In recent days, Maureen Dowd has diligently left the comfortable confines of her cubicle and returned to reporting. This has done some serious damage to her ability to say something sensible.
In last Wednesday's column, Dowd reported on her visit to the White House on election night. This experience caused her mind to go temporarily blank, and offer a scattershot riff about its current occupant. It came complete with the standard issue Nixon-talking-to-paintings reference.
"I walked over to the White House Tuesday night and leaned against the fence," she wrote. "How can such a lovely house make so many of its inhabitants nuts? There was no U-Haul in the driveway. I don’t know if W. was inside talking to the portraits on the wall. Or if the portraits can vanish from their frames, as at Hogwarts Academy, to escape if W. is pestering them about his legacy."
As Dowd rambled on incoherently about the Bush administration's failures for the thousandth time, she seemed to be drawing her theme from the idea that Washington's monuments -- the Vietnam Memorial, the Capital, the White House -- had lost their symbolism during the deplorable Bush years. Her (ludicrous) implication was that the city's topography itself had been tarnished by the Bush-Cheney misdeeds.
How would that be, exactly? Has the legacy of Lincoln and the majesty of the Capital dome been diminished by the war in Iraq? If the Obama election proved anything, it's that this nation can triumph over even its darkest hour, and collectively restore hope in a single night.
But Dowd was too busy hanging a column on her reportorial hook to realize she had gone off the rails with her meaningless idea. "As we start fresh with a constitutional law professor and senator from the Land of Lincoln, the Lincoln Memorial might be getting its gleam back," she concluded, inaccurately. "I may have to celebrate by going over there and climbing up into Abe’s lap. It’s a $50 fine. But it’d be worth it."
Yes, it would. But not for the reasons she thinks.
Tomorrow morning's column continues along a journalistic bent. Dowd has devoted the last few days to paying attention to black people as they discuss their feelings in the wake of Obama's election -- and then polling her conscience to see whether or not she's being condescending.
Dowd tells us she was eating at a "chic soul food restaurant downtown" -- anyone think it a coincidence that she opted for soul food this week, of all weeks? -- and listened in on a white customer quizzing a black waitress about Obama. Then she eavesdropped on a chit-chat with a black bartender at the Bombay Club being asked about Jesse Jackson's tears.
Next she broke in on her "cute black mailman" while he was having a private telephone conversation, not about Obama as it turned out. "He shot me a look of bemused disdain as he walked away," Dowd wrote. Or was it a look of profound annoyance at being interrupted by a nosy columnist?
"I was starting to feel guilty," Dowd said. As well she should. If only she would stick with her god-given talent to wax eloquent about politics and government from a columnist's omniscient perspective, she might find herself saying something less guilt-driven and more thought-provoking.
Meanwhile, a warning to the black population of Washington D.C. -- take note of Maureen Dowd's picture, she may be illicitly jotting down your private conversation next.