Easy Writer

The New York Times' Maureen Dowd makes it so easy to dis Dubya.

Every devoted New York Times reader has a favorite op-ed pundit. For foreign policy buffs, it's Thomas L. Friedman. For Bush-friendly Pottery Barn musings on churchgoing suburbanites, it's David Brooks. For rabid Dubya haters with a high tolerance for economics arcana, it's Paul Krugman. Nicholas Kristof is harder to peg—opposed to genocide in Darfur yet open to snowmobiles in Yellowstone. But Maureen Dowd, a 1999 Pulitzer Prize winner for her Clinton-era cattiness, may remain the biggest enigma of all: How did this woman get her job? Basically a compilation of her writings and columns reaching from 1992 to this past summer, Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Risk (Putnam, 24.95) offers nothing new for any regular Times reader. Unlike Krugman's 2003 The Great Unraveling, there's no substantial new prologue, conclusion, or introductions to the book's chronological sections. Yet Bushworld is a best seller, a testimony to Dowd's popularity among those who like to see their leaders, of either party, archly skewered more for their personalities than their politics. Put another way, Dowd is, and always has been, fatally shallow—good at glibly garnishing others' reporting with filigrees of Beltway-speak. Until Brooks' recent arrival, she was the weakest link on the Times' right-hand opinion page; now she looks like the next Tina Brown—a princess of print poised to perch on the talk show couch. On The Charlie Rose Show recently, she basked like a babe at his fawning, then cooed to the question of why she hadn't published such a collection earlier. She replied, in effect, "If I'd known it was so easy, I would've done it during the Clinton years." Easy is the word for it. Already she's marked Kerry as a stiff, more wooden than Gore; and if Bush, "the Boy King," should be re-elected, she's got at least four more years of calumny in her glossary. To a remarkable degree, her critique of 43 (son of 41) boils down to playground epithets like "Mini-Me" (to Cheney's Dr. Evil) and "Junior." If Ann Richards coined "Shrub," Dowd has made a topiary art of shrubbery, and her book is funny for that reason alone. Suitable for bathroom reading in any Prius- driving, Kerry-voting, North Seattle liberal household, Bushworld works adequately in short, undemanding installments. The book is most interesting, however, for its prelude to the second coming of Bush. Dowd, a Times staffer since '86, first covered the father (she didn't land her column until '95) back during Dubya's prodigal days, when no one expected squat of him. Then just a hard-drinking henchman for George H.W. Bush, Dubya owed "his spiteful side" to mother Barbara, opines Dowd. During '99, she finds him "willfully clueless" about foreign policy and ponders "his interview smirk—that anti-intellectual bravado." Thanks, but we can watch television to learn as much. Bushworld is all very telling about Bush's past (and future?) travesties, but never very insightful. You can cheer each stroke of Dowd's hatchet while wondering why she never takes time to sharpen her blade. bmiller@seattleweekly.com Maureen Dowd will appear at UW Kane Hall, Room 110 (free with advance purchase of book at University Book Store; $5 for any remaining tickets; 206-634-3400), 7:30 p.m., Fri., Oct. 22.

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