Mud Pies for This One Too

In Wednesday’s column for the New York Times ("Mud Pies for ‘That One’," October 8), liberal commentator Maureen Dowd wrote: 

"The woman [Sarah Palin] is sounding more Cheney than Cheney.  Palin said that Obama‘s relationship with the former Weatherman William Ayers proved that he did not have the ‘truthfulness and judgment’ to be president. Asked by William Kristol if the Rev. Jeremiah Wright should be an issue, she said, ‘I don’t know why that association isn’t discussed more’.  [Lee] Atwater gleefully tried to paint Willie Horton as Dukakis’s running mate. With a black man running, it’s even easier for Atwater‘s disciple running McCain’s campaign to warn that white Americans should not open the door to the dangerous Other, or ‘That One’, as McCain referred to Obama in Tuesday night’s debate. (A cross between ‘The One’ and ‘That Woman’.)"

Dowd’s point about the Republican Party’s campaign strategy to warn white voters that they shouldn’t risk opening the White House’s "door to the dangerous Other" is well taken.  Particularly given that, as she recognizes, with a Black Candidate running for the White House this year, "it’s even easier" to adopt this strategy than it was 20 years ago, when negative-attack strategists Lee Atwater & Co. (including Fox News impresario Roger Ailes) "gleefully tried to paint Willie Horton as Dukakis’s running mate" — and succeeded in painting these two gentlemen from Massachusetts as each other’s running mates, history shows.

But what about Maureen Dowd’s own contributions to painting other black Americans beside Barack Obama — foremost, though, Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright — as everything from a "dangerous Other" to a mere "wackadoodle"?  

What, for example, might Maureen Dowd have been thinking, when in her very first column to mention the Rev. Wright, she referred to him as "Jeremiad Wright," adding that Wright‘s "sentiments" are "anti-American, anti-white and pro-Farrakhan," as if being pro-Louis Farrakhan (as Wright unapologetically is) were self-evidently a bad thing to be, a curse-worthy kind of thing, and beyond-the-pale Other?  ("Black, White & Grey," New York Times, March 19, 2008.)     

And what might Dowd really have been thinking, when, returning to the topic of the Rev. Wright just four days later, she baptized this preacher "the wackadoodle Jeremiah Wright," without once explaining what made Wright a "wackadoodle," except to observe that "Republicans are salivating over Reverend Wright‘s ‘God damn America’ imprecation and his post-9/11 ‘America’s chickens coming home to roost’ crack, combined with Michelle Obama‘s aggrieved line about belatedly feeling really proud of her country," the otherness or at least the wackadoodleness of these views then coming home to roost at the Obama campaign headquarters, Dowd feared?  ("Haunting Obama’s Dreams," New York Times, March 23, 2008.)

You don’t suppose, do you, that what Dowd really feared was the Black Candidate’s racially-built-in difficulty "to prove to Americans that, despite his exotic background and multicultural looks, he shares or at least respects their values and understands why they would be upset about his associations with the Rev. Wright and an ex-Weatherman"?  ("Brush It Off," New York Times, April 20, 2008.)

As something on the order of nine-in-ten black Americans then as now support this "exotic" and "multicultural" mix of apparent "values," notwithstanding the Exotic Candidate’s "associations" with the Rev. Wright and the "ex-Weatherman" (the "unrepentant terrorist" William Ayers, as Fox News’s Sean Hannity habitually refers to the gentleman), to which Americans, exactly, might the Exotic Candidate still need to prove "he shares or at least respects their values" (etc.)?  

As with the Rev. Farrakhan and wackadoodleness more generally, Dowd is working from the basis of two categories of putative self-evidence: (a) self-evidence to her presumed "Americans," as well as (b) self-evidence to Dowd herself. – I for one wouldn’t place much confidence in either.

 "At the very moment when his fate hangs in the balance, when he is trying to persuade white working-class voters that he is not an exotic stranger with radical ties, the vainglorious Rev. Wright kicks him in the stomach." — Hence, an angry Maureen Dowd took issue with the Rev. Wright in her first column after his back-to-back appearances before the Detroit chapter of the NAACP and then the National Press Club in Washington, both in late April.  "In a narcissistic explosion that would impress Bill Clinton," Dowd continued, "the preacher dragged Obama into the ’60s maelstrom that he had pledged to be an antidote to.  In two days worth of solipsistic rants, the man of faith committed at least four of the seven deadly sins — wrath, envy, pride and greed (book and lecture fees?) — while grandiosely claiming he was defending the black church."  ("Praying and Preying," New York Times, April 30, 2008.)


These observations are ludicrous and troubling — but they also happen to be standard fare for Maureen Dowd.  At the time seeming to place the Black Candidate in grave risk of losing his lead in the Democratic primaries, what threatened his lead, according to Dowd, was the exoticness and the radicalness and the other bundle of negative traits for which the Black Preacher stood indicted in her judgment, but not the Black Candidate with whom he was associated. 


Do you see what Maureen Dowd — and I’d wager ninety-some-percent of her colleagues among the U.S. political class and establishment media — really has been up to in 2008? 


With an attractive Black Candidate running for the White House, it may not have been easy, but Dowd surely believed it necessary, to warn white Americans that their negative, stereotypical, racist fears of the "dangerous Other" could remain perfectly true about the Black Preacher, while at the same time not being true of the Black Candidate.


You white Americans want to be racist?  Well, okay then.  Fine.  Here’s Jeremiah Wright.  Here’s Louis Farrakhan.  Feel perfectly free to take a dump on them.  Go ahead and scapegoat them.  That’s what they’re here for.


Just don’t touch my Barack Obama.  And stop worrying: A vote for the Black Candidate will not open the White House’s door to the Black Preacher. 


If Maureen Dowd’s handling of this message over the course of 2008 differs fundamentally from "the woman" whom Dowd insists "is sounding more Cheney than Cheney," this brief review of Dowd’s treatment of the Black Preacher ought to give us pause: How much different, when all is said and done?   


"Black, White & Grey," Maureen Dowd, New York Times, March 19, 2008
"Haunting Obama’s Dreams,"
Maureen Dowd, New York Times, March 23, 2008
"Brush It Off,"
Maureen Dowd, New York Times, April 20, 2008
"Praying and Preying,"
Maureen Dowd, New York Times, April 30, 2008
Mud Pies for ‘That One’," Maureen Dowd, New York Times, October 8, 2008


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