The secret life of Maureen Dowd


Like Maureen, her dad had political favorites -- Truman was one.

“He tended to judge politicians by whether he thought they were phonies or not,” says Maureen. “I think that's one thing I inherited, besides wearing sunglasses indoors.”

As part of his job Michael Dowd guarded FDR and Joe McCarthy during the Red Scare, loved Truman but didn't like Bobby Kennedy, who let the side down by not bothering to hire some Irish who needed work on the Hill.

He won a medal for bravery and befriended high people, and saw places a young Irish emigrant had no right to dream of. Michael rose through the ranks to become head of the AOH, the largest Irish organization in America.

Her mother was an Irish rebel.  In the 1970s Peggy Dowd led a demonstration at the British Embassy after Bloody Sunday when 14 were shot by British forces in Derry.  To her eternal satisfaction the then British ambassador had to sneak in through the underground garage.

Maureen and Peggy agree she would have been “delighted” that President Barack Obama recently got rid of the Churchill bust that George W. Bush kept in the Oval Office.

Their parent’ biggest fight occurred on a trip to Ireland.  Being a Clare man, Michael Dowd wanted to go to Eamon de Valera's grave. His wife wanted to pay homage to Michael Collins. The Irish Civil War almost got reenacted.

On another occasion Mike Dowd arrived back in Ireland with an American car, a roadster. The locals were gobsmacked at the likes of this prosperity.

“They thought he was a “millunare, as he pronounced it,” Peggy says, laughing.

Their father had tried to set up an AOH museum in Washington for Irish artifacts. A priest in Massachusetts sent a holy medal that he had received from the mother of Michael Collins. He swore Collins wore it the day he died in the Republican ambush at Beal na Blath outside Cork city.

It remains one of the Dowd family's greatest treasures. Maureen wants to talk to the Irish Government about it.

Their father died in 1971. On her own deathbed many years later in 2005 Peggy Dowd talked out loud to him, leading Maureen and Peggy to believe he was waiting for her.  Their mother was hale and hearty for many years before succumbing to old age at 97.

Peggy was going blind towards the end. Maureen would go over to her and turn on the daily Mass at 8:30. 

Her mother loved Tim Russert and "Meet the Press." She confessed she hated going blind because it meant she couldn't see Tim Russert any more. The late great NBC anchor returned the favor, often wishing her a happy birthday on air. Somewhere in a green swathe of heaven that TV twosome continues.

When Peggy died the fulsome Washington Post obituary heading said simply: “Font of Advice.”

In many ways that has never changed. Maureen’s New York Times columns could be read in some ways as letters to the mother she still misses profoundly, full of the piercing insight and gossipy bon mots Peggy Dowd loved.

The old Irish rebel still lives on in the daughter. Mike Quill, the great union leader and 1920s IRA activist, is alleged to have told the immigration man letting him into America that, “if there’s a government here I’m against it.” Sometimes it seems Maureen feels that way too.

All these years later, the little girl that her father worried was too shy to get on in life has certainly proved him wrong on that score.

Dowd’s meteoric rise to the top of the media pile was achieved through sheer dint of hard work and an unerring eye for the critical detail that everyone else was missing. Along the way she has ended forever the cozy view of women writers as softly-softlys who leave the meaty stuff to the men.

Maureen’s assessment of the current crisis and its origins is direct and to the point.

“W is the guy who crashed the family station wagon into the globe. Obama is the guy who has to have the wreck towed and the globe repaired and the damages paid and the hard feelings soothed. From the lawless and heedless to the law-abiding and mindful,” she says.

Maureen makes no secret of her admiration of Obama, and points out her gleefully her Republican sister, disillusioned with Bush, has become an “Obamacon.”

She says Obama is “doing really well. He inherited the worst foreign and domestic policy crises of anyone since FDR and Lincoln. Just what he has to deal with is mind-blowing.

“We grew up in Washington. We’ve never seen a president treat Washington like a real city.  He and Michelle are out on date night, they are going to local restaurants and homeless shelters – that means a lot to me. As a native we’ve never had that.”

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.”