Why can’t Obama be more like President Douglas?

MONDAY, APRIL 22, 2013

Maureen Dowd's mind want to know: Maureen Dowd may be the most influential print journalist of the past thirty years.

As early as 1992, the highly prescient Katherine Boo was warning about the trend she described as “Creeping Dowdism.” But Dowd was already a very important player at our most influential newspaper.

Career players wanted to work for the Times, or at least to attend their galas. In part for that reason, people like Dowd are rarely criticized in the mainstream press or in the career liberal world.

We’ve told you these things for years by now. By now, such insights are totally boring. But yesterday, Dowd’s column was so bad that it can’t be ignored.

Dowd discussed a contradiction that is genuinely important. According to a string of polls, ninety percent of the public favors universal background checks for those who would buy a gun. But despite this amazingly high degree of support, legislation to expand background checks just failed in the Senate.

Few people could write a column on this topic without so much as mentioning the influence of the NRA. Yesterday, Dowd accomplished that task, in a familiar way.

According to Dowd, the failure of the legislation was all Obama’s fault! Dowd could see that this is true because she once saw a movie:
DOWD (4/21/13): The White House should have created a war room full of charts with the names of pols they had to capture, like they had in “The American President.” Soaring speeches have their place, but this was about blocking and tackling.

Instead of the pit-bull legislative aides in Aaron Sorkin’s movie, Obama has Miguel Rodriguez, an arm-twister so genteel that The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker wrote recently that no one in Congress even knows who he is.

The president was oblivious to red-state Democrats facing tough elections. Bring the Alaskan Democrat Mark Begich to the White House residence, hand him a drink, and say, “How can we make this a bill you can vote for and defend?”
Good God, that’s an embarrassment! Or at least, it would be anywhere except at the New York Times.

(Presumably, she saw the part about giving Begich the drink in some movie too.)

Why did legislation fail when it had such widespread public support? That is a very important question. But Dowd never mentioned the NRA in her lengthy musings. She never discussed the = harm small groups of committed voters can wreak, especially in low-turnout primary votes.

She never explained why 54 votes weren’t enough to get the amendment in question passed, although she did offer this odd construction: “Even House Republicans who had no intention of voting for the gun bill marveled privately that the president could not muster 60 votes in a Senate that his party controls.”

Earth to Dowd: If a bill needs 60 votes to pass, the president’s party doesn’t exactly “control” the Senate. They’ve been missing that point on Fox for years. Yesterday, Dowd glossed it too.

Whatever! In a remarkably clueless column, Dowd fell back on a favorite old theme: It was all Obama’s fault! She no longer mocks him as Barry or as Obambi or as a debutante—that largely stopped when the Times public editor scalded her in 2008.

But Dowd seemed to be picturing scenes from various movies as she described the various things the president should have done, starting with that good stiff belt he should have handed to Begich:
DOWD: The president was oblivious to red-state Democrats facing tough elections. Bring the Alaskan Democrat Mark Begich to the White House residence, hand him a drink, and say, “How can we make this a bill you can vote for and defend?”

Sometimes you must leave the high road and fetch your brass knuckles. Obama should have called Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota over to the Oval Office and put on the squeeze: “Heidi, you’re brand new and you’re going to have a long career. You work with us, we’ll work with you. Public opinion is moving fast on this issue. The reason you get a six-year term is so you can have the guts to make tough votes. This is a totally defensible bill back home. It’s about background checks, nothing to do with access to guns. Heidi, you’re a mother. Think of those little kids dying in schoolrooms.”

Obama had to persuade some Republican senators in states that he won in 2012. He should have gone out to Ohio, New Hampshire and Nevada and had big rallies to get the public riled up to put pressure on Rob Portman, Kelly Ayotte and Dean Heller, giving notice that they would pay a price if they spurned him on this.

Tom Coburn, the Republican senator from Oklahoma, is one of the few people on the Hill that the president actually considers a friend. Obama wrote a paean to Coburn in the new Time 100 issue, which came out just as Coburn sabotaged his own initial effort to help the bill.

Obama should have pressed his buddy: “Hey, Tom, just this once, why don’t you do more than just talk about making an agreement with the Democrats? You’re not running again. Do something big.”

Couldn’t the president have given his Rose Garden speech about the “shameful” actions in Washington before the vote rather than after?
After giving Begich that drink, Obama should have held a big rally in Ohio. He should have pressed his buddy, Tom Coburn. He should have given his Rose Garden speech before the vote, not after.

Yeah, sure! Those were the tickets!

Dowd seems to have seen a lot of movies, some of her own imagining. That said, it defies comprehension that nonsense like this represents the level of “thinking” which is presented on Sunday morning at our nation’s most famous newspaper.

Dowd has been a cipher for years. More than twenty years ago, Boo was already warning her colleagues about the earlier forms of this creeping inanity.

Twenty years later, Dowd is still there. At our most famous newspaper, this nonsense now counts as “analysis.”

Why can’t Obama be more like Michael Douglas? Rather famously, Maureen Dowd has dated Douglas and Sorkin and she wants to know. But good God:

Obama should have set up a war room, “like they had in The American President.” Our smartest newspaper is so slow they didn’t even make her cut that!


  1. A propos of Bob's previous post, let's see what facts Maureen Dowd omitted:

    1. Although there is widespread support for expanded background checks in general, that doesn't mean there was widespread support for the provisions of this particular bill.

    2. Universal background checks have a built-in civil liberties problem. Implementing those checks would require that any individual be able to get confidential government information on any other individual.

    3. Opponents of the bill are passionate. They tend to think (correctly IMHO) that the goal of the other side is to take away their guns, not just to improve safety. For that reason, gun supporters tend to oppose any new gun regulations.

    4. Supporters of the bill tend to hold weak opinions. They're generally happy to see some sort of increased regulation, but they don't believe this particular bill would help much.

    5. Even if the bill had passed the Senate, it's likely that the House would have voted it down. Red state Senators may have been unwilling to commit political suicide for a bill that wouldn't even become law.

    BTW while the NRA does a good job of focusing the anti-gun control faction, they wouldn't be effective if there weren't a large, passionate anti-gun control faction. It's the existance of this faction, not just the skills of the NRA, that make it hard to pass increased gun control.

    1. What I find amazing is that these senators and their constituents aren't supposed to count.

      The claim seems to be that their states are rife with voters favoring background checks, but these cats are too afraid to vote the people's will.

      Well. If that's the case, let them be voted out of office.

      As usual, all this is predicated on the assumption...more than assumption, really...doctrinal certainty...that there can be no other principled stance.

      You combine this with the 90% claim and you've got the making of dissenters as being ant-democratic....cowards...sell-outs...etc... as if no one else' opinion should count.

      According to a poll, 75% of the public thinks that voters should show some sort of ID at the polls.


      Will that argument be enough to convince Dems to support it, or will they evoke a higher principle they argue prevents govt over-reach in what is a Constitutional right?

      Frankly, I am sick to death of the cartoon planet caricatures and political dogma that is the norm these days.

      Take your "all or nothing" mentality back to playground. It's a hell of a lot more tolerable from 5 year olds.

  2. My vote is for #5!

    "Even if the bill had passed the Senate, it's likely that the House would have voted it down. Red state Senators may have been unwilling to commit political suicide for a bill that wouldn't even become law."

    It is amazing how many people with high NAEP scores overlook this simple fact.

  3. Dowd's column was so simplistic, superficial, unrealistic and just plain idiotic that I had to check twice to make sure I wasn't reading Tom Friedman.

    1. Good point, Anon. Maureen Dowd's "hand the Senator a drink" approach to political persuasion is even dumber than Friedman's "create your own job" approach to mass unemployment.

    2. In an average column, Friedman is better than Dowd. His columns at least try to address real subjects, whereas Dowd's represent an endless series of calling other people weak, foolish, and stupid, disguised as wit. Granted, making this point is like arguing a dwarf is taller than a hobbit, but still, it ought to be said.

  4. I'm going to say, this is only moderately bad Dowd. Yes, the "American President" part is really dumb, but let's let the low blow about Dowd's personal life cancel that out. The rest is kinda dumb, but not completely, including the final bit about Obama waiting to play the shame card after the failure. The rest is somewhat silly, but She's done a lot worse.

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