campaign desk

MoDowd’s Obama Fixation

First his diet, now his sense of humor. She’s wasting her space and our time
July 16, 2008

Another day, another shockingly dumb column by Maureen Dowd in The New York Times.

Dowd starts out by complaining that Obama had an “icy reaction” to the infamous New Yorker cover. “If Obama keeps being stingy with his quips and smiles,” she writes, “and if the dominant perception of him is that you can’t make jokes about him, it might infect his campaign with an airless quality.”

First of all, Dowd shows not even the slightest recognition that if “the dominant perception” of Obama becomes that you can’t make jokes about him, it’ll likely be thanks in part to Maureen Dowd.

The only evidence presented in the column that Obama has been “stingy with his quips and smiles,” by the way, is that he didn’t laugh at a drawing depicting him as a Muslim supporter of Bin Laden and his wife as a gun-toting Black Panther. Meanwhile, John McCain, who once reportedly called his wife a “cunt” after she joshed him, in front of reporters, about going bald, strikes Dowd as “a guy who can be teased harmlessly.”

But Dowd has another concern about Obama. He’s “in danger of seeming too prissy about food.”

In reality, it would be more accurate to say that he already seems this way…to Maureen Dowd. During the primaries, Dowd began to sense that Obama might not be a big fan of junk food. Since then, she has elevated this observation to the status of a brilliant character-revealing aperçu. She has mined every available piece of evidence in a dogged campaign to turn Obama’s eating habits into a proxy for his alleged inability to relate to those white working-class Americans for whom, from her Georgetown townhouse, she claims to speak.

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In last week’s column, titled “No Ice Cream, Senator?”, she criticized his “finicky, abstemious tastes,” and highlighted the fact that his daughter had revealed he doesn’t like sweets or ice cream.

In April, she noted that, after Obama “force-fed” himself waffles, pancakes, sausage, and a Philly cheese steak, he was “clearly a man who can’t wait to get back to his organic scrambled egg whites.”

The previous week, she had described him as “resisting as the natives tried to fatten him up like a foie-gras goose.”

And two weeks before that, she had revealed to readers that, at a Pennsylvania chocolate shop, Obama “spent most of his time skittering away from chocolate goodies, as though he were a starlet obsessing on a svelte waistline,” and that he declined a chocolate cake with frosting, saying “that’s too decadent for me.”

Is it just me, or is there something a bit sad about using your New York Times column to pay this level of attention to a candidate’s eating habits?

Dowd concludes today’s column with perhaps her most revealing observation: “If Obama gets elected and there is nothing funny about him, it won’t be the economy that’s depressed. It’ll be the rest of us.”

Really? It’s definitely true that a president who’s hard to make fun of would make Maureen Dowd’s life more difficult—which is what seems to be the concern here. Still, most Americans don’t write shallow political commentary for a living. And, call me crazy, but I kind of think that after eight disastrous years under a president who got into office in part because he seemed like an easy-going guy, they’d settle for a president who was, you know, good at being president.

Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.