What requests did New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd leave in the cracks of the Western Wall when she accompanied President George W. Bush, and later President Obama, on their trips to Jerusalem?
“I left the same message both times,” said the red-headed, Irish-American Pulitzer Prize-winner. “I asked, ‘Where’s my Jewish husband?’ ”
The acerbic Dowd, a deflator of egos across the political spectrum, proved to be in a fairly mellow mood in an extended give-and-take Jan. 7 with Rabbi David Wolpe at the Sinai Temple here.
Billed as a “conversation” on “Manners & Morals in Politics & Culture,” the event made up in humorous anecdotes what it lacked in depth.
The younger President Bush, “W” in Dowd-speak, took his expected lumps.
“W took the family wagon and rammed it into the globe,” Dowd observed.
However, Bush’s successor did not fare all that well either. While Bush’s decision-making process was all visceral, Dowd said Obama may be too cerebral and professorial.
“It’s fine to be cool and calm, but on matters of national security, you can’t be all cool, you must connect with the public,” she said. “Obama keeps missing the moment of connection.”
Dowd’s view of Obama may have been influenced by an encounter while she was covering the then-Illinois senator as a candidate on the presidential campaign trail.
Obama called in a few top reporters, and at the end he turned to Dowd and said he wanted to speak with her privately for a couple of minutes. With visions of an exclusive, Dowd was a bit startled when the candidate greeted her with the words, “You know, you are really irritating.”
Dowd did have high praise for First Lady Michelle Obama.
“Michelle stumbled in the early days of the campaign, but she remade her image and in her first six months in the White House she was flawless,” Dowd said.
A more in-depth examination on the intersection of personality, politics, power and policy in Washington would have been instructive, but the conversation was detoured to the well-traveled road of gender roles in American life – or are women any happier now than they were before the feminist revolution?
As an unmarried 57-year old woman whose name has been frequently linked with prominent men, Dowd claims considerable expertise on the subject as the author of the 2005 book “Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide.”
The veteran journalist, who won the Pulitzer for her commentary on the Monica Lewinsky affair and attempted impeachment of President Clinton, answered the first part of the book’s title in the affirmative. But she deplored continuing bias against women in journalism, describing as “ridiculous” the 8-2 ratio of male vs. female editorial columnists at The New York Times.
She attributed part of the problem to the fact that male presidents, including Obama, prefer to bond socially and athletically with male reporters. Dowd noted that Obama played golf for four hours with Tom Friedman, which she said immediately elevated her New York Times colleague into the ranks of “favorite” presidential reporters.
On the basis of surveys and her own research and experiences, Dowd proposed that women are now more concerned about their looks and relationships with men than they were 25 years ago.
“Women are becoming less happy, while men are becoming happier,” she declared.
The reason, Dowd surmised, is that “the more choices women have, the more stressed they are,” adding that “women are finer tuned emotionally.”
Wolpe interjected, “Are you saying that we men are happier because we are oblivious?”
“Yes,” Dowd answered.