The Maureen Dowd you've never seen


As for Obama’s cool image she says, “Americans love having a Joshua Bartlett type,” she says, referring to the fictional president of The West Wing TV show. “He’s elegant, intelligent, well-spoken.”

She has found him incredibly self-assured in private conversation. They also share a bond as children of immediate immigrants --Obama is the first president since Hoover to have a parent born outside the country, and only the seventh ever. 

She says it is an overlooked factor about Obama, an issue that weighed heavily with other would-be White House contenders.

“I interviewed Mario Cuomo when he was thinking of running, and everyone said he was going to run, and he was obsessed with being the son of an immigrant. It reminded me of the Aesop Fable, where the dog has the steak in his mouth and he sees the reflection of another dog with a steak and drops it. He didn’t want to drop his steak.

“He had come so far, his father was an immigrant, he was the governor of New York, and he was all twisted about his worthiness as president. It was very ethnic to me, and I was going, ‘Yes but if you don’t run, you leave the field to people like George Bush Senior, who never question their worthiness.

“I had the same conversation with Colin Powell. Again, the son of an immigrant, he had achieved so much but he wasn’t sure, he didn’t know.

“But with Obama, it’s not that. He doesn’t have that sense of ‘Am I worthy?’ I love that he says he’s a mutt.

“I thought it was sad that the poor people who raised him weren’t there for his inauguration. He’s incredibly young, but they had all passed.”

As for any Dowd criticism of Obama? “He doesn’t like being made fun of. He’s not able to bat it back like JFK could. He gets a little prickly.

“He can be a little starchy,” she adds, like when Vice President Joe Biden cracked a joke about Chief Justice John Roberts muffing the lines on the swearing in ceremony, and Obama fixed him with a cold stare,

“But this is where he’s not Irish at all, and Biden and people say he’s not sentimental at all, and in a way that’s a really good trait in a leader.  He cuts to the chase,” she says.

“Biden’s line about him is one that everybody uses about him, and it’s that he travels light, and it’s interesting because when you see him there’s no cloud around him, he’s not carrying a bunch of papers, everything is about traveling light.

“The BlackBerry was the one thing he actually kind of wanted. He has Reggie Love (his body man) who comes with the Nicorettes and cigarettes. On the campaign Reggie had cigarettes -- it was a big secret --, but I think that it’s hard to stop smoking and run for president at the same time. It’s too much.

“Yes, Obama travels light emotionally, physically. The way Gordon Brown was treated for instance. During his recent visit the British were upset, but Obama is not a sentimental person not like he’s giving that love to anyone else. Obama is very detached.

“But Americans know he is trying, trying very hard, and these are huge problems he is facing.”

As for Vice President Biden, Dowd is also a big fan.

“I love Joe Biden. I knocked him out of the race in ’88 when I reported that he plagiarized Neil Kinnock’s speeches.

“The fact that he ree-stablished a relationship with me, and before he was appointed, a friend and I had an off-the-record lunch with him, and you know, it’s an Irish thing, he was being all Irish.

“I was sitting thinking ‘If I were him I wouldn’t have me here,’ but I kind of admired his ability to move on.”

As for Obama’s predecessors Bush and Cheney, she says they “started out to be bullies to scare the world and be a hyperpower, and they accomplished that intention.”

She says the recent Oliver Stone movie about Bush got it right, that Bush did end up finally with some self-awareness that something deep had gone wrong.  In his case she says his refusal to pardon Scooter Libby despite Dick Cheney’s frantic attempts to get him one was the clear signal.

As for Poppy Bush there is no doubt that Dowd and himself retain a soft spot for each other.

“George Bush Senior has written me twice in the last week because I sent him a Christmas present. He signs his ‘love’ but then crosses out the love and say ‘not yet’ indicating he’s mad about the coverage of W. I’m sure at some level they must be disappointed too.”

She says Bush senior “must be angry” with Cheney and Rumsfeld. She says it would be hard for him not to be. W’s whole presidency, she says, was an “attempt to be the reverse of everything Bush Senior stood for.