Say what you will about Maureen Dowd: At least she can look in the mirror every day and know she's being equally vicious to the Clintons and the Obamas, the two front-runners in the race to be Democratic first couple. Dowd opened this early campaign season slamming the Clintons, channeling David Geffen's attacks as he explained why he was ditching them for Obama. But don't mistake Dowd for the woman in the "I got a crush on Obama" viral video; within weeks of her Geffen broadside the New York Times columnist penned a piece headlined "Obama: Legally Blonde?" that found him "testy," "irritated" and perhaps "too pristine" in his first campaign trip after he announced his candidacy. Then came a nasty column implying Michelle wore the pants in the Obama family, arguing that her mild jabs at her husband for not being "perfect" were "emasculating" and made the feminist Dowd "wince." But two weeks ago Dowd was the emasculator, in a remarkable column that again labeled the African-American Illinois senator "Obambi," questioning his strength and manhood (and gee, if he's a baby deer, I guess that's even questioning his personhood) as he tries to wrest the nomination from front-runner Clinton.
If you're keeping score, on Wednesday Dowd whacked the Clintons again, with a subpar column about their hilarious video spoof of the "Sopranos" finale. (Even Dowd detractors usually have to admit she's clever, but not this time; today's column lacks even one memorable line.) She insists on depicting Hillary Clinton as Carmela, the wronged wife, even though the video puts the New York senator in the Tony role, which I thought was subversive and daring, especially for the cautious Hillary. Even when Dowd allows that maybe Hillary's supposed to be Tony, she can't really see it; she's so tied to her view of Hillary as the manipulative, scheming wife who got her power from her philandering husband, just like Carmela. It's a nasty and uninspired piece of work.
Of course, if you go back to the Clinton presidency, you'd have to conclude that Dowd, overall, has been much tougher on Bill and Hillary. But if you're just keeping score in this race, I'd say she has whacked Obama harder. If you'd told me six months ago that one of the 2008 Democratic candidates would be bogged down in unfair, Rorschach-like reactions to their sexual attractiveness, toughness and supposed disrespect from their spouse, I'd have said: Poor Hillary Clinton. But thanks to Dowd, those beefcake People photos and Ms. "I got a crush on Obama," it's the first serious African-American candidate who's fighting a demeaning focus on his sexuality and "toughness." Oh well, at least it's not the first woman, right? I'm not sure I'd call that progress.