COULD MAUREEN DOWD'S DECLINE INTO IRRELEVANCE BE ANY MORE OBVIOUS?
Here we are, embroiled in a political sex scandal that's been crowding out other political stories for nearly two weeks, and now a Maureen Dowd column about the scandal has appeared -- and it's barely made a ripple. I go to Memeorandum and can't find any bloggers talking about it. It appears nowhere on the Times's own most blogged list. It's #4 on the most e-mailed list, but it lags behind not just today's Tom Friedman column and an article about private-school tutors, but behind "Brain Calisthenics for Abstract Ideas" by Benedict Carey. A dozen years ago, who could have imagined this -- Dowd weighing in on sex and politics and no one giving a crap, no one even clicking just to complain?
The problem, I guess, is that while Dowd has half a dozen half-baked notions about What Weinergate Means, none of them fit together, and some of them seem like the ideas she has about everything, regardless of applicability. This, for instance:
When Democratic front-runner Gary Hart had his vertiginous fall in 1987, after his photo with Miami model Donna Rice on the Monkey Business hit the papers, feminists were irate that this progressive pol was treating women as objects.
They found it especially galling that Hart had married up -- winning the daughter of a former president of his college -- and then got caught dating down....
After seeing a cascade of famous men marrying up and dating down -- Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Dick Morris, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Tiger Woods, David Vitter, John Ensign and Arnold Schwarzenegger -- and with Dominique Strauss-Kahn being supported by his prominent, elegant and wealthy journalist wife as he fights charges that he assaulted a 32-year-old hotel maid, maybe feminists have learned that male development stops at power.
First of all, did you know Gary Hart had "married up"? Did you know anything whatsoever about his wife? I'm addressing this especially to fellow oldsters -- I'm sure you recall a lot of anger at Hart, including a lot of feminist anger, but do you remember any anger specifically about that? I'm sure it made Maureen Dowd irate -- she's utterly obsessed with the idea of men dating down, marrying down, marrying up, marrying down age-wise ... it's a central notion in her oeuvre.
But what the hell does it have to do with Anthony Weiner? Yes, he has a posh wife, and yes, the women he connected with online were less posh, but do you honestly think he would have rejected a rich or powerful woman if one had reached out to him -- a less-well-known Paris Hilton, say, or a Democratic Meghan McCain? Do you honestly think he would have rejected the actual Paris Hilton or Meghan McCain? Does Anthony Weiner seem as if he would have rejected, well, anyone?
For that matter, does Bill Clinton necessarily belong on Dowd's marry-up-date-down list? Sure, we remember Paula Jones and Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky. But didn't he also pursue Kathleen Willey?
Willey's late husband, Edward, was the son of one of the most powerful politicians in Virginia, Edward Willey Sr., a legendary state Senate finance chairman and a pillar of the white Richmond establishment. Thanks in part to Ed Sr.'s connections, Ed Jr. built an astonishingly lucrative practice as a real estate development lawyer. In the 1980s, Ed and Kathleen Willey -- joint proprietors of a family corporation -- became real estate-speculation millionaires, much like Clinton's high-stakes friends back in Arkansas, Jim and Susan McDougal. They had enough money for a condo in Vail, Colo., and carved out a niche as prominent Democratic Party fund-raisers and cronies of Gov. Douglas Wilder.
In Dowd's tunnel-vision view, this was all about class -- but in that way, Clinton wasn't particular.
Then there's this in Dowd's column, a desperate stab at relevance:
This scandal resonates less as a feminist horror story than an Internet horror story. Are men, as New York magazine recently suggested, losing interest in having sex with their real partners because they're so obsessed with porn, sexting and virtual partners? The lazy man's way to sex, where a billion women are a click away.
An interesting point in Weiner's case -- but why the attempt to suggest that this is a trend? What about Dowd's long list of other men? Not one of them required the Internet to stray from a marriage. (Schwarzenegger in particular followed a repulsive centuries-old adultery pattern that predates electricity.) Internet-as-scapegoat applies only to Weiner. (And Chris Lee, but even he wanted real-world contact.)
It's sad, really. She's got nothing to say anymore.