Maybe it's the Y chromosome in me, but when I heard that New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd had written a book titled "Are Men Necessary?" my first inclination was to roll my eyes. In my head I could hear the voice of James Brown from his 1966 hit "It's a Man's Man's Man's World":
"Man made the electric light to take us out of the dark.
Man made the boat for the water, like Noah made the ark.
This is a man's, man's, man's world.
But it wouldn't be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl."
My estimation of Dowd more or less matched that of this skit (3:15, Real Audio) from "Imus in the Morning" in which a Walter Cronkite impersonator intones about her "familiar political bile posing as informed prose." As far as I was concerned, she epitomized knee-jerk. The only question about each of her columns was whether the elaborate scenarios and ham-handed puns with which she sneered at the retrograde men who run the world would be even a tiny bit coherent. But then I heard Dowd explain, in this interview (38:20, Real Audio) with Terry Gross of NPR's "Fresh Air," that ever since she first did a Google search of her own name and discovered a Photoshopped image of herself in a sex act with Bill Clinton, she has more or less ignored public criticism. A shot from my peashooter would never pierce her armor. And besides, wouldn't I be just as knee-jerk to knock her on the basis of the handful of columns I'd read?
After all, as she explains to Gross as proof of her evenhandedness, she had defended Clinton against the impeachment hounds. (Umm, exactly.) And as she tells Dick Gordon on this segment (47:47, Real Audio) from "The Connection" on Boston's WBUR, a lot of Republicans didn't like her when she was writing about Clinton. She meant to say Democrats, but you get the idea.
And Dowd can be quite shrewd. Take, for instance, this speech (51:31, MP3) at Wellesley College earlier this year (made available by the WGBH Forum network) in which she remarks that "politics is rife with male diva fits, male mud wrestling, male gossip mongering, male feline backbiting, male teary confessions and male grooming obsessions." Of Bush she asks, "Have you noticed that he's always trying to wear clothes that are over-the-top-sexy to work?" And she has a point in this speech (QuickTime) at the Academy of Achievement, when she claims that Bush's presidency has been "an elaborate effort to rebel against his blue-blooded, Greenwich, Episcopal, internationalist, moderate family by being a red-blooded, West Texas, born-again evangelical, right-wing unilateralist." A little too neat maybe, but persuasive nonetheless. Dowd's guiding principle seems to be that personality is not irrelevant to power, and I can get onboard with that.
So instead of dismissing Ms. Dowd, I've decided to follow the lead of Jay Stockwell and Bob Frady of Orange County, Calif. Each week on their podcast radio program (available at Odeo.com), Jay and Bob "tackle issues important to the modern married man from Stockwell's third car garage: Man Island!" On the Oct. 16 show (23:41, MP3), Jay -- a salesman by trade and a Republican -- confesses to a long-standing crush on Dowd. Jay, we learn, admires Dowd's writing and feels a connection to her because they both come from large Catholic families and attended college in the D.C. area. Jay hopes that if he and Bob plug for Dowd's book, she might fulfill his dream of having a drink with her:
Jay: I've been a huge fan of this woman for years and years and years. And, Bob, she's coming out with a new book.
Bob: What's it called?
Jay: "Are Men Necessary?"
Bob: For what?
Jay and Bob have a plan to help Dowd answer her question:
Jay: After she listens to this podcast and gets to know us a little bit, there's only one inevitable conclusion...
Bob: Abso-pa-tutely. That's right, you need men, baby.
Amen to that, and make sure to pick up a copy of Dowd's book.
-- Ira Boudway