Monday, August 4, 2008


When I started this blog, I was determined to keep my politicizing largely out of it. I know I am prone to getting up on my soapbox, and in general prefer to reserve my indignant, self-righteous diatribes for S. (lucky man!).

But--and this is a big but--but today, I read Maureen Dowd's column on Obama and could no longer resist. The thing about Dowd that irks me can be summed up in this editorial. It's not that she's stupid. She's not, though occasionally I find her logic lacking. It's not that she's a bad writer. She's not! It's that she has a way of writing editorial that sets my blood cold, usually by applying inept metaphor and/or offending my politics.

Now, you can't take someone to task for offending your politics. That is the right of a writer, and in this country, the right of us all. But would it hurt so much to adopt a tad more of the finesse of David Brooks (who, as my friend S.M. so perfectly stated, is the only conservative a radical liberal intellectual can have a crush on)? Would it hurt to THINK for two seconds about what her message really is?

Today's editorial is a strong example (perhaps the strongest) of her stylistic wont to annoy. She uses a sloppy comparison between Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and our presidential candidates to (ostensbily) tease out some of Senator Obama's shortcomings with blue-collar women voters. I'm guessing its with blue-collar workers primarily. It's hard to be really sure from the essay, which bandies about references to "feminists" and "mac-n-cheese"-eating blue-collar woman in the same breath. Are these the same women? Are they different demographics? Is "mac-n-cheese-eater" a real category?

I love Jane Austen. I love PBS for loving Jane Austen, and I love the dickens (pun intended) out of any actor who's played even a wee bit part in a film adaptation based on any of her fine novels. And perhaps one of the first things I learned about Jane Austen whence first a copy of Emma came my way, was that Ms. Austen was British. That's right, British. As in, NOT American. And what did she write about? Comedies of manners involving nineteenth-century British society.

So, let's check out this parallel Dowd makes between Mr. Darcy and Barack Obama. Beginning with their height and slimness, she then extrapolates from "a prayer to the Lord at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, a note that was snatched out and published" to the fact that Obama is all too aware of his own propensity for pride. (This is a grave American crime, apparently. So grave that it, in fact, is British.)

Might it be that the savvy politician suspected his prayer would be so desecrated, and thus chose a spin that would help offset concerns the American people might have with his audacity to be black, educated and opinionated? No, of course not. Clearly, this is just the first step in the epistolary struggle between Darbama and Ameribeth, with America fronting as Elizabeth Bennett, in all her " spirited, playful, democratic, financially strained" glory.

I just ate lunch. I don't really know if I can muster the energy to unpack the ballyhoo that is this metaphor. But I will give a fighting shot at at least this much: perhaps comparing blue-collar, mac-n-cheese-eating feminists to Elizabeth Bennett is a tad . . . well . . . daft. Elizabeth Bennett was spirited, playful, financially strained and caught up in certain prejudices. But democratic?

Please, Maureen. Please give me a close textual response illuminating how Ms. Bennett was democratic. Because in my reading, she's a feminist, perhaps even a liberal -- but never a proponent of democracy. She demands equal franchise between the sexes, and expects a partner who respects her mind and opinion. BUT SHE SAYS NOTHING AGAINST THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND. She does not mention the vote, she does not mention suffrage. She never suggests holding an emergency session in the Houses of Lords and Commons for a restructuring of the patriarchal model that requires daughters to obey their fathers. In fact, there is the textual suggestion that had her father demanded she accept her first proposal to Cousin Collins, she may have acquiesced . . . or been out in the streets, on her fine, British arse.

Please, for the love of your Lord (you know, the one who didn't mind when Obama's PRAYER was swiped from its resting place), consider your metaphors. This editorial appears like the result of a quick session on the laptop after a long brunch. (One with mimosas. Lots of them.) Perhaps, at this mimosa-laden brunch, you had been discussing your love of Jane Austen, and your secret attraction to Obama's embodiment of the very qualities that make Mr. Darcy a toothsome bit of literary man. Perhaps you then thought of macaroni and cheese, and then perhaps read yet another distorted blog post claiming feminists are turning against Obama out of defiance. Perhaps you lastly thought, sighing, "well, isn't that just like a Jane Austen novel. 'Twhatever shall become of these lovers?"

Perhaps you didn't think at all, beyond the assumption that female readers of your column might appreciate this literary nod to their stereotyped proclivities, and that just maybe they'd consider Obama for the presidency.

My main question, though, is whether the whole thing is but a mish-mash. We all are curious about whether we can, as a country, overcome our terrible history of prejudice. But are you trying to be supportive of Obama by comparing him to Mr. Darcy, or are you trying to put yet another doubt in the mac-n-cheese-eaters' mouths? 'Cuz frankly, I don't see how suggesting Obama is a noble Brit will help his cause at all.

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