"An Evening with Maureen Dowd" continues from the preceding post with her entertaining observations and unique perspective colored by her inimitable wit.
Ms Dowd's talk included several less than flattering comments about Vice-Presidential candidate Palin's qualifications for governing nationally, Palin's husband Todd and their behavior. Sharing this thought about their home state, Ms Dowd said she understands Alaska is like no other state. She noted having been informed that many of the people there are special in a manner such as has been portrayed on the TV show "Northern Exposure." She added she has been told Alaskan's have a saying that when it comes to matchmaking "the odds are good there but the goods are odd."
Numerous students in the audience were able to ask questions as Ms Dowd's talk ended, but time ran out preventing community members from the same opportunity. A student questioner was interested in the story behind why McCain didn't allow her to travel on his campaign plane during the presidential contest. She was nonplussed explaining that in retrospect his Aides decision to exclude her was quite understandable though she was a long time personal friend of McCain, referring to him as "Johnny" at one point in her talk. (See the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article by Timothy McNulty for Dowd's specific quote on being kicked off the plane during the campaign trip.)
Because of her long term friendship with McCain she said she hadn't stopped to think about the political complications given the contrary nature of some of the articles she had written about his candidacy. My thought is that she certainly hasn't been hesitant to describe the Bushes in ways they probably don't appreciate though they have given her considerable family contact through the years. Maybe McCain's staff didn't want to place their candidate at risk for similar less than complimentary commentary of a possible pithy nature.
Ms Dowd did express some concern and disappointment writing material fodder was going to be significantly diminished for her, other writers and comedians with the departure of the current administration. She noted conduct of the President-Elect has given all indications quite a different atmosphere from both Clinton and Bush days will prevail in the White House after January 2009's inauguration day.
However, she said, she was "happy" that Rahm Emanuel was going to be President-elect Obama's Chief-of-Staff, that there would be "...someone in the high echelon who has worn tights..." as he is a former ballet dancer and could give a touch different character to the White House operations.
Ms Dowd talked of accompanying Barack Obama on a return flight from Europe during his travel to various nations before he was the official Democratic Party presidential candidate. She was pleased to have been given an interview with him, then surprised when their talk concluded with him dismissing Aides to speak to her alone. His demeanor took on a very serious tone, she reported, as he said to her, "You're really irritating." Furthermore, she added, he repeated the same statement a second time.
She spoke of the ongoing media changes, especially noting those affecting newspapers. Realistically, she observed, "I'm in competition with a multitude of writers. Everyone can write a blog and you could be more interesting than me."
An interesting sidelight she noted that while here in So. Cal. she met with James Macpherson, editor and publisher of the Pasadena Now website. He has outsourced coverage of the Pasadena City Council to two reporters in India. Here's a link to that Los Angeles Times May 11, 2007 article on the subject. I must have missed that news item and have to agree with her in wondering what we have come to in how city news is written, issues understood, and dispensed by individuals on another continent who have no vested interest in the city, our state and country since they aren't even citizens.
Responding to a student question about the challenges of writing at the New York Times, the "pressure cooker" situation and possible competitions with other high powered writers, she observed, "I like being in this pressure cooker and seeing how candidates evolve. There's nothing more fascinating than the human comedy." She noted that an irony of the business has been that with various changes one writer joining the news staff and assigned an office next to hers is an individual with whom she previously had a romantic relationship.
When asked about Michelle Obama in the White House Ms. Dowd spoke of the expectation the First Lady could well determine the success of this beginning administration. She attributes this partially due to the First Lady-elect's unifying emphasis and focus on family. She noted Mrs. Obama is a very intelligent, competent woman for whom raising her daughters in as normal a way as possible is a very high priority as it is for her husband.
Another student asked for her thoughts about John Edwards and his downfall from our U.S.A. political picture. The question was framed in context with comparing the U.S. to the much more tolerant French views toward their government officials sexual peccadilloes. Ms Dowd acknowledged the prevailing differences in attitudes toward sex between our countries. Characteristically of her writing, she offered a perspective I also share regarding topics. She was more intrigued by some of the less obvious issues.
Ms Dowd speculated about the incredible pressure Edwards must have been under trying to hide his secret relationship from the public, press and colleagues. She noted the possible guilt of moral compromise he may have felt as a consequence of his lying to and betraying his wife. His wife, nobly standing by him enabling his reaching his goal while she's dying from cancer must surely have added to his stress. Additionally, Edwards was simultaneously aggressively campaigning for the Presidency, a pressure cooker in itself. All of these behaviors were such a contrast with the man the electorate had perceived.
Personally, I couldn't help wondering if Edwards had never heard of Gary Hart who became a political pariah years ago. Hart had his presidential aspirations extinguished because of an indiscretion of less complications compared to Edwards own. I thought, too, of Newt Gingrich who prior to his prominence in national government was reported to have asked his wife for a divorce when she was battling cancer.
Ms Dowd concluded her talk mentioning her last book titled, Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide published in 2005 which became a New York Times Bestseller. I recalled hearing about the book but hadn't read it. She noted her book would be for sale at the end of her talk, so I decided to purchase a copy. Eye-catching work by talented artist Owen Smith is on the cover of this large size paperback. She spoke of the significance to her of the girl in the picture. Dowd's exact words describing this art in her acknowledgements as making her
"...dream of a pulp noir paperback cover come blazing to lush life. The girl in the red dress will always be my red badge of courage."
Just as I completed purchasing the book Ms Dowd came to the book table. I hadn't thought about this being a book signing and have rarely pursued obtaining author's signatures. In fact, I read once that most books were generally more valuable to collectors in years to come if they had no signatures. I don't know whether or not that's true, but I think of any author's signature I obtain as mattering only to me. I did spontaneously decide to ask her to sign the book. I'm sure I was partially favorably influenced to seek her signature by the fact she's a redhead. Being a natural redhead myself I confess to being automatically prejudiced with an inclination to believe all redheads are uniquely special persons -- until proven otherwise.
She graciously asked for my name to write, then added an "Of course!" preceding her signed given name on the title page in answer to the book title's question. I'd previously had little doubt about the answer to that question -- most of the time. I told her I had read her first book which I greatly enjoyed as I did her New York Times Opinion pieces that I read occasionally. She, smilingly, urged that I should read them more frequently, having actually listened to what I said. Not everyone listens, you know, or even reads all of what you write.
I told her I also liked her talk, that I was one of those bloggers she mentioned and was part of an informal Elderblogging community. I recommended she read Ronni Bennett's blog at "Time Goes By." Ms Dowd seemed genuinely interested and I thought later had warmly responded with some curiosity. Her manner suggested she might have been willing to talk longer which I would have enjoyed doing. However, I saw the line of students waiting for her to sign a copy of their books so I turned and quickly walked away. I drove home, poured a glass of wine and started reading her book after preparing myself for bed.
I suppose I should have promoted my own blog to her, but I think blog-reading newcomers are more apt to be impressed with TGB and want to return to the blogosphere as I did in the beginning because of the quality of writing, topics and features there. I figure they can always find my "Along The Way" blog and the rest of the blogs later. Maybe those of us with blogs should print up business cards to distribute to others we encounter who express interest.
I've been occupied with enough activities for most of this year that I've relished down time, but I think it might be time to take advantage of attending more of the colleges future events. Meanwhile, I can recall the humor and reflect with pleasure on this experience of listening to Maureen Dowd -- oh, yes, and reading her Opinion articles in the New York Times more frequently.