Columnist Boy In Love
That Maureen Dowd Has This Hack's Heart A Racin'
By Jeff Smith
SEPTEMBER 8, 1997: THE BAD NEWS is that at my back I always hear time's winged chariot hurrying near. The good news is that it's still back there. For the nonce.
Among the things I've got to hustle up and get done is read Primary Colors before it hits the movie theaters. As a literate American in the waning days of the 20th century, I feel obliged to get as much of my intellectual nutrition as possible from printed sources. As a reporter there's this thing my editors nag me about, having to do with primary sources. As a teenager in love, I want to impress Maureen Dowd with my cleverness.
All of which means I ought to read Joe Klein's book about Bill and Hillary Clinton before I see Mike Nichols' movie about them. Ordinarily there would be no rush, because ordinarily I can wait a long time before seeing a movie that everybody else in the English-speaking world already owns on video, but in the off-chance I run into Ms. Dowd at the Wagon Wheel in Patagonia at karaoke some Saturday night, I want to have my intellectual loins girded with all the info I can assimilate. So I dasn't wait until Primary Colors comes out in video and finally makes it to the Sonoita Mini-Mart.
I need to act fast. I suppose it's too late to act fast. Fast would have been while everybody still was wondering if it really was Joe Klein who wrote the book.
Well it was, and now, according to Maureen (May I call you Maureen?), Klein has vaulted from anonymity to coquetry to celebrity and back to coquetry (or is it disingenuity?) so swiftly, even casual observers are feeling motion-sickness. Or could those waves of nausea come from witnessing another champion of truth sell out to Hollywood? Or Washington. Or Little Rock. The Tri-Cities area.
For those of you who haven't read Primary Colors, or Time, Newsweek, People, or watched Entertainment Tonight, the book is a vicious satire on the 1992 Clinton campaign and the easy virtue of applying the morals of the rock-and-roll generation to national politics. This is a subject I myownself have treated at least once. If my middle-aged memory serves, I believe I forwarded the thesis that leaders of men and women tend to be persons of appetite and magnetism, and that it is unsurprising to find them often as not a little chubby and a lot horny.
It actually can't be otherwise.
I think Maureen probably would agree with this, and might tolerate or even approve of Bill Clinton, were it not for his utter want of redeeming traits in those small movements of character and personality which speak such volumes about how a person truly is. When he's home. In his jammies.
But none of this matters much, because it's only presidential politics, and bestseller book publishing, and Hollywood showbiz. Whereas Maureen Dowd is a newspaper columnist and writes for The New York Times, and where I come from, this is the bigtime. Which goes to show you just how out of touch being a literate American in the waning days of the 20th century leaves one. Maureen probably doesn't even have her own web page.
If she were a third-rate actress with a part in a daytime soap, she'd have a fan club with an e-mail address, and I could download a picture of her that would be larger than the teasing little mug shot that appears with her columns, and learn much that my heart yearns to know about where she hails from and how she came to write such terrific stuff for The New York Times.
All I can say with any certainty is that Maureen went to college somewhere, because in the column about Primary Colors she used the word bildungsroman not once but twice, and bildungsroman is one of those words you only learn in college. That's where I learned it, and in the 29 years since I have only had the chance to use it three times. Once in conversation and twice in columns I wrote. I suppose I'm in love with Maureen because she's the only newspaper columnist outside of George Will and myself who routinely uses words so obscure they don't even appear in the Oxford Unabridged. Maybe it's because they're of Germanic origin. Whereas Will uses big words to impress people, and I use them to irritate, Maureen seems to be having this hell of a good time making life vaguely uncomfortable for people who might otherwise be getting away with something. Makes me laugh out loud.
Her wit is so wonderfully vicious and sharp you can't even see where the knife went in.
Anyway, I hate to let Tom Danehy down, but Maureen Dowd is my most favorite columnist, until TV wises up and offers her several times her present salary to smart-off on some magazine show. I know she's too good to stoop to that sort of thing, but then I knew Dave Barry was that good as well, even if he wasn't writing about matters of great moment, or using bildungsroman in a complete sentence without drawing attention to it. And did you see who they got to play Dave on TV?
I kind of see a young Anne Bancroft in the Dowd role. Younger than Mrs. Robinson. Of course I don't really see it at all.
Would somebody see that she gets a copy of this? The Times has a clipping service, doesn't it? Do you think she'll like me?
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