As Dana Perino has ably described, reading Maureen Dowd’s weekly screed can be an excruciating experience. This latest piece is classic Dowd: She takes already simplified caricatures and then stretches them to the point where they contain no wit or insight into her subjects. Instead what’s revealed is how completely out of touch the author is with how most Americans view the political scene.
She starts the column feigning nervousness that Arizona governor Jan Brewer would have forced the sunburned Dowd to “run for [her] life across the desert,” since Brewer has “declared open season on anyone with a suspicious skin tone in her state.”
This isn’t funny or insightful. It’s ridiculous. If Dowd is trying to say she thinks Arizona’s new immigration law permitting state law enforcement to inquire about immigration status is unfair to Latino and other minority populations (a point that’s been made a billion times and isn’t particularly topical), she’s failed. If her point was to show the stupidity of opponents of the law who exaggerate its potential harm, she’s come much closer. Yet somehow I don’t think the latter was her intention.
Her real purpose this week was to cast female Republican candidates into sophomoric stereotypes that she believes her readers will recognize from their own lives. She writes:
We are in the era of Republican Mean Girls, grown-up versions of those teenage tormentors who would steal your boyfriend, spray-paint your locker and, just for good measure, spread rumors that you were pregnant.
The idea of the “Mean Girl” isn’t just a stereotype, it’s a modern-day cliché, the subject of banal teen flicks — with little relevance or relation to current political trends.
Sure, Dowd can cite a few examples of Republican female candidates aggressively taking on and pointing out opponent’s failings. Yet this is nothing new, and certainly isn’t unique to these particular women candidates.
Is Dowd suggesting female politicians on the other side of the aisle, from Nancy Pelosi to Hillary Clinton to Barbara Boxer, haven’t been able to do battle with the boys because they are too nice? And that Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell are somehow more savage to their opponents than savaged by them and the press?
Here’s just one example of Dowd’s selectivity. She ridicules Nevada’s Sharron Angle for playing up her gun ownership during the campaign. But how is this different from the Democratic governor of West Virginia, who actually shoots a rifle in a campaign ad? Is Joe Manchin a “Mean Girl,” too? Is there a different set of rules for women? Or is completely unremarkable to see both candidates appealing to fellow gun owners for support?
Numerous analysts have noted Democrats deploying negative advertisements more frequently than Republicans in this election (something Dowd of course ignores). This isn’t evidence of “meanness.” It’s because Democrats desperately don’t want to talk about their party’s record of the past two years.
The Republican female candidates can’t be lumped together and dismissed as a set of interchangeable characters from a John Hughes film. They have different backgrounds and different qualifications. Some are great candidates; some aren’t the party’s strongest. But all deserve to be judged on their merits as serious political contenders, not mocked for donning a “casino red suit” or “girlish bangs.”
In short, Maureen Dowd’s column is much more the act of a “mean girl” than anything the targets of her scorn have actually done.