Vital Signs

Everything Old Is New Again

Maureen Dowd, premier columnist for the New York Times, is possessed of a rare professional gift: She can be mean (often really mean) and funny (often very funny) at the same time. What's more, her potent powers of observation and sheer talent as a writer usually combine to mitigate her predictable Washington cynicism.

But with the election of George W. Bush, Maureen Dowd is behaving like a writer off her feed. She is not all that mean lately, and not all that funny, either. And she's certainly not very incisive. What she is, it seems, is bothered—invested. And for a writer like Dowd, one whose every column is a precarious balance between humor and criticism, being bothered, being invested —caring— is like throwing a fistful of salt into a delicately seasoned sauce: It's ruination.

I have no idea what kind of President George W. Bush will become; but he is already an interesting public presence because he has demonstrated that it's possible for Maureen Dowd, the woman who had the Clintons' number like no one else, to miss the point and miss it completely. One of the many fascinating consequences of the 2000 election is that, for the first time, Dowd's surveys of the political landscape reflect not the faintest understanding of the view. In other words, the sharpest gal around just doesn't get it. Over the years, Dowd's columns have been great, and they've been...

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