Maureen Dowd, a columnist for the New York Times, has known and covered both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for decades. In her recently published “The Year of Voting Dangerously: The Derangement of American Politics,” she turns her acerbic wit on the two candidates.
While she and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, she is my favorite political pundit because of her biting humor and willingness to skewer anyone, regardless of party affiliation.
She does not disappoint with this book; it is outrageously funny. It is a compendium of her columns, written since the 2016 campaign began but before the election, as well as many others scattered here and there from her earlier columns from elections past.
She follows each of the book’s chapters with an interlude, and three of the best are “Making America Grate Again — the Quotable DJT,” which includes some of Trump’s more outrageous and colorful comments, an interview with Lorne Michaels regarding SNL’s influence on national elections, and “The Golf Address, Channeling President Obama” which lampoons Obama’s penchant for golf set to the Gettysburg Address.
She also includes two columns from her sister and brother, who are surprisingly staunch Republicans. While the 2016 election was bitter and divisive within many families, it is refreshing to see these siblings handle political differences with grace and humor.
Dowd devotes the bulk of this book to the two candidates, neither of whom she considers worthy of being elected to the presidency. But she also covers President Obama, and one can see from the columns arranged by chronological dates her gradual disappointment in how he failed to deliver on hope and change.
Surprisingly, she also reveals a lasting relationship that developed with President George H. W. Bush, in spite of her withering criticism of his son while he was president. Dowd comes to admire Bush 41, as he does her, and it is touching to see how a friendship and mutual respect developed between the two.
Donald Trump comes in for rough treatment; her criticisms are the stock complaints that most in the chattering class made throughout the campaign. While her earliest columns give him absolutely no chance of winning the nomination, as the primary campaign concludes with him winning the nomination, she turns her attention to the election, giving him absolutely no chance to win the presidency.
However, she, like also almost all of her media colleagues, failed to see the coming revenge of an electorate that cared more about jobs and prosperity rather than global warning, radical Islamist terrorists imprisoned in Guantanamo, or transgender pronouns.
Hillary Clinton also comes in for rough treatment. Unlike most liberal females, Dowd never forgave Bill Clinton for his treatment of women, and believes Hillary Clinton sold her soul in exchange for her political ambitions.
The Clinton Universe comes in for withering criticism as she writes, “because when you assume that if it’s good for the Clintons, it’s good for the world, you’re always tangling up government policy with your own needs, desires, deceptions, marital bargains, and gremlins.”
In this book, Dowd displays a malicious sense of humor that reminds me of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of Teddy Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill, both masters of the art of the political insult. Alice demolished Thomas Dewey, the 1944 opponent of her cousin Franklin, by comparing the pencil-mustached Republican to “the bridegroom on the wedding cake.” The image stuck and helped Governor Dewey lose two consecutive presidential elections.
Not even her father was immune from her caustic wit when she observed, “he wants to be the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral, and the baby at every christening.”
However, Winston Churchill was the master. Consider his remarks about Clement Atlee whom he tormented without mercy when he described him as “a sheep in sheep’s clothing,” and “a modest man, who has much to be modest about.”
He once quipped to a nemesis in Parliament, Lady Astor, when she said, “Winston, if I were your wife I’d put poison in your coffee,” he replied, “Nancy, if I were your husband I’d drink it!”
Times were different then, when criticism of political figures was generally more clever and sophisticated, rather than snarky and overly reliant on the now tired and knee-jerk accusations of someone being racist, misogynist, homophobic, or xenophobic. Dowd comes closer to the masters of earlier generations than any of today’s pundits or politicians.
With lively prose drawing on perceptive interviewing, she reveals the character and personality of the two candidates and exposes the seamy side of our nation’s political class.
But on occasions, she also reveals the sometimes admirable and uplifting as well. Reading this will both entertain and inform in a year when our political universe was upended by the election of Donald Trump to the presidency.
Bob Funk is a retired U. S. Marine and a retired high school principal.