Is Maureen Dowd Necessary? Defanging a Hillary Basher via a Chapter from "Dirty Words on Clean Skin"

dowd 2 zumaMaureen Dowd, arguably the most powerful columnist at The New York Times, has made a career of loathing Hillary Clinton, painting her in a negative light as often as possible, whether she has anything to do with the topic at hand or not.  Dowd's latest column bashes daughter Chelsea Clinton for the $75,000 fee she earns making speeches, although she donates every dollar to the Clinton Foundation.  Dowd, on the other hand, receive $30,000 per speech (giving about 12 per year).  No chump change that.  No word on how much she donates, however.

Since Ms. Dowd was one of the chief Hillary-bashers in 2008 and shows no sign of let up, it might be useful to deconstruct Ms. Dowd's er, logic, as a tool to neutralize the negative effect her years of denigrating comments have on the reader's psyche when it comes to Secretary Clinton and her family.

Herewith is a chapter from my book, Dirty Words on Clean Skin...

Is Maureen Dowd Necessary?

Women will never break the highest, hardest glass ceiling when other highly regarded women use their platforms to rip each other to shreds for what can only, logically, be monetary gain or a personal vendetta:

“Unfortunately for Hillary, there’s no White Bitch Month.”[i]

-- Maureen Dowd

The stinging slights offered by several women who had wielded the written word in an effort to cut Hillary Clinton off at the knees were in a class by themselves. 

Sally Quinn of the Washington Post appeared on CBS’ The Early Show with Harry Smith to say that Hillary is “a tortured person,” “doesn’t know who she really is or what she wants” and “maybe what she really needs is a wonderful, loving relationship with somebody instead of just going after power and being this ambitious person that I think she thinks she oughta be.”[ii]  Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift had referred to the Clintons as “the Corleones.” 

There were others.  But none in the same orbit as Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, whose attacks against the Senator felt distinctly personal in tone.  Dowd, along with her sister columnists, purported to know what was desirable and acceptable – in a successful woman, yet they all imagined Hillary existed to be in service of a man, thereby telegraphing an addiction to a mindset that has been limiting women for eons.  The woman does not, by definition of her sex, have to put her own goals aside. 

While these ladies were paid by the column inch for opinion rather than fact, opinions infested by trash talk can penetrate the psyche over time, creating a convincing negative portrait of someone that is often disconnected from the facts of their record. 

Such was the case with Ms. Dowd’s pronouncements about Hillary Clinton:

“After saying she found her “voice” in New Hampshire, she has turned into Sybil. We’ve had Experienced Hillary, Soft Hillary, Hard Hillary, Misty Hillary, Sarcastic Hillary, Joined-at-the-Hip-to-Bill Hillary, Her-Own-Person-Who-Just-Happens-to-Be-Married-to-a-Former-President Hillary, It’s-My-Turn Hillary, Cuddly Hillary, Let’s-Get-Down-in-the-Dirt-and-Fight-Like-Dogs Hillary.”[iii]

By painting Senator Clinton as a person with bi-polar disorder, Maureen Dowd officially joined the ranks of the sexists, hinting that “Sybil” Hillary might blow up the world from the Oval Office if she were having a bad hair day.  Male  politicians adjust and amend their message and narrative out on the campaign trail regularly.  They are not referred to as mentally unstable.

Dowd also wrote that “experience does not beat excitement” and much to my chagrin and dismay, that was true.  Obama’s bedazzling branding and the celebratory press treatment he received were much better explanations for Hillary’s difficulties in the primaries than Dowd implying she was some sort of psychopath.  Her other declarations were likewise suspect:

“The underlying rationale for her campaign is that she is owed. Owed for moving to Arkansas and giving up the name Rodham, owed for pretending to care about place settings and menus when she held the unappetizing title of first lady, owed for enduring one humiliation after another at the hands of her husband.”[iv]

Entitlement may have been the media’s mantra, but it was not Clinton’s.  A woman who thinks she is owed does not bother with exhaustive preparation on every issue, nor would she have the will to campaign twenty hours a day without rest.  Entitlement is allergic to hard work.

Dowd also proclaimed that many women chose Obama since they didn’t care for Hillary’s “shoulder-pad feminism.”  Who were these mysterious women she wrote about?  She gave no example, only a sweeping generalization. 

Her comments channeled Rush Limbaugh’s term “Femi-Nazi.”  Dowd not only debased Hillary, but tended to classify women who supported her in the ball-buster category.  In so doing, Ms. Dowd gave the impression she was attempting to ensure she was not thus characterized. 

I was once told when you meet someone to whom you take an instant dislike, that person may echo a quality you yourself possess but would rather not own.  A successful woman who came up in the male dominated world of journalism, Ms. Dowd must have needed those shoulder pads on a few occasions, yet she insisted these mysterious ladiesfelt…

“[W]omen have moved past that men-are-pigs, woe-is-me, sisters-must-stick-together, pantsuits-are-powerful era that Hillary’s campaign has lately revived with a vengeance.

And they don’t like Gloria Steinem and other old-school feminists trying to impose gender discipline and a call to order on the sisters.

“…Hillary doesn’t make it look like fun to be a woman…”[v]

I don’t believe ‘men are pigs, woe is me.’  But when men, or women, in the media did behave badly, I said so.  Chris Matthews calling Hillary “Nurse Ratched”[vi] or Christopher Hitchens declaring “she’s an aging, resentful female”[vii] didn’t sound like fun, but Hillary was courageous enough to be both trail blazer and lightning rod so Ms. Dowd wouldn’t have to be. 

I would have been less averse to the word bombs of Dowd and others if any of them devoted equal time taking Senator Obama to task for the fantastical fictions that comprised many of his campaign promises.

Whenever Dowd was interviewed, I found she exuded an aloof, lemon-sucking air.  Smirking, tipping her head to and fro as she held forth, she was reminiscent of Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine, the telephone operator.  Snorting ‘one ringy dingy, two ringy dingy,’ Dowd was sure she had everyone’s number.

Advertising a come hither expression in her New York Times by line photo, I wondered if Ms. Dowd worried that siding with a woman who possessed the ultimate ambition would forever deprive her of a date on Saturday night.  Perhaps she feared she would be considered un-babe-like. 

In her book, Are Men Necessary, Dowd theorized feminists of the seventies finally got what they wanted, equal rights and careers, and found out they didn’t want what they got.  Her oversimplification did not take into consideration that the lines were beginning to blur in the household.  More married partners felt free to pursue their own goals and make their own rules about whether the man or the woman was best to make the dough or be the caregiver.  Nothing was etched in stone.

Still, she concluded that men “would rather be with a woman who is in awe of them” and wrote that if you want to nab a man “you’d better have long hair and you’d better not be sarcastic.”

My hubby, for one, thrills at the idea of a partner who is capable and has an opinion.  He doesn’t mind my edge.  The length of my hair doesn’t matter to him either.  I mean, he’s happy I have some but that’s about it, and he “lurvs” Hillary.  Ms. Dowd might have found a similar story had she spent time in some different circles.

Dowd wrote “Men are simply not biologically suited to hold higher office.  The Bush administration has proved that once and for all.”  That statement made her behavior toward Hillary seem all the more peculiar.

Could Ms. Dowd conceive of a woman having the right skill set, daring to want the job without being guilty of overstepping herself?  Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I had a yen to find out if there was any other woman on the horizon whom she thought might fit the bill. 

Contrary to her assertions, no women I ran across thought Hillary portrayed herself as a victim, whether they voted for her or not.  While I took it upon myself to shout sexism on her behalf, her campaign never asked me to do so.  For a woman of Ms. Dowd’s stature and experience to feign ignorance at the realities of this contest was the cruelest cut of all.  Was it just business to her?  Was she being trendy?

Senator Clinton handled the onslaught and was steadfast in the face of all of it.  No matter how much big media threw at her, like the energizer bunny, she just kept going and going – and did it with a smile.  Though I hated the daily drubbing she received, it made me feel better knowing she could handle it.  For the latter half of the campaign in particular, Hillary hit the campaign trail with a gusto rarely seen.  Still, I didn’t expect her to break into a chorus of “I Enjoy Being a Girl.” 

I’ve never paid tax dollars so the President could have a good time.  If I wanted the luxury of frolicking along the beach without worrying the country would fall down about my ears, I knew I had better elect a leader I thought would keep me safe at night.  Having a beer with the Prez mattered less to me than looking under that person’s hood to see that their engine actually worked. 

Even as Dowd’s fellow traveler, New York Times columnist Gail Collins was razzing Hillary, she acknowledged, “Her bond with the people isn’t a passionate one, but when it works, it’s a genuine connection that starts with the belief that she will work really, really hard on their behalf.”[viii] 

The very qualities Dowd and others found problematic in the woman Hillary were the ones that would be applauded in President Hillary. 

In her column, The Hillary Waltz,[ix] Dowd compared Senator Clinton to the character Marschallin in the opera Der Rosenkavalier, who trained her young lover in the ways of love and ultimately set him free.  Dowd posited the only use Hillary had in this campaign was to toughen Senator Obama up and make him a better candidate.  Hillary arguably did so but to pretend that was her only purpose was to deny her historic accomplishment. 

Dowd was also not alone in making the claim that Gloria Steinem was pushing women to vote for Hillary in the name of “sisters sticking together.”  By this logic, Steinem would have pushed women to later vote for Senator McCain’s ticket because a woman was on it.  She did the opposite and joined with the cadre who were deriding Governor Sarah Palin.

I didn’t require the admonishments of girl power or sisterhood to urge me toward my decision to back Hillary, nor would I be seduced by cool to turn my back on my choice.  Likewise, I didn’t need Gloria Steinem to tell me when it was time to stand up and call foul. 

Ms. Dowd also fibbed when she stated “[e]xit polls have showed that fans of Mrs. Clinton – who once said they would be happy with Mr. Obama if Hillary dropped out – were hardening in their opposition to him (while Obama voters are not so harsh about  her).”[x]  If anything, we were just as divided on both sides.   A trip through the blog commentary in Ms. Dowd’s own newspaper would have provided an enlightening education in all manner of woman-hate. 

Her assertion that hardened Obama supporters were less averse to supporting Hillary was unreasonable, even cruel, given some of the hateful verbal attacks some of my friends endured just for having a Hillary ‘08 lawn sign.

At one point, Dowd stated President Clinton would need to drag Hillary across the finish line.  She later intimated Senator Obama would not make it without Hillary doing the same for him in the general election. 

It was confusing that Dowd would bestow so much power and influence on a woman she had spent years devaluing.  This served to reinforce what I had witnessed from opinion makers throughout this journey – a need to stay au courant while having an allergic reaction to the truth.

Hillary’s one hundred eighty campaign appearances on behalf of Barack Obama could hardly be what Dowd claimed was a “barely disguised desire to see him fail.”[xi]  By her actions, Hillary Clinton showed she was the opposite of the vile harridan the Maureen Dowds of this world made her out to be.  So fervent was Dowd’s distaste, she would find every excuse to drag Hillary – and the Clinton name – into her columns, no matter the subject. 

I had a theory that women who engaged in this sort of behavior did so either out of self-loathing, envy or self-preservation.  They did not want to upset the status quo that had allowed them to succeed in a man’s world.  ‘See – I will hate Hillary, just like you. I’m not that ambitious. I don’t want to be that successful.  I will help you degrade her so that you don’t notice me standing here, successful, too.’  

On February 28, 2008, Dowd wrote, “The fact that Obama is exceptionally easy in his skin has made Hillary almost jump out of hers.” 

On November 22, 2009, Maureen Dowd shared her new opinion of President Obama:

“If we could see a Reduced Shakespeare summary of Obama’s presidency so far, it would read:  Dither, dither, speech. Foreign trip, bow, reassure. Seminar, summit. Shoot a jump shot with the guys, throw out the first pitch in mom jeans. Compromise, concede, close the deal. Dither, dither, water down, news conference.”[xii]

On June 11, 2010, Dowd’s missive, Isn’t It Ironic, went a step further in her characterization of him. 

“But he is an elitist, too, as well as thin-skinned and controlling.”[xiii] 

There was no making her happy.

I wondered if Ms. Dowd had at last come to missing Hillary’s shoulder pads.

I was also reminded of the Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” sketch with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.  Fey turned sexism on its ear, proudly proclaiming that Hillary was a bitch (and so was she) – and that “Bitches get stuff done!”

There was something to be said for sisterhood after all.

[i] Dowd, Maureen, The New York Times, A Flawed Feminist Test, February 13, 2008

[ii] CBS, “Hillary Is A Tortured Person,” June 5, 2008

[iii] Dowd, The New York Times, Begrudging His Bedazzling, February 27, 2008

[iv] Dowd, Maureen, New York Times, Deign or Reign, January 2, 2008

[v] Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, Duel of Historical Guilts, March 5, 2008

[vi] Media Matters, Matthews and others on NBC networks have repeatedly linked Clinton to fictional Nurse Ratched, December 7, 2007

[vii] Christopher Hitchens, Slate Magazine, January 7, 2008

[viii] Collins, Gail, the New York Time, Hillary’s Free Pass, January 10, 2008

[ix] Maureen Dowd, NY Times, The Hillary Waltz, April 2, 2008

[x] Dowd, Maureen, Dallas News, Shoulder Pad Feminism Lifts Hillary, March 6, 2008

[xi] Dowd, Maureen, The New York Times, Yes, She Can, August 13, 2008

[xii] Dowd, Maureen, New York Times, Visceral Has Its Value, November 22, 2009

[xiii] Dowd, Maureen, The New York Times, Isn’t It Ironic, June 11, 2010


Anita Finlay is the bestselling author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin.  Sharing the untold story of Hillary's 2008 campaign, Dirty Words exposes media sexism in a society not as evolved as advertised.  "The book tells it like it is for women aspiring to power."  #1 on Amazon's Women in Politics books for 16 weeks.

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