GUEST: Maureen Dowd
I’m Richard Heffner; your host on THE OPEN MIND … have been for a very, very long time. Which, I suppose, is why my guest today, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Op-Ed Page columnist Maureen Dowd, never even protested the characterization when she was here last time, then appeared on radio with Don Imus and he asked what she had been doing with that “old dude” on THE OPEN MIND.
HEFFNER: But, so it goes, so it goes … and probably explains why I feel somewhat less at ease now than I did when Maureen Dowd joined me here to talk about her first book, “Bushworld … Enter At Your Own Risk”.
For its traditional politics were for me at least much more comprehensible than the sexual politics of her quite compelling, attention-gathering new G.P. Putnam book titled, “Are Men Necessary?” … subtitled, “When Sexes Collide”.
So that in the rather sad innocence of my dotage, I think I’ll just ignore the pun and merely throw back to my guest her own seminal question: “Are Men Necessary?”
DOWD: Well, yes, but don’t tell them, it will make them cocky. Of course, they’re necessary. What’s interesting to me is that I wanted the title, and obviously I, I put the cover on it for that reason, to be playful and mischievous, like the push and pull of a Jane Austin novel, “Pride and Prejudice”, strong willed men and women kind of having a fantastic time together.
And, but a lot of guys are a little scared of it because they think the answer is “no”, but you tell me, why would men assume the answer is no? Of course the answer is yes.
HEFFNER: Of course the answer is yes.
DOWD: Of course.
HEFFNER: I would say that.
HEFFNER: But I have the feeling in reading all of the comments …
DOWD: Well …
HEFFNER: … so many of the women writers …
HEFFNER: … have made on your book …
DOWD: Right. Right. I know it’s interesting that the reviewers were all women. Isn’t it?
HEFFNER: How do you, how do you account for that?
DOWD: I don’t know. I would have assigned…
HEFFNER: The push/pull again.
DOWD: … some male reviewers to review it.
HEFFNER: And what do you think the difference would be?
DOWD: Well, I just think. The reason I wrote the book, I’ve, I’ve spent five years covering war and faked reasons to go to war and torture and smearing spies and black CIA holes, and I just wanted to have some fun and get, you know, this…as a secondary beat I’ve covered men and women for 30 years besides politics … and men and women in politics and Hollywood and at play and at work.
Even before I came to The Times, and I just thought it’d be fun to gather every morsel, you know, about men and women that was interesting and they could have some great conversations. Men and men, women, and women about men, and so I wanted it to be light and breezy and fun. And I think because… if you’re trying to channel Dorothy Parker and H. L. Mencken, I mean sometimes I want to be a serious political columnist and sometimes I want to have a good time. And maybe it’s confusing because I think some of the original reviews missed the fact that the book is a lot of social satire and meant to be fun and sexy.
HEFFNER: It is fine and sexy.
DOWD: Fun and sexy, too. (Laughter)
HEFFNER: Fun and sexy, too. That shows you, talk to an old man and he doesn’t even hear what you’re saying.
HEFFNER: But again, let’s …
DOWD: And I didn’t defend you with Imus because I don’t defend myself. I just keep my head down and try and survive the 15 minutes or whatever it is. I let him say anything he wants about me, too.
HEFFNER: You know, I’ve noticed something different. You aren’t keeping your head down. Something has happened.
HEFFNER: What do you think it is?
DOWD: No. If you think I’m less scared of TV, you’re wrong. I am. I am totally scared. And this is really my last day of TV and I’m so excited, I’m so happy, I’m going to crawl back into my secure, undisclosed location and just hope Dick Cheney isn’t there.
HEFFNER: Oh, come on …
HEFFNER: … in the first place you know he will be there …
HEFFNER: But when you did a series of questions and answers for Vanity Fair …
HEFFNER: Come on, don’t tell me you were trying to hide.
DOWD: Well, I’m … I do try and get in the spirit of things, if I’m doing something, I try and do it well. But that doesn’t mean … and when you … if you, if you’ve written a book you really like and you want other people to read it, you might have to do things you don’t like to publicize it. I still find, you know, being in the public eye really hard. I do.
HEFFNER: Yet you’re in the public eye constantly.
DOWD: Just right now.
HEFFNER: No, come on.
DOWD: But after 9 o’clock tonight … (laughter)
HEFFNER: After 9 o’clock tonight … what? You’re going to write pieces that …
DOWD: No, I’m going to crawl back under my desk and never be heard from again. Leave the public eye to…
DOWD: Frank Rich and people who do it better. Tom Friedman.
HEFFNER: This past week, when you wrote something about Cheney again …
HEFFNER: I thought to myself, “great, good” …
HEFFNER: … I had spent the weekend enjoying reading Maureen Dowd … “Are Men Necessary: When Sexes…the Sexes Collide”, but when I read the Cheney piece, I thought “Okay, I’m back in the fold … she’s back in the fold” and though you have a mean, mean, mean streak to it … and a funny, funny…
DOWD: Nooo, not mean, not mean, not mean.
HEFFNER: What is it?
DOWD: Let’s use the word they’d use about men … tough.
HEFFNER: Fair. Why don’t you want mean? Mean is feminine?
DOWD: Because I, I just think “mean” sounds too personal, as though there’s some sort of personal animus, and I don’t think of politicians in that way. I don’t like or dislike them, or … there’s nothing personal about it. It’s just my job to analyze how they’re doing their job.
HEFFNER: Wait a minute. You said something like that the last time we were here together. Could it be, could it be that writing as you do … the “tough” stuff … forget the “mean” stuff … the tough stuff that you don’t like or dislike one or the other?
DOWD: Well, I address some of that in here and I promise you there’s no whining in this book, either about my personal life or about my job. But I do … I am fascinated with underlying gender roles in society and how they affect our Presidential races and how they affect how we deal with each other.
So I do write a bit about … you know I quote the late folklorist, Allen Dundes who said that … I’m talking about why there are so few women OpEd columnists … only … I’m the only one out of eight or nine, if you count the Ombudsman at The Times.
And I think it’s just tougher for women because, as Dundes said, men are used to the art of verbal dueling and they expect it from other guys, but when a woman challenges them and criticizes them they worry that it makes them effeminate and they kind of want the woman to go back to the kitchen. So, it’s a … it’s just a different thing.
HEFFNER: Talking about going back to the kitchen.
DOWD: (Laughter) And my Mom before she died did teach me how to cook and left me all her cookbooks, so I’ve been in the kitchen a lot lately, actually.
HEFFNER: What about …
DOWD: She thought the kitchen … you know, one time I asked her about feminism, I interviewed her for a Times column at the Millennium and I said, “What did you think of feminism?” and she said, “Well, those women didn’t seem to like the kitchen and I love the kitchen, so I didn’t agree with them.”
HEFFNER: Have you come to love it?
DOWD: Well, I’m, I’m struggling with cooking. It’s a little hard. I…we were using, when she was teaching me … David Letterman’s Mom had written a book of recipes … and we were using all David Letterman’s favorite recipes. So I know everything that he likes.
HEFFNER: Let me ask about another woman you’ve written a lot about. I couldn’t figure out, at the end of the book, when you went back to Hillary Clinton …
HEFFNER: Where are you relating to that lady?
DOWD: Well, I’m like everyone else … well, maybe not everyone else, but I’m like many other people, I have very ambivalent feelings about her. I mean sometimes she’s impressive and sometimes she does things that you just can’t fathom and… she’s a very interesting character.
And I think I have a balanced portrait of her. But she and Condi … you know that’s the dream race that everyone’s salivating over. And these two women, as I joke in the book, do not throw like girls.
HEFFNER: Then you’ll certainly sell many more millions of copies of “Are Men Necessary”, if those are the two candidates.
DOWD: Ah, well, that would be interesting.
HEFFNER: What would you think? What would you think about either one, both of them being President?
DOWD: Well, the main interest I have … as a citizen and a journalist, is in seeing Bill Clinton be First Lad, be cause I think that would be the most fun that we could possibly have. He would love that job so much and you know that even though she talked him into giving her a West Wing office, she would not give him a West Wing office. No way.
But, he would still have this fantastic time over in the East Wing, surrounded by women, deciding on the china patterns while she was trying to stop China from buying up all our companies. It would be hilarious. It would be the story of a lifetime.
HEFFNER: Okay. Be serious. What would you think about … first about a woman President now?
DOWD: Well, you know, they do all these polls that say we’re ready for a woman President … but …
HEFFNER: Do you think we are?
DOWD: Well, I’m more dubious about that because I think Hillary would have the same problem Ferraro had, and I also write about this in the book, that, you know, Hillary got one Southern man, but can she get millions more? I don’t know.
You know, also there’s certain barriers women … women … today they announced that Elizabeth Vargas is going to be a co-permanent anchor of the nightly news, but we still haven’t even broken the barrier of having a woman solo anchor of the nightly news. Because a lot of news executives think that a “Daddy” has to be in that seat.
In the same way that we want a “Daddy” to run the country. So all of those issues of gender are very interesting. And, and Presidential contests are often contests of manliness. So Hillary, that’s why she voted to authorize the war, that’s why she’s on, you know, the Defense Committee, because she has to be manlier than any male candidate and actually, I think she probably is manlier than a lot of the recent Democratic male candidates.
HEFFNER: Not “mean”? Tough?
DOWD: No, tough.
HEFFNER: I’m not talking about you.
DOWD: I know it. Tough.
HEFFNER: Okay, let’s … let, let me not …
DOWD: Tart. (Laughter)
HEFFNER: That’s better.
HEFFNER: Better …
DOWD: Sassy … saucy.
HEFFNER: Is there a woman you would like to see in the White House now?
DOWD: Well, as a journalist … yeah.
HEFFNER: No, I don’t mean as a journalist … you’re a citizen, too.
DOWD: Well, yeah, I try to keep my opinions as a citizen private.
HEFFNER: Okay. That’s, that’s fair enough.
HEFFNER: But you have said that you don’t’ think that the country is ready.
DOWD: No, no. No. I’ve said that I think the polls … I just think polls, you can never tell. I think what people say in polls and how they, where they really are … there was a Blue dog Democrat who came to the Times OpEd page last summer and he said he can’t even pose in a picture with Hillary Clinton … he would lose all of his constituents.
So even though there’s a jugganaught towards her getting the nomination, I do think a lot of people think if it was that easy to paint Kerry as a Northeast Liberal girl, how easy would it be to paint a Northeast Liberal girl as a Northeast Liberal girl.
HEFFNER: And the answer is it would be a hell of a lot easier.
DOWD: No, although Rove is kind of debilitated, so … you know Hillary came to the Times a few years ago and said, you know, her ideal situation obviously would be if the Bush sit…if the Bush White House pulled the country so far to the Right, that she was seen as a less polarizing figure.
And that has happened. I mean the country has been pulled so far to the Right and a Time magazine poll this week shows that 60% of people want someone totally different than Bush. So that the mood is set for her very well.
But I think if she were to run against someone like John McCain, it would be very tough for her because a lot of people love McCain and as McCain says, “the media is his base”.
HEFFNER: Are you … are you then making an assumption about McCain and the next Republican Convention?
DOWD: Well, the, the question will be … McCain is a maverick and so, it would be very hard for him to get the Republican nomination unless he cuts a deal with the more establishment Bush side of the party. And you know E. J. Dionne did an interesting column that maybe he’d take Jeb Bush as his Vice President, maybe he’d take Condi. I mean that would be an amazing race … John McCain and Condi versus Hillary and, and Obama.
HEFFNER: Oh … that was my grandson’s ticket … the, that day after the election Hillary and Obama … but fascinating in this, in this Vanity Fair piece … I won’t characterize it …
HEFFNER: … you’ll forgive me …
DOWD: It’s saucy … (laughter)
HEFFNER: Cutesy. Will you accept “cutesy”?
DOWD: No. Wry. (Laughter)
HEFFNER: What is your greatest fear? “Jeb Bush 2008” and I couldn’t tell whether you really meant that.
DOWD: No. I mean obviously you’re supposed to just be having fun with it and having a good time. And that’s, for me that’s, that’s a funny thought because I’ve covered this family through two generations now, and I’ve covered them go to war with the same dictator and the same country twice. So, I mean the idea that there would be another Bush … be it Jeb or George P., you know, is just a little scary, but I would have to do groundhog day again, but I’m just teasing.
HEFFNER: You are just teasing?
DOWD: Oh, yeah. Of course.
HEFFNER: So that you don’t think that Jeb is a possibility for one of the lines?
DOWD: I think he could be a possibility as McCain’s Vice President if McCain cuts that deal. And he will need to cut some deal to be President with.
HEFFNER: And who do you see in the Democratic Party?
DOWD: Well, you know, a lot of people are talking about Warner, but even though he’s in my backyard I haven’t really covered him, I’m going to have to cover him more. And, you know, Biden wants to run and actually John Kerry wants to run and there are even rumors about Gore. But I think when you lose it the way Gore and Kerry lost it, you really can’t come back.
HEFFNER: How did Gore lose it?
DOWD: Gore lost it … Gore won it … and still lost it.
DOWD: Which is really the sign of a loser.
HEFFNER: Tell me what you mean. I know you’ve indicated that before. What do you mean by that?
DOWD: Well, I think that Gore, if Gore had demanded a statewide recount of Florida rather than trying to be too cute by half and just count the counties that he though he would win, he probably would have been President.
HEFFNER: Big error.
HEFFNER: Was that the major one?
DOWD: And also … and also the Bushes when they get their back against the wall, they will do what it takes. They brought in James Baker, they brought in the A-team to Tallahassee. That is the toughest team in show business. And Gore’s team was not as tough. He was trying to use his Blackberry and figure stuff out, and you know, you’ve just got to have a James Baker in your corner at a moment like that.
HEFFNER: We have three more years, plus … of the George Bush … George W. Bush Administration … do you think he’ll find his back against the wall?
DOWD: I think his Administration will always be defined by rushing into one place too fast … Iraq … and not rushing into another fast enough … New Orleans.
HEFFNER: Do you think that … you know, when you say that … I don’t know whether you mean it to be dismissive …
HEFFNER: … or wry, or what. It’s a lovely combination of …
DOWD: Well, I don’t do much … I don’t do that much TV so I don’t know how to talk in TV sound bites. So, some of my answers are too short.
HEFFNER: But that’s a sound bite, come on.
DOWD: But they’re too short … I don’t really explain it. But that’s really what I think. I don’t think he’s going to be able, able to recover from Iraq and Katrina.
HEFFNER: But what I see when you say that, and this is not sound bite-ish, is that you’re saying that the Bushes have learned when their backs are against the wall, really, to blow the bugles and bring in the troops and I wonder whether you think this Administration will, in the next three years really have its back against the wall and really do something that’s the equivalent of bringing in the troops.
DOWD: This story of the Bush Administration is the most amazing story I’ve every covered, because it has all the elements of Greek myth and the Star Wars legend.
W and Rove wanted to base his Presidency as a reverse playbook on the father’s …
DOWD: And so what a humiliating thing for his father … they were going to take all of his failures and do the opposite. And then, ironically enough, somehow he’s ended up making his father look better for the history books, after he thought he would one-up his father in the history books.
And you know, they always say that the father/son story is the great story in literature and myth and, you know, narrative. And this is the greatest one in political history. It’s amazing. I mean it’s had very sad results for America because American identity has been totally changed in a bad way.
And as John McCain says, we’re, we’ve lost a lot of our moral authority as a nation. And we’re not about torturing people and grabbing, you know, people off the street and taking them to Eastern Europe to CIA Black Holes. Or making up reasons to go to war. That’s not who we are.
HEFFNER: When you say, “That’s not who we are” and …others have said that, too, and John McCain certainly. Who in the world are we, then, when it comes to winning or losing? When you say … win … that’s not who we are. Who in the world did it?
DOWD: Well, it’s a … it’s …
HEFFNER: A man who won the last election … not like the first election.
DOWD: Well, it’s very fascinating because the way W and Cheney won and ruled, initially, they played into these very potent myths in our society … the Western myths. And Cheney’s aides would even describe him as the … they were both described as the Westerners of few words. And Cheney’s aides would say, “He’s like the cattleman, who is fine unless you cross him and bring your bison across his land, (laughter) and then he’ll come back at you.”
So they consciously, the, the second Republican Convention was very much like the Magnificent Seven, with Schwarzenegger and McCain and Cheney and Bush riding into town to save it from the Islamic terrorists. It was set up very consciously like that. So they very cleverly used all these American frontier myths at the beginning.
But, you know, in the end what they did was not American. We believe in fair play and integrity, we’re not bullies in the world, and we don’t want to be disliked in the world. And we want to do the right thing, but with integrity. And they took that from us.
HEFFNER: You know I’m still puzzled by that because you describe in the first instance a very American picture.
DOWD: Right. But it was American spin picture. What they were actually doing were creating whole agencies in the government to… gin-up this war and exaggerate the evidence to go to war. And you know, you were talking, in a previous show about whether it was unpatriotic to question the war. And what was unpatriotic was to suppress the reports that showed that we needed more troops; those troops needed better armor; there was going to be a vicious insurgency and civil war. And they sent our kids over there without any knowledge of that. They were expecting flowers and chocolates. And instead … we had intelligence reports that said all that. We could have … if…if they wanted to go in, they could have sent the troops better prepared. And they didn’t. And that is what is unpatriotic.
HEFFNER: Maureen, how do you, how do you explain that? Rummy is no dummy. You know that.
DOWD: (Laughter) Because they all had interlocking desires. Rummy wanted to show off as sort of … you know, lean, mean, fighting machine, that could move quickly and would be his transformation of the military. And the Neo-Cons had had a decades long plan to knock off Saddam. And change the map of the Middle East. And W wanted … in one … he’d been a drifter his whole life, he didn’t get serious until after 40, he was overawed by his father … in one fell sweep…swoop he thought he could outdo his father. So they all had needs.
HEFFNER: It’s that “one fell swoop” over the next three years that worries the hell out of me. Not you?
DOWD: Well, this is why Winston Churchill called the Middle East an ungrateful volcano. And, you know, none of these … Bush did not study what he needed to study before we got involved there.
And you have to be very careful. Even if he’d just watched “Lawrence of Arabia”, he might have learned what he needed to know.
HEFFNER: I like that. You haven’t used that yet, have you?
DOWD: (Laughter) No.
HEFFNER: Well, okay, this is the first time, but I’m going to borrow it from you. Do you think there’s any possibility that not having learned, not having watched “Lawrence of Arabia”, not really having read Winston Churchill, that we’re in for some more big game hunting?
DOWD: Well, ah, you mean are they going to try to knock off Syria and these other places?
DOWD: Oh, who knows. I don’t know. They seem to be, for the first time, kind of frozen and crippled. And there was an interesting story in the Washington Post recently about how some people in the White House were urging Bush to find his inner cowboy and get back his swagger. And I think Bush is really angry, he … but he doesn’t know who to be angry at. There have been stories that he’s not talking to his father and that he’s, he’s angry at the leaking and he’s … he doesn’t …this was a man who came into office hating messes. And now he’s in the middle of the biggest messes in terms of re-building New Orleans and getting out of Iraq that, you know, in American history. And so it. I, I feel sorry for him. He’s in a really bad place. But you can’t do these things so cavalierly.
HEFFNER: You say you feel sorry for him, he’s in a really bad …
DOWD: I do.
HEFFNER: … place …
DOWD: I do. I do feel sorry for him. I think he thought … he was sold a bill of goods by the Neo-Cons … and by Cheney … and Cheney … in my Shakespearean drama, Cheney is the villain. And he believed Cheney. Cheney had been put in there as a regent by his own father. But Cheney got a very dark, gloomy picture, that is why Brent Scowcroft said in The New Yorker, “I’ve known Dick Cheney for 30 years. I’ve been friends with him, I do not know Dick Cheney”. What he’s saying is, they don’t. they don’t know what happened to Dick Cheney, why he lead W down this path.
HEFFNER: And… you’re still not ready to formulate a concern with three more years going … in that dark, dark picture. You feel sorry for him?
DOWD: Well, I think now, I think now the American public has woken up. Katrina flooded in and reality flooded in. And they realized that this Administration in many ways was not competent. It wasn’t competent in the occupation of Iraq, the Pentagon stole all the plans and, you know, muffed it up from the State Department. And everything was done wrong, just as it was in Katrina. They had to show President Bush a DVD of news reports to beg him to leave his vacation two days early. I mean we were all watching people dying on CNN. That shouldn’t have been necessary.
So I think now that people are skeptical it would be very hard for them to con…continue with what some of the Neo-Cons wanted, which was to do a lot more intervention and pre-emption.
HEFFNER: And you’re, you’re… convinced that they can’t turn this around with nothing, with “PR”, with spinning.
DOWD: I think, I think that Katrina, trying to stay on vacation while we were watching people die on television was such a searing scalding event for Americans that it would be really hard to turn around with spin.
And also, they have to acknowledge what’s wrong in Iraq before they can change the plan and they are not changing the plan. President Bush’s speech the other day was just a spin … you know, devised by a PR firm to try and make the same old ideas that aren’t working look better.
HEFFNER: There is a wonderful BBC series of documentaries, four part documentary on, basically on “spinning” …
HEFFNER: In fact, the Times did a story on it, and I went and got them because they hadn’t been shown in this country, just absolutely extraordinary, pinning the blame on our friend Sigmund Freud in the sense …
HEFFNER: … because he lead us to an understanding of the way our minds work …
HEFFNER: … and our emotions, and our feelings.
DOWD: It’s, it’s hard to tell who’s coming into play more with the Bush family, Freud or Jung.
HEFFNER: Which one do you think? I vote for Jung.
DOWD: Oh, probably … I was going to say Freud, but I think probably both … the collective father and the father-father.
HEFFNER: Do you think the White House has heard of either?
DOWD: (Laughter) Maybe they should have a … as they have a medical doctor, maybe they need a “First Shrink”.
HEFFNER: Come back and let’s talk about that … having a “First Shrink”, which you’ve suggested before. Maureen Dowd, thank you so much for joining me.
DOWD: Thank you so much. Thanks, Dick
HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time, and if you would like a transcript of today’s program, please send $4.00 in check or money order to The Open Mind, P. O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, New York 10150.
Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck.”
N.B. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this transcript. It may not, however, be a verbatim copy of the program.