Man Without Qualities

Monday, November 11, 2002

UPDATE: W[h]ither Big Mo?

James Taranto observes: "The New York Times' Maureen Dowd has been visiting Riyadh, and an encounter with the Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice prompts an uncharacteristically good column."

Well, yes, but the "higher quality" of Maureen Dowd's last column is an optical illusion created by her staying away for the moment from her usual obsession with the Republicans and the Bush Administration - probably as a result of election shock. But, except for the omission of her usual attempt to tar the Administration, she offers nothing new here in her approach to the Saudis.

She criticises the Saudis from time to time. But her attacks on Saudi Arabia and similar nasties in the past - especially on the "gender politics" front - have been little more than foundation for then arguing that (1) Bush somehow "supports" exactly whatever she is criticizing in the Saudis, or (2) that Bush can't move against someone or anyone else (Iraq, N. Korea, Iran, whoever) because he won't move against the equally bad Saudis, or even (3) that the Bush's policies or the society he would create here in the US are somehow like the Saudi policies or society through some equation of her own working (already detectable in her "toilet seat" aside). It's really cutting Ms. Dowd too much slack to imagine she has any interest in something as esoteric as Saudi Arabia or any man or woman in it for it's or their own sake and independent of domestic political considerations. This is, after all, a person who took time and space in one column that appeared soon after the September 11 disasters describing how she was writing while wearing long leather evening gloves instead of the latex variety her employer had provided to ward off possible anthrax infection. Let's just say that maintaining perspective and global prioritizing are not among Big Mo's strong suits.

Her reference to Ashcroft is pretty clearly a red herring meant to express that the Saudis are so bad that they make her pine "even for Ashcroft". In a later column she will probably complete the thought - as she has before.

Of course, none of these observations is technically inconsistent with Taranto's comments about her column - the column is uncharacteristically, if inadvertantly, good for her if considered in isolation. But she has enough of a history that this is not the best way to take it.

And, in any event, she'll fix it soon. Be patient but confident.

There is also a rather muted tone to this column - almost, for her, a "flat affect." It lacks that jumpy, scattered, near-random association feeling that she gets when she's feeling good about herself. I think she's been saddened by something.

What could it be?

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