about his tax problems broke. It’s not like Obama thwarted justice or kept up some sort of double standard, he just thought Daschle would be good for health care reform. Furthermore, was what Geithner did so bad as to disqualify him from office regardless of his many qualifications? He apologized and paid his back taxes (with interest). Disagree with him on the issues, and recoil at Daschle’s consummate Washington insiderdom, but don’t slam Obama as a failure, and a hypocrite, for seeking to put together the right Cabinet for these challenging times.

I could go on, but the rest of Dowd’s column is a meandering mess that further attacks Obama for, among other things, not “smack[ing] down those who would flout his high standards or waste our money.” She even suggests that Americans should not have put so much trust in him — as if he really could single-handedly fix everything that ails the economy.

The problem for Dowd, I suspect, is that she really did think that Obama was Superman. Unlike many of the rest of us Obama supporters, who never deified him and who therefore had more reasonable expectations, Dowd and her ilk set standards for him that were simply impossible to meet. It should come as no surprise that the early days of Obama’s presidency have had their rocky moments. It’s Washington, after all. It’s politics. And the good thing is that Obama himself understands that much better than Dowd, who continues to pump out ridiculous columns at a newspaper that itself should have higher standards.

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