Sunday, March 08, 2009


Yesterday I made a prediction about the content of the Maureen Dowd's Sunday column. The column is up now, and I got a few details right, but Dowd went much deeper than I predicted into the shallowest presidential stories, focusing on every little mini-gaffe and trivial awkwardness in the Obama White House's interactions with Great Britain. (Dowd, shockingly, ignored a few less-than-smooth Hillary Clinton moments from the past week. I have to assume she's saving them for another column.)

But midway through the column we got to its crux, and we realized what Maureen Dowd thinks is the key issue of our times:

Michelle Obama's arms.

Well, this subject is perfect for Dowd, right? It puts her right in her comfort zone: she gets to project her own body anxiety on the world and she gets to play gender games with (among other people) key Democrats. You know what I mean: all the men are really wussy girly chicks and all the women are scary men. This is quintessentially Dowd:

Wall Street is weak and jittery, rejecting the vague and laconic courtship of Timothy Geithner. G.M. is verging on bankruptcy, and A.I.G. should be. Americans are confused and fretful. President Obama admitted in his Times interview that the United States is not winning the war in Afghanistan, even as he denied -- and then called back 90 minutes later to really deny -- that he's a socialist.

Let's face it: The only bracing symbol of American strength right now is the image of Michelle Obama's sculpted biceps. Her husband urges bold action, but it is Michelle who looks as though she could easily wind up and punch out Rush Limbaugh, Bernie Madoff and all the corporate creeps who ripped off America.

(The only odd thing here is Dowd including ex-Masters of the Universe and business titans in her universe of girly men. But then they wind up at the end of the second quoted paragraph as "corporate creeps who ripped off America," so I guess they have cojones after all, while Obama, Geithner, and literally everyone else in America is purely testosterone-challenged. Except Michelle.)

I dunno, is it just me? The odd thing is, I'm not only white and male but short -- and yet I don't find Michelle Obama scary or masculine or intimidating. To me, a toned arm is just a toned arm.

But, good Lord, not to David Brooks. Dowd writes that she shared a cab with Brooks and Michelle's arms were discussed -- and from this we learn more about Brooks than we ever wanted to know:

In the taxi, when I asked David Brooks about her amazing arms, he indicated it was time for her to cover up. "She's made her point," he said. "Now she should put away Thunder and Lightning."

Holy crap.

Have you seen Crumb, the documentary about the life and cartooning career of Robert Crumb? Much is made of Crumb's odd sexual obsession with thick-thighed, big-bottomed women. We're also given to understand that Crumb is, um, rather odd when he succeeds in bedding a woman with the powerful lower body he dotes on.

But this is worth knowing about Crumb because much of his work is autobiographical and confessional, often on the subject of sex. And from the movie we see that Crumb lived through a lot of abuse as a child, abuse that made his brother an emotional wreck. It's possible to imagine how it all fits together, the timidity and emotional woundedness and obessesion with the notion of a physically powerful female, and it's worth delving into.

In the case of David Brooks, it's not worth delving into. I really, really didn't want to know that he sees "Thunder and Lightning" when he looks at Michelle Obama's arms, and I really don't want to know why.

But Brooks isn't finished. The conversation turned to the dress Michelle wore at her husband's speech to Congress:

[Brooks] said the policy crowd here would consider the dress ostentatious. "Washington is sensually avoidant. The wonks here like brains. She should not be known for her physical presence, for one body part." David brought up the Obamas' obsession with their workouts. "Sometimes I think half the reason Obama ran for president is so Michelle would have a platform to show off her biceps."

No, David, that's only half the reason he ran in the erotic Obama fiction you write late at night when your wife thinks you're deleting spam from your e-mail in box. I think that's your overreaction to your own "sensual avoidance." It's the return of your repressed -- and, frankly, I'd prefer it if you'd continue to repress it, at least when I'm around.

And also, um, she has two arms -- how does that add up to "one body part"? No, wait -- whatever the answer is, I'm sure I really don't want to know.

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