New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wants Obama to hit home runs and fire tyrannical sports bigots and stop using words that undermine his capability to bend the known world to his will. If you don’t know what any of that means, don’t worry: neither does Maureen Dowd.
Dowd’s April 30 column is a terrific example of what has come to be her signature style: dumping 800 or so words (mostly English, some French) into a bucket and asking her tortured readers to peer down into the swirling contents in a futile search for significance. Her thesis, if it can be described as such, is that Obama needs to “think bigger.” What does he need to “think bigger” about? The problems.
Obama’s failing, per Dowd, is that he’s too circumspect, too thoughtful about the ups and downs of foreign policy and global politics. “An American president should never say, as you did Monday in Manila when you got frustrated in a press conference with the Philippine president: ‘You hit singles; you hit doubles. Every once in a while, we may be able to hit a home run.’”
What we need is action, says Dowd. We need Obama to step up to the plate and, like all the great baseball players, smack a home run in every at bat. “A singles hitter doesn’t scare anybody,” she observes.
As far as metaphors go, this is blinkered. The most feared hitter in baseball history was Ty Cobb, who smacked 4,189 hits during his career, a mere 117 of which were home runs. The all-time leader in hits, Pete Rose, hit just 160 home runs. Meanwhile, one of the game’s most celebrated home run hitters, Reggie Jackson, is also the all-time leader in strikeouts. The lesson is that when you swing big all the time, you end up making a lot of non-productive outs.
But no metaphor is perfect, which perhaps explains why Dowd switched up sports references midway through her column:
You should take a lesson from Adam Silver, a nerdy technocrat who, in his first big encounter with a crazed tyrant, managed to make the job of N.B.A. commissioner seem much more powerful than that of president of the United States.
Silver took the gutsy move of banning cretinous Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life, after many people speculated that there was little the N.B.A. chief could do except cave. But Silver realized that even if Sterling tries to fight him in court (and wins) he will look good because he stood up for what was right.
This is a good example of punditry in its purest, most useless form. Dowd doesn’t actually say how Obama should apply the lesson of the NBA commissioner banning a bigoted old coot. She just says Obama should do that. Because it’s right. And leadership, or something.
Also, if you’re familiar with Dowd’s writing from years past, you know that the big, brash, swing-for-the-fences attitude she wants Obama to embrace was precisely what she disliked about George W. Bush. On the day of Obama’s first inaugural, Dowd wrote a column explicitly differentiating the two on that point: “The optimism was tempered by pessimism, a vibe of ‘Maybe this once-in-a-lifetime guy can do it, but boy, there are a lot of never-in-our-lifetime problems here.’ Unlike W., Obama is a realist. He knows there is the potential of letting all these blissed-out people down.”
But whatever. This is punditry! You don’t need good metaphors or internal consistency or even a point to make it big, especially when arguing that the president just needs to lead. That’s why Dowd’s column, vacant and nonsensical as it was, got an enthusiastic endorsement from the pundit world’s chief leadership fetishist: