The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter discusses why President Biden's popular policies haven't translated to popularity among voters.
Guest Host: Michel Martin
Maureen Dowd has been writing about politics for The New York Times for the past 30 years. Dowd is known for her acerbic style and seeming delight in mocking political foibles and hubris whenever she can. The 2016 race for president has offered up a mother lode of material for Dowd’s weekly column. She skewers both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, but is perceived by some to be harder on the latter. Many of her recent columns appear in a new book, along with essays from two of Dowd’s conservative siblings and some fresh material of her own. Guest host Michel Martin sits down for a conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Maureen Dowd.
- Maureen Dowd New York Times columnist
MS. MICHEL MARTINThank you for joining us. I'm Michel Martin of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm. Donald Trump has a tenuous relationship with the truth, an inch-deep understanding of policy and a nasty gift for dragging everyone down to his own vulgar level. Hillary Clinton is tone deaf and has a my-way-or-the-highway imperiousness. And President Obama was elected because he was a hot commodity, but he is now a wet blanket. Those are her words, not mine and the kind of barbs Maureen Dowd uses regularly to poke America's political elite in her column for the New York Times.
MS. MICHEL MARTINHer insights and style have won her a Pulitzer Prize and a sometimes rocky relationship with public officials and their supporters. You will find many of her recent columns on the 2016 presidential race in a new book. It's titled "The Year of Voting Dangerously: The Derangement of American Politics." And author, Maureen Dowd is with us now. Welcome.
MS. MAUREEN DOWDThank you, Michel.
MARTINThank you so much for joining us, despite the fact that you're a little bit under the weather. So if you hear coughing here, I just want you to know I'm not being mean.
DOWDI mean, I'm amazed at Hillary's stamina. I was out on book tour for three days and got sick so she's a model of stamina.
MARTINWell, you're holding up very well, I just have to say. So you've covered quite a few presidential races and I'm trying to keep a straight face as I ask you what's so different about this one?
DOWDEverything. It was funny because I thought I would be covering the battle of two dynasties, the Bush dynasty, which I've covered for 30 years and I have an essay about my relationship with the Bush family in the book, and the Clinton dynasty. And I wasn't really looking forward to that. And then, this crazy kind of king of bling, white rapper got into the race. And at first, it was fun, but then, he began spewing hate so the fun dissipated pretty quickly.
DOWDBut it is -- even though a lot of people are terrified by Trump, it is something we need to cover closely as journalists and it is a profoundly remarkable race. It's got everything. It's got Russian hackers, white supremacists, Kardashian-like dueling Twitter feuds, dueling federal investigations, peppy the frog, small hands, conspiracy theories. So it's hard to keep up and it's happening on so many different platforms.
MARTINSometimes when journalists talk about their own work, it reminds us kind of the kind of things that surgeons say in operating rooms that they don't particularly want other people to hear, which is that it actually is kind of fun, so. Is it really kind of fun, even though it's horrifying to many people?
DOWDI thought it was going to be fun at the beginning, but I don't -- I think it just stopped being fun when little Muslim kids got taunted and Muslim women got beat up. That's not fun. And the Times had a story a couple days ago about how there's more violence against Muslims than at any time since 9/11. So you really can't have a good time under those circumstances because Trump doesn't seem to realize, you know, how his words at the microphone -- you know, when he came to the New York Times editorial board, he said, I will be the kind of president the New York Times would like.
DOWDI'm very flexible. You know, and I think he thinks these are opening bids or -- he's a real estate salesman. He's making the sale in the moment. And then, he thinks of himself in a different way, like not as a racist or misogynist or bigot. So but what he doesn’t realize is you are what you become at the microphone. And I asked him about the violence at his rallies toward reporters and, you know, minorities and he said, oh, well, that adds a little excitement. That quote is in the book.
DOWDBut, you know, actually, my researcher for the book got arrested at a Trump event in Houston the other day and is still there because the DA has not yet dropped the charges.
MARTINFor what? Arrested for what?
DOWDHe is now a political reporter for Vice, HBO and he was -- he had been told by the Trump campaign that he might be able to cover the event and he was just asking the hotel people -- 'cause the Trump campaign is so disorganized, he couldn’t find the Trump people so he was just telling the hotel people he wanted to wait and see if he could or could not cover it. And this is like a nice, Mormon kid from California. He's the most polite person I've ever met. He called me Ms. Dowd for the first two years he worked for me.
DOWDAnd so the hotel manager called over a Houston police officer and they arrested him on a class B misdemeanor, I guess.
DOWDI think for trespassing, I guess. And so he -- but he did say something funny. You know, he was in jail till midnight and he said his mug shot was so good that he was going to use it on Tinder. And also, they asked him if he was in a gang and he said, no, but I was in a chess club. So but I think that, you know, that Trump sets the tone for that kind of absurd thing to happen.
MARTINSpeaking of tone, you seemed to have had very good access to Donald Trump. Now, he's tweeting nasty things about you. He called you wacky, crazy, a neurotic dope and said your interviews are boring. What happened to you two? What did you do to provoke him?
DOWDWell, I was bracing for that. I mean, the minute -- he doesn't really have an ideology. He just -- everything is sublimated to his ego. And he also doesn't understand that when he insults people or belittles people like his rivals on the Republican stage and they get hurt then they're not going to support him. Like, George H.W. Bush, it came out today, is voting for Hillary because he doesn't like what Trump -- he didn't like -- I visited with him a couple years ago and he told -- he used...
MARTINFormer President Bush, H.W. Bush, um-hum. -
DOWDYes. He used to an epithet about Donald Trump so -- about the birther stuff. So he already didn't like him and then he had to watch him belittle his son on the debate stage and used to throw his shoe at the TV set, so.
MARTINYou say he doesn't understand that. Are you so sure he doesn't understand that or he just doesn't care?
DOWDOh. Well, I was going to say about my tweets that he doesn't care. He doesn't understand that people get hurt by what he says, but then, he thinks he's allowed to get hurt by -- when they criticize him. It only goes one way. As somebody who knew him said...
MARTINWhy did it start just now though? It's interesting. It's not like you've been that nice to him over the years. I mean, it's -- why now? Why is it that you have drawn ire now?
DOWDI think he saw me on the Smerconish Show on CNN Saturday morning. I'm not quite sure. Smerconish said to me, Trump listens to you, which -- and I corrected him right away. I said, he doesn't listen to me. You know, he did apologize because I told him he had lost my sister's vote over that retweeting of the unflattering Heidi Cruz thing. And so he said, it wasn't that unflattering. And I said, well, it was. Why don't you just apologize to her? And so he apologized. But I wouldn't say he listens to me. So it might've been that.
MARTINAfter all -- you've been actually covering since he was a big sort of social figure in New York before he ran for president. Or rather, he'd been talking about it for some time. Is there anything about him that we should know that we might not know, at this point?
DOWDWell, it's very hard to tell who he is. So then, he was a liberal who supported abortion rights and gun control. And then, now because he's just going after the roar of the crowd and, you know, he's kind of been taken over by the alt-right, he told Chris Matthews that women -- there would have to be some kind of punishment for women who get abortions and that men -- the men wouldn't be punished. And so he's saying exact opposite things.
DOWDYou know, he used to be friends with the Clintons. He used to donate to Hillary Clinton and play golf with Bill Clinton. So it's sort of like two different people, but basically, he's trying to make the sale in the moment.
MARTINYou say in the book -- as we mentioned that the book is columns that you've written over time and also some, you know, fresh pieces. But you do say in the book, at one point, that you liked him, that you thought he was like a toon. And I wonder...
DOWDI don't know if I said -- did I use the word "liked"?
MARTINI think you did.
DOWDI don't usually talk about politicians in terms of like or dislike or love and hate. I thought -- well, when he was, as you say, a social figure in New York, he was kind of like a Gotham batman cartoon. And, in a way, watching this race where the press finds it so hard to get a grip on him, it's like Jessica -- who killed Jessica Rabbit, where it's toons and humans. And it's just hard.
DOWDIt's also a fusion of reality TV and social media and politics. So even though the Times has done a lot of investigative pieces about him being a bad businessman and having a bad reputation in business, a lot of the public still sees him as the guy on "The Apprentice" who's a great businessman and has a heart and is very decisive and that's how they see him, so.
MARTINBut you don't.
DOWDWell, it's reality TV, which isn't about reality. And in a way, that's happened in this campaign, with his campaign.
MARTINWe need to take a short break, but when we come back, more with Maureen Dowd. She's the Pulitzer Prizewinning columnist for the New York Times. Her latest book is called "The Year of Voting Dangerously," and she's got many stories to tell us and despite the fact that she's not feeling her best and we're glad that she's powering through so far. And powering through.
MARTINAnd we'd also like to hear from you. We'd love it if you'd join our conversation. You can call us at 1-800-433-8850. You can send us an email at email@example.com. You can also send us a tweet or find us on Facebook. When we come back, Maureen, you know we're going to have to talk about Hillary Clinton, of course.
MARTINSome people think that you've tipped the scale a little bit on her side and I want to talk to you about that. And, of course, Barack Obama. We're told that you get under his skin. So we want to hear all of those shows. More of our conversation with Maureen Dowd when we come back.
MARTINWelcome back. I'm Michel Martin. I'm host of the Saturday and Sunday editions of "All Things Considered," on NPR. And I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm. And our guest is the one and only Maureen Dowd, a columnist for The New York Times. Her latest book is "The Year of Voting Dangerously." Too bad she has nothing to talk about.
MARTINOkay. And our -- before we took our break, we took -- we were talking a bit about Donald Trump. And your, how can we put it, on-again, off-again, kind of relationship with him. He -- I don't mean personal relationship. I mean the fact that you at one point had quite a lot of access to him. And now he's not pleased with you. Let's talk about Hillary Clinton. First of all, I have to say that in preparation for this program, I was reading back a lot of your columns and also reading things that have been written about your columns. There does seem to be a through-line where people think that you are -- some people -- who are these people, right?
MARTINBut I just have to say that there's a through-line of criticism that says you are somehow -- you are unfairly negative toward Hillary Clinton. I assume you've heard that before and I wanted to ask you, you know, what do you say about that?
DOWDYeah. I don't -- I think because we're both women, we still have this meme in this society about cat fights. So I think a woman writer who criticizes a woman can be perceived as being harder. And also I write for a newspaper that's considered liberal. So, you know, that can be perceived as being harder. And also, as you know, because we used to be out on the campaign together, I've covered the Clintons for a long time. So, you know, there's more muscle memory or whatever. But I guess what I think is, I don't write an ideological column. So I'm not coming from the left or the right. And I know that disappoints a lot of Times readers. But I don't know how to do it any other way.
DOWDBecause I was a political reporter for so long, I'm just a political reporter who's a columnist. So I wish I did sometimes. Because then you'd have this warm group who loved you, you know, to come back to. But somebody's always mad at me, including my family, who are conservatives. We're not -- you know, they're mad at me when a Republican president is in. And when W was president, one of my brothers said -- got mad at me at a family dinner and said, you know, if there was a hurricane, you'd blame it on W. And then there was and I did. You know, Katrina. So...
MARTINWhat is the frame of your column? How do you see it? What do you see as your mission?
DOWDI think of it as a watchdog. Because I always think politicians, you know, have hundreds of people surrounding them that are paid a lot of money to make them look good and to spin their story. And so I just feel like I want to be the advocate for the reader, to try and get behind the veil and just say, you know, what's really going on, if there's something that's wrong or, you know, something that they said they would that they're not doing.
MARTINI have an email on this point. It's from Brian. He says he's -- he's in Jackson, N.H. And he asks, does Ms. Dowd feel that the type of rhetoric she likes to use is contributing to the devolution of our political discourse. And I assume by that, he means snark. Because you don't curse. I mean, you don't use bad words. You don't -- what do you think?
DOWDI don't like the word snarky. I like the word saucy. But maybe I'm just rationalizing. I don't know.
MARTINBut what do you think about his question? You know, do you think that you've...
MARTIN...that you've kind of -- that you've helped move our discourse in a direction that perhaps you're not, at the end of it, you're not in love with?
DOWDNo. I mean, in college, I studied Shakespeare. And that's what I'm trying -- I'm trying to, like, make people understand it in a way that will attract them to read about it. I mean, I wrote negative columns about the run-up to the Iraq War and the Iraq -- and the handling of the Iraq War for seven years. But I wanted to do it in a way where people -- I could dramatize. And then David Hare kind of used a lot of my stuff to do a play about it, "Stuff Happens." But...
DOWD...I wanted it to be dramatized. I want to lure the reader in so that they'll read it and maybe get upset about it. And so I want it to be entertaining.
MARTINThe -- I wanted to run something by you that I think a lot of people in newsrooms have been talking about, certainly a lot of people in the public have been talking about, and that is this -- there are these dueling narratives about this race. And then they contradict each other, but they're often heard in the same sentence. And one is that the whole false equivalencies argument, that Hillary Clinton seems to get slammed for what seemed to be small misstatements, errors, right? Misstatements. Whereas, Donald Trump, as you've pointed out, as many other people have pointed out, says things that are false all the time and doesn't seem to pay a price for it.
MARTINOn the other hand, people say -- sometimes the same people say that the media is obsessed with Trump and hang on his every word. What is your take on this?
DOWDYeah, I agree with Matt Taibbi who has a good piece on this in Rolling Stone this week, about how a lot of the people who are kind of getting very upset about balance are really trying to get censorship. And they don't want anything negative printed about Hillary because they do believe, as she said, quoting a neocon, that she's the only thing standing between us and the abyss. You know, my friend, Leon Wieseltier, calls Trump a national emergency. And he kind of agrees, you know, we've just got to stop writing about Hillary. But I guess my feeling on it is, just because Trump does a lot of things that are worthy of reproach and we will reproach them, doesn't mean she's completely above and beyond reproach.
DOWDAnd I don't think that's good for her or the democracy or us to just give her a free pass. And I don't think we really want to see unchecked Clintons in the White House.
MARTINWhat is your approach to balance? When you're deciding what you want to write about, do you say to yourself, well, I've written X about this topic or this person. And now I have to wheel it around. What is your own approach to this?
DOWDYeah. I just try to write about, you know, whoever is some, you know, again, the watchdog thing, whoever needs to be watched that week. You know, I try to mix it up. And I mean if it were up to me, I would write a humor column. I wish I were Nora Ephron, you know? I wish, in my next life, I'm going to be her and be just writing funny movies and humor. And I would love to do that. But unfortunately, you know, there have been a lot of...
MARTINYou're a victim of your own success?
DOWDWell, there have been a lot of crazy things that have happened in Washington. So we had, you know, impeachment. We had this war -- this misbegotten war in Iraq. I mean, there have been a lot of serious things to cover. So I try to do it.
MARTINAre you ready for some calls?
MARTINAll right. Here we go. Let's go to Sydney in Adelphi, Md. Sydney, welcome. What's your question and comment for Diane Rehm?
SYDNEYHi, thank you.
MARTINFor, sorry, for Maureen Dowd. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm sitting in for Diane. What's your question for Maureen Dowd?
SYDNEYYeah, okay. Well, thanks for taking my call. Since Ms. Dowd is a journalist, I wanted to ask her if she -- if you read Sinclair Lewis's novel, "It Can't Happen Here"? It was written about 80 years ago about a Trump-like character who is elected president and then the country just turns into a nightmare fascist state. And the kind of creepy thing about the book, it's almost like Lewis time-traveled into our time and then went back and wrote his book. And of course he wrote the book with, you know, a whole background of Hitler coming into power.
SYDNEYSo I -- first of all, are you familiar with the book? And then, if you are, do you think the parallels that Lewis wrote about, the dangers of, you know, becoming a -- descending into fascism, do you think it -- is there any parallel to what's going on now with Trump?
MARTINAll right. Sydney, thanks for your question.
DOWDI can't remember if I've read that. But I just have written it down on my NPR pad here and I'm going to get it as soon as I get out of this interview. I've been thinking, you know...
MARTINNot too soon though.
MARTINWe still have a few minutes.
DOWDThe cultural -- I was thinking of a couple cultural comparisons, which is the two words you would never expect to find in the same sentence are Trump and Dickens. And yet Trump has mastered the art of the cliffhanger, you know, when he had his press conference the other day and somehow the reporters thought they were going to get to go to the press conference without doing an infomercial for the Trump Hotel, which of course, if you read my book, you would know, they weren't. And -- but Dickens was the master of that. In Victorian times, they used to serialize novels so that you always had to have an ending that they want to come back for. And that's the same with "The Apprentice" and reality TV. So he's mastered, you know, that form.
DOWDAnd the other cultural thing I think about him with is "A Face in the Crowd," the old Andy Griffith movie where a radio personality gets to -- rises, and a folksy radio personality rises and then gets a lot of influence over politics and becomes a kind of narcissistic monster. And then Patricia Neal, who discovered him has to somehow leave an open mic, which I hope we don't experience here today, and then the listeners realize he's a selfish, narcissistic monster.
MARTINYou know, thanks for that. Thank you, Sydney, for your question. You know it's -- one of the things that you say in your book that really struck me was that -- you're quoting other colleagues here -- but you say that, you say in the book, unlike the Bushes' who outsourced their political thuggery, Donald Trump does his own wet work. And your quoting Howard Fineman of the Huffington Post, just saying that, in a weird way he's at least -- not to credit Donald Trump, because he's crude and combative and an egomaniac, but in a weird way, he's at least being candid. And there's something oddly thrilling about a guy who rips the mask off it all and is standing there as the naked id of politics. He is the destroyer of the old world.
MARTINDo we have any context for this really? I mean I think that...
DOWDYeah, Michel, that's an interesting question. Because in the very beginning, that was one of the things that was wicked fun about watching him. Because he, you know, the Republicans, since the Nixon strategy, have used racism and Karl Rove and W used homophobia and they've misogyny to win elections. But they prefer their nominees to be more subtle about racism. So Trump was just kind of a cruder version of a lot of things they were doing behind the scenes. And you know Lee Atwater stirred up the Willie Horton matter.
DOWDAnd -- but the Bushes' outsourced things to Lee Atwater. And W would outsource things to Karl Rove. And Trump just does it all himself. So he's kind of a, you know, "Creature From the Black Lagoon" from a party that has done this stuff for a long time.
MARTINI'm Michel Martin and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And if you'd like to join us, call 1-800-433-8850. You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find us on Facebook or send us a tweet. We're spending the hour with Maureen Dowd, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times. And we're talking about her new book -- her latest book, "The Year of Voting Dangerously," and whatever else is on her mind right now.
MARTINAnd let me just take one other caller. This is interesting. I think this is something that I know I've been hearing from people who are not in our business. So this is Eric, who's calling us from St. Louis, Mo. Eric, what's on your mind?
ERICWell, I'm wondering if Maureen is hearing from a lot of the same kinds of people that I am, who say that the campaign is so upsetting that they really have stopped listening and watching and reading the coverage. They can't take it anymore. It's too distressing to them. and I wonder if she encounters that. And if she does, what does she say to people?
DOWDYeah. It has me worried about my book sales. Because when you've got two of the least popular politicians in modern history on your book cover, even if it's a fun book cover, you know, are people really tuning out and not wanting to hear them? You know, my friends won't read my -- well not -- I don't have interviews with Trump anymore because he now thinks I'm a neurotic dope on Twitter. But when I had interviews with him, my friends wouldn't read them. Because, as I said before, some people consider it a national emergency to suppress any bad news about Hillary and build up any good news about Hillary.
MARTINWell, what do you say to them? You just...
DOWDI, you know, the same thing I say to you, which is, I consider it -- I feel like there are plenty of people whose job it is and are paid handsomely to promote Hillary. My job is to try and tell the reader what's actually going on. And, you know, I've been criticized for just saying that it was careless of her to get a personal server and have classified email on it. And also that the Clinton Foundation should stop blurring ethical lines. But then, you know, with the emails, her own administration said the same thing I did later. And with the foundation, the Clintons have admitted that it's not going to be a good idea to keep that going if she becomes president. So they end up saying what I said too.
MARTINLet's take one more call. Let's go to Vera in Cleveland, Ohio. Vera, what's on your mind for Maureen Dowd?
VERAHi. Thanks for taking my call. I appreciate all the cultural references. I think they're very, you know, apropos. The only other one that I would add would be Jonathan Swift's. I think that Maureen Dowd's style occasionally has reached the heights of sort of Swiftian outrage. I only...
DOWDI love you. I keep a book. I keep a biography of Jonathan Swift right by my chair.
VERAYes. And you know that -- how frequently he, too, was misunderstood, especially in times of national crisis, you know, his satire was often misunderstood. However, I do think there was always, with Swift, a deep moral perspective. And apropos of that point, I wanted just to ask Maureen Dowd if she felt that we have moved out of the realm of entertainment or caricature into a more serious national crisis, if you will, by Donald Trump's veiled encouragements, if you will or however you want to put it, of actual assassination. It seems that there's a kind of gravity all of a sudden, when he very, you know, very openly says, well, it would be dangerous. It would be a sad day, you know, if Hillary were taken out.
VERAAnd I do think that that kind of puts it at a different level, less comic, less reality TV, less entertaining and, frankly, more terrifying. So that's what I'm -- my question to Ms. Dowd is.
DOWDYeah, I agree with you absolutely. And he had said something a little more oblique about the Second Amendment. Like Second Amendment people maybe can stop it, you know, along the same lines. I mean, that kind of discourse is completely unacceptable. And when I asked him about it, like a couple months ago -- after the Chicago rally, when people were getting roughed up -- he said it, you know, it added this level of excitement. Which, again, I just think he has followed the roar of the crowd to some very dark places.
MARTINAnd also enabling by saying that he's going to pay people's legal bills. I mean...
DOWDYeah. I mean I think the whole thing with violence -- it's very dangerous. I don't even know why he doesn't understand that. That's a very strange -- you know, I used to call political strategists to help me with campaigns. And now I call shrinks. And even though I spend a lot of time analyzing him, that one is very strange to me. I don't understand it. And I agree with you. It's completely unacceptable.
MARTINWe are going to have more with Maureen Dowd when we come back. We hope you'll stay with us. Maureen Dowd, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times on her new book. This is "The Diane Rehm Show." We hope you'll stick around.
MARTINWelcome back. I'm Michel Martin. I am host of the weekend edition of All Things Considered on NPR, sitting in for Diane Rehm. My guest for this full hour is Maureen Dowd. She is the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times, and her latest book is "The Year of Voting Dangerously," and I think she's holding up rather well considering she has a bit of a cold, nothing -- nothing on the Clinton level that I can see so far. I don't see any sign of your fainting, for which I am very grateful. But you seem to be holding up.
DOWDYes, I hope you'll hold me up better than Tim Kaine did, or
MARTINI will leap across the table if need be and hold you up, but you seem to be holding up very well. I would like to ask you about your view of President Obama. David Axelrod, who was a top advisor to President Obama and is still a friend, said that nobody got under his skin more than you, and there are people who think that you've been pretty unrelenting toward him. What do you think?
DOWDYou know, I put my early columns about Hillary and Obama -- well, with Hillary I was a news reporter, and with Obama I was a columnist, but I put the early stuff in the book because it's so gushing. You know, I'm almost a little embarrassed to go back and read my Obama stuff. And I...
MARTINIs this a makeup call by the ref later on, though?
DOWDI'm just trying to think of how to put it. I guess...
MARTINI think there's a tone of disappointment, though, in a lot of your columns. I mean, I'm looking at this one, this column that you wrote here, there's a chapter here about gun control.
MARTINAnd that you said that, you know, you know, that the White House had a defeatist mantra, this is tough, we need to do it, but we're probably going to lose. You said that President Obama thinks he can use emotion to bring pressure on Congress, but that's not how adults with power respond to things. He chooses not to get down in the weeds and pretend he values the stroking and other little things that matter to lawmakers. I don't think that's overly harsh for a public figure, but it does have a sort of a tone of why aren't you better.
DOWDWell, I guess what happened was he -- his -- someone, a top advisor to him, said he'd rather be right than win, and I think he -- he wants to -- he thinks that he has come to the right conclusion because he's a brainiac, I mean I'm saying he is, you know, really smart and really thoughtful, and so he thinks once he's reached the right conclusion and reasoned it through like a lawyer, everyone should just come around and not -- he shouldn't have to persuade them or argue with them or, you know, woo them. And that really isn't the way politics works.
DOWDThe art of politics is getting someone to do what you want them to do when they don't want to do it, and that's the part of it he doesn't like. So he wants to stay above the fray when politics is the fray, and Neera Tanden, a Democratic activist, had the best line about it. She said, you know, because of how amazing it was that he was able to become president without a rich daddy like W. and JFK and, you know, as a first African-American, he -- then when he got in, he didn't seem to like politics.
DOWDAnd she said it would be as though Bill Gates didn't like computers, and James Carville said it would be as though Peyton Manning didn't like football. It was just a little confusing given how incredibly gifted he was. I always used to compare him to, like, Luke Skywalker, you know, with the Force, but then he didn't really want to use the Force too much once he got in.
MARTINI was interested in your habit of calling him Barry on occasion. I'm curious about this. It struck me because it has a particular -- you know, African-Americans have a particular thing about being -- there's a phrase for it, being called out of your name, being called something other than what you call yourself, it has a particular resonance for African-Americans. I think anybody who's ever seen "Roots" would understand that. And I was just curious why you do that.
DOWDYeah, I'm glad you asked me about that. Actually I call him President Obama I would say 99 percent of the time, and I call -- and I call W. W. almost 100 percent of the time. And, you know, so I -- sometimes I do use nicknames to kind of make, as I say, like in Shakespeare, to make the characters more familiar. And I think I was criticized for that, and I think it was misconstrued because I thought of it more like Henry IV and Prince Hal, where you're just describing different parts of their nature.
DOWDSo Prince Hal was the fun, you know, young guy who hung out with Falstaff, and Henry IV was the more sober, mature king. So I would use Barry to describe -- and Barry is his name, by the way, and there's a movie coming out about him called "Barry."
MARTINWell, he called himself that when he was younger.
MARTINBut a lot of people would see that as a time when he wasn't really fully able to, for a lot of different reasons, embrace being Barack.
DOWDBut that's what I was trying to bring out, that the Barry side was -- to me was kind of the wonky side, the guy who stays up until midnight in the White House studying and who wears mom jeans and, you know, who likes to arugula at Whole Foods, that's the Barry side. The Barack side is the majestic, you know, the amazing speech giver and, like, the guy who can go to Argentina and dance the tango, you know. So I was just trying to bring out different sides.
DOWDBut now that I realize that that's -- that has offended even a few readers, I wouldn't do it again, I don't think.
MARTINDo you -- I think it's too soon, and it's not even really necessary, to kind of start putting the bow on the administration and the presidency and so forth, but did you -- if you -- if you -- if I forced you to write the column about President Obama's legacy, what -- what do you think you'd say?
DOWDI think he wanted to be a transformational president, and I think he is transformational but more because of who he is rather than what he did. I think that the Republicans plotted against him from the first -- even before he got there to obstruct him. So it would've been very hard. But I agree with Leon Panetta that he should've used more elbow grease, he should've rolled up his sleeves and tried harder.
DOWDYou know, sometimes he just was -- you know, seemed like he was on a mountaintop and...
MARTINAnd why do you think that is?
DOWDAgain, I just think he doesn't like the parts of politics that are about cheap emotion. You know, he had a very hard time, like, after the Christmas bombing or the BP oil spill, kind of having that voice that Reagan used to have, of comforting the country after the Challenger, when the country is jittery. For instance, you know, on -- on terrorism he told columnists who came to the White House that, you know, he just doesn't think people should be that worried about it because you'd be more likely to be hit by lightning or slip in your bathtub.
DOWDAnd he admitted himself, and David Axelrod admitted, that he's not that good at the symbolic parts of it, you know, like comforting people. He just thinks that they should, you know, pull up their socks, as he's had to do himself often in his life.
MARTINLet's take a few more calls. Let's go to Scott in Burlington, North Carolina. Scott, welcome to the Diane Rehm Show.
SCOTTHi, thank you. I had a -- really a question more about I haven't seen as much really in-depth media coverage of Gary Johnson as a candidate, and there are a lot of people who are seriously considering him as an alternative. I mean, we get things about his, you know, slip on Aleppo and some puff pieces on him, but in looking at him as a candidate, I had actually voted for him last election against Barack Obama, sort of as a protest vote after voting for Obama before but taking him more seriously this time.
SCOTTHe's got some funny alliances. He's been involved with Roger Stone, who's an old political hitman dating back to the committee to re-elect the president back in Nixon years. He accepted campaign -- large campaign donations from the Koch brothers, and then, not surprisingly, they got a highway contract with him for New Mexico that many people feel New Mexico didn't even need.
SCOTTSo just I don't see a lot of sort of digging around and the skeletons in his closet.
MARTINOkay, Maureen, what about that? Have you written about him, by the way?
DOWDYeah, I haven't, I haven't written about him because, you know, he used to be head of an edibles company, right, and -- or he was, yeah, associated with the edibles, and he told Bill Maher the thing he was going to miss the most about running for president was his edibles. And so it -- at the time when he was doing that, and I wrote a piece, which is sort of infamous, about having a bad experience in Denver with edibles when I was out there covering the social revolution, you know, with pot in Colorado, and he tweeted something about how that was like I was irresponsible because it was like having a whole bottle of tequila, which I disagree with because I only just nibbled off the end of this candy bar, even though people keep saying I ate the whole thing, which I didn't.
DOWDAnd I knew that people would make fun of me, but I really felt like the industry needed to do a little bit more as at a pharmacy with prescription drugs just to tell you a little bit about how they were going to work or, you know, what the timing was or...
MARTINBut talk a little bit, if you would, though, about do you feel that -- it's such an overly broad question, it's just hard to ask, but there -- we are all struggling now with this question of how much coverage, certainly Gary Johnson has made the argument, he was on this program yesterday making the argument that he is not getting his due as an idea generator and also because he's going to be -- he says he's going to be on all 50 ballots. Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, has made a similar argument that -- not based on her ballot position but saying that Americans deserve exposure to these ideas. Do you have thoughts about that? I mean, do you feel like we should be writing more about them?
DOWDNo, no, well I was -- no, I was getting to that. So I was just saying that's why I hadn't begun studying his campaign yet because I was kind of getting beyond this thing. So -- so I have not fully studied his campaign.
MARTINLet's go to Lauren, who is in Mico, Texas. Lauren, welcome.
LAURENThank you, and get well, Maureen.
DOWDI'm just drinking honey while you're talking to me.
LAURENOkay. I'm looking at this campaign, and I'm not a great history student, but I'm comparing it to the campaign of John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.
LAURENYes, where Adams was promoting economic development and improving the infrastructure. He was considered the establishment incumbent candidate, and Jackson was supposedly the voice of the common man. But when Jackson got elected, every policy he worked on benefitted his real estate developments and his real estate deals, and his main purpose, his main policy, was the removal of the Indians or the eradication of the Indians, which led to the Trail of Tears and eventually to the Civil War. So I'm hoping we do not repeat our history.
DOWDOh, that's so interesting. Yeah, you should have Meacham on to make that comparison. Didn't he do a biography of Jackson?
MARTINHe did, and while we have you on the subject, some of our listeners wanted to ask us to repeat the name of the book that was brought up earlier in the hour. What was it?
DOWDIt was -- I wrote it down to get it. It's called "It Can Happen Here" by Sinclair Lewis.
MARTINAll right, Lauren, thanks so much for joining us. And I'm Michel Martin, and you are listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Maureen, I know you're not feeling well, but I do want to tell you that we do have a couple of callers who did want to say that they do take issue with the tone. Are you okay with that? Can you handle that? Are you feeling strong enough to handle that?
MARTINThe tone of the writing.
DOWDOh sure, sure.
MARTINOkay, just want to make sure because I don't want to take advantage of your weakened condition. All right, here's Kathy. Kathy, sorry, did I lose you? Kathy in New Haven, Indiana, do I have that right?
MARTINOkay, and your comment or your...
KATHYMy comment is first of all, I only know Maureen Dowd by her name. I don't read her column, and I won't be reading her book because I think there's much levity involved in this interview. I don't find any of this funny. We're in serious times. I think we need people, I hark back to Walter Cronkite. I want news. I don't want personal opinion. There's not enough in-depth reporting. And I want to be more like Jack Webb and "Dragnet," just the facts, and let us do the analysis.
KATHYBecause there's plenty of us who have the ability to do critical analysis of what is going on, and I think we're just being sidetracked by nonsense.
DOWDI'm not a news reporter. I'm an opinion writer.
MARTINWell, Kathy has the right, but that is important to note, that you are a columnist, and people do know your work very well, and they have the right or the choice to access it or not. Kathy, thanks for your perspective. We appreciate it. Let me go to Shelly, who is in Cincinnati, Ohio. Shelly, you have a comment, as well?
SHELLYYes, hi Maureen, and hi Michel. I'm also -- I'm a longtime reader of Maureen. I'm also a longtime reader and studier of Shakespeare. So I've always appreciated all of those references, and I think they elevate any discussion. But until you just explained the whole Barry/Barack thing, you know, I didn't get that. And I think my criticism of you, and I think you're a better than this, and I wish I didn't see it so much, is just what I would call snark.
SHELLYAnd I think when I -- anybody like me who reads you online and reads the readers' comments, that word comes up a lot, and I don't believe I've heard it discussed this morning. I feel like it's just almost, you know, almost like part of your rhythm, and I just personally wish that you would elevate that and not have quite so much. I think there's a difference between sarcasm and snark and snideness.
MARTINAll right, Shelly, thanks so much for your comment. I want to make sure that Maureen has a chance to respond. We did talk about snark earlier.
DOWDYeah, yeah, I tried -- yeah, I don't like Snark, or I hope I don't do it. I'm not trying to do it. As another caller said, you know, compared what I do to Jonathan Swift, and that's more what I'm aiming at, where he could use humor about very serious things like the, you know, the treatment of the Irish under the British and make his point. And that's what I try to do. I try to use humor to lure readers in to make a serious point.
MARTINWell thanks, Shelly, for your comment. Before we let you go, Maureen, thanks again for joining us, and thanks again for powering through while you're battling this cold. You -- I was so intrigued that you invited your siblings to contribute, your two conservative siblings to contribute to the book.
MARTINNow you know you're setting a terrible precedent for writers everywhere.
MARTINBut tell me why you decided to do that, and how -- has this experience brought you closer, or has it kind of just made Thanksgiving even more taxing than it was otherwise going to be?
DOWDYeah, exactly. So Sean Desmond, my editor at Twelve, suggested I give my brother the column once a year because I think that liberals, unlike conservatives, really want to hear what the other side is thinking. So my brother is very conservative, so I let him give a good dose of red state, you know, to the Times readers once a year. And so Sean suggested letting Kevin write an essay.
DOWDAnd then I decided to let my sister Peggy write one, too, because they were voting for Trump, although Peggy (unintelligible) jumps off every hour on the hour whenever he does something offensive. But they don't want to vote for Hillary. So I thought it would be interesting because Paul Ryan and a lot of the Republicans can't talk now. They're, like, muffled, muzzled, muzzled and muffled. So it can give you an insight into what a Paul Ryan Republican would be thinking.
MARTINWell thank you so much for joining us. We know that -- I'm not speaking out of turn here when I say that I know that television and radio and talking, other than writing, are not your favorite things to do. So we're glad that you were able to power through.
DOWDWell thanks, Michel, you're my favorite.
MARTINWell that's nice of you to say. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Maureen Dowd, her latest book is "The Year of Voting Dangerously," and I will quote from "Hamilton" here and say Maureen, we'll see you on the other side.
MARTINThis is "The Diane Rehm Show." Thank you so much for joining us. I'm Michel Martin.
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